December 28, 2011

Why Christians Oppose Torture and the NDAA

A majority of US senators, both Republicans and Democrats, have passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which is now just waiting for the blessing of the President before it becomes law. The bill is considered such an affront to civil liberties that the state of Montana is taking measures to recall the two senators who voted to support the law.[1] According to Jonathan Turley, the NDAA gives the US president the authority to indefinitely detain and kill US citizens on US soil without any legal trial.[2] The law also authorizes additional secret torture measures. Turley is one of the top ten most cited law professors in the US and one of the top ten military lawyers as well, so his opinion carries weight.[3] If US citizens find themselves subjectively defined as terrorist threats or terrorist sympathizers, then they lose all their rights under the Constitution. This is, of course, a civil-rights outrage. Even Snopes, which tends to be highly skeptical of news, has not denied what the essence of this law implies by giving the story a "Mixture" rating.[4] I'd like to outline why Christian organizations, such as the Rutherford Institute, are on-target in condemning waterboarding as illegal torture, and why all of us as Christians should be opposed to grievous civil-rights abuses.

I. The Basis of Christian Ethics
II. The Internationally Accepted Definitions and Laws Regarding Torture
III. Why Christian Neoconservatives Tend to Support Torture
IV. Why True Christians are Presently Defined as Terrorist Threats
V.  Standing for Truth and Justice in a Dark and Corrupt World

According to a couple of surveys, many Christians do not seem to be aware of what Christianity actually stands for with regard to civil rights issues. Many believers have stated in polls that they support torture under certain circumstances. Jeff Barnes has written an insightful response to the 2009 CNN poll on torture.[5] When it comes to questions of Christian ethics, we have a vast body of knowledge with which to draw accurate conclusions. And when you do accurately assess what the true stance of Christians should be, then you realize the extent to which Christians have been swayed by the culture and clever politicians into adopting beliefs that are actually anti-Christian in nature. Considering what mainstream news has devolved into, it's quite understandable why many Christians have been deceived into supporting anti-Christian ethics and policies.

I. The Basis of Christian Ethics

For the non-Christian, the basis of ethics is usually a form of pragmatism, which is a slippery slope. Concepts such as "Whatever benefits the greater good." and "The end justifies the means." form the basis of moral relativism and pragmatist ethics. The problem with these approaches is that there is no objective basis for determining what is 'right' at a foundational level. Who decides what the 'greater good' is? This is a subjective issue. Hitler believed the promotion of the greater good meant the sterilization of the human race from unwanted Jewish people, which he did not even consider human. Today, we see similar subjective rationalizations for all kinds of abuses. For example, many believe there are too many people in the world, therefore it is considered justified, for the greater good, to secretly add birth control ingredients in vaccines in 3rd world countries. Or, say a terrorist is about to blow up a building, but torturing an informant may reveal where the switch is, therefore, it is somehow OK to torture the informant because the end supposedly justifies the means. I've heard well-respected and sincere Christians passionately defend these types of views. But, according to scripture, they are unethical positions for a Christian to hold.

Conservapedia has outlined Ann Coulter's cynical views on torture. One of the items on her list is a common excuse: It's not torture if, "It's comparable to the treatment U.S. troops received in basic training;"[6] First of all, the soldiers in basic training would never undergo a situation wherein they believed they were literally drowning. There is nothing that extreme. Even if a battle-hardened Navy Seal could endure waterboarding under controlled circumstances, why should we expect that it is then ethical for a random and possibly medically weak and vulnerable taxi driver should be subject to this treatment when he believes he is literally being drowned and killed? These are quite different circumstances.

Christian ethics is based upon a number of principles. Firstly, Christian ethics is not based on moral relativism, but, rather, on moral absolutism, as outlined by the Christian Research Institute.[7] You will find many Christians defending relativism and pragmatism without even realizing what they are doing. According to Christian absolutism, it doesn't matter if the entire world may die without torture, it's still ethically wrong to abuse a person to try and gain information. Period. Christian ethics is deontological (duty-centered) not teleological (end-centered) and this should be a primary consideration.[8] Christian ethics is rooted in God's nature, which is transcendent, eternal and unchanging, and, therefore, is an objective basis for ethics. In 2006, Christianity Today published an article explaining "5 Reasons Torture Is Always Wrong" and that article helped inspire the following list:[9]

7 Reasons why Torture is Wrong from a Christian Perspective

1. Christian ethics is deontological (duty-centered) not teleological (end-centered).
2. According to human exceptionalism, torture violates the dignity of the human being.
3. Torture allows for the abuse of the vulnerable and violates the demands of justice.
4. Authorizing secret torture allocates too much control in the hands of the government.
5. Torture dehumanizes the torturer and all involved.
6. Torture erodes the moral character of the nation that practices it.
7. Jesus, as the highest example of Christianity, taught believers to love their enemies.

Biblical morality is based on moral absolutism. Ultimately, there is one lawgiver who has the final authority on morality, God, as described in the full context of scripture. Romans 13 does give the government the authority to enforce justice with force, but this chapter must be understood in the context of the entire word of God. We are to respect the position of the office, but not the perversion of the office when authority is abused. It is surprising that Christians will defend the sanctity of life for the unborn, but a full grown man created in the image of God supposedly has no sanctity of life or dignity. 

The author of the Christianity Today article, David P. Gushee, does not specifically address waterboarding in the Christiany Today article. This subject may have been considered a bit too politically risque for Christianity Today's editors. However, Gushee does make some implications regarding waterboarding. He emphasizes, "Human dignity, value, and worth come as a permanent and ineradicable endowment of the Creator to every person." He condemn the mistreatment of people who may be considered vulnerable, "Primary forms of injustice include violent abuse and domination of the powerless." Gushee also cites the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who described the human tendency to compromise ethically. He specifically referred to the Christian moral code, the "strict laws of duty", that may become twisted out of kilter by relativistic pragmatism: "Hence there arises a natural … disposition to argue against these strict laws of duty and to question their validity, or at least their purity and strictness, and, if possible, to make them more accordant with our wishes and inclinations, that is to say, to corrupt them at their very source, and to entirely destroy their worth."[10] Altogether, Gushees points imply that waterboarding is unethical. This seems to be the unofficial stance of Christianity Today. Gushee has co-authored a book, Religious Faith, Torture and our National Soul, in which he explicitly states why waterboarding may be considered a harmful form of torture: "Some techniques leave physical scars or signs; others, such as rape or waterboarding, may leave no physical scar at all but leave long-term psychological suffering."[11]

II. The Internationally Accepted Definitions and Laws Regarding Torture

Some Christians continue to say that waterboarding is not torture. But when you look up the definition of torture in the dictionary and read internationally accepted laws regarding torture, that argument doesn't seem to pass muster. The International Committee of the Red Cross has offered a short summary:

What is the definition of torture and ill treatment?

International humanitarian law prohibits torture and other forms of ill treatment at all times and demands that detainees be treated according to the rules and principles of IHL and other international standards.

The 1984 United Nations Convention Against Torture (Article 1) provides a definition of torture that is considered customary.

 International humanitarian law (IHL) differs somewhat from this definition in not requiring the involvement of a person acting in an official capacity as a condition for an act intended to inflict severe pain or suffering to be defined as torture.

The ICRC uses the broad term " ill-treatment " to cover both torture and other methods of abuse prohibited by international law, including inhuman, cruel, humiliating, and degrading treatment, outrages upon personal dignity and physical or moral coercion.

The legal difference between torture and other forms of ill treatment lies in the level of severity of pain or suffering imposed. In addition, torture requires the existence of a specific purpose behind the act – to obtain information, for example.

The various terms used to refer to different forms of ill treatment or infliction of pain can be explained as follows:

    Torture: existence of a specific purpose plus intentional infliction of severe suffering or pain;

    Cruel or inhuman treatment: no specific purpose, significant level of suffering or pain inflicted;

    Outrages upon personal dignity: no specific purpose, significant level of humiliation or degradation.

Methods of ill treatment may be both physical and/or psychological in nature and both methods may have physical and psychological effects.[12]

- The updated Geneva Convention, also known as "The Convention against Torture", defines international standards, as does an outline of international laws by a Catholic organization, JRS Europe, "Definition of Torture under International Law"[13]

The above referenced internationally recognized definitions of torture imply in no uncertain terms that waterboarding is a form of torture. Prior to the secretive authorization of waterboarding in 2002, waterboarding was also considered illegal in the US. Therefore, those who secretly justified and authorized waterboarding in the US without congressional approval in the past should be tried as war criminals according to these standards. Tortured Law (2010), is a 10-minute award winning documentary by Alliance for Justice, which calls upon Attorney General Holder to conduct a full investigation of those who ordered, designed, and justified torture. Christian organizations that recognize the basis of Christian ethics, such as the Rutherford Institute, have explicitly condemned waterboarding.[14]

III. Why Christian Neoconservatives Tend to Support Torture

It's a sad day when secular organizations, such as the Alliance for Justice, are more in tune with the need for enforcing basic civil rights than many Christians. In accordance with scripture, such as Micah 6.8, Christians are to "Do justice and love mercy." Instead of voting for necoconservative candidates who will endorse atrocities in our name as US citizens, we should, in the very least, vote only for candidates opposed to civil rights atrocities. Why are so many in 'the moral majority' supporting what 20 years ago would have been considered atrocious? To a large extent, the mainstream media has reinforced a notion that questioning US torture or any actions in the 'War on Terror' is unpatriotic. Since 9/11, many Christians have come to adopt anti-Christian values, sometimes called neoconservative values, all based on situational ethics. Because of a supposed pronounced threat of terrorism, the government is somehow justified, for the greater good, in incarcerating people indefinitely, torturing them secretly and even killing them violently, all in the name of 'our safety.' Instead of supporting the destruction of the US Constitution and the annulment of civil of liberties, Christians should be the ones demanding that those who have subverted the Constitution and rule of law be brought to justice. We are to be salt and light standing for truth and justice, not cheerleaders for a mercenary and brutal government system.

Sadly, the Tea Party's Michelle Bachman and neoconservative Mitt Romney both support "enhanced interrogation techniques" and whatever else the CIA may deem to be necessary.[15] Many theists simply don't understand the basis for theistic ethics and need to be informed. Others perhaps are in a state of denial, blindly trusting in an ideal image of an eternally beneficent US government, denying the reality of our corrupt human nature. This type of psychological projection begins at childhood.and is very difficult to come to terms with and question. Michelle Bachmann's blind trust in the secret and unaccountable operations of the CIA is evidenced in her quotes, “I want to save American lives and that’s why I want the CIA to have every interrogation tool available to them so that we can win the war on terror,”[16] What Bachmann and other necons believe is based on a cancerous and damaging lie, as outlined in the nonfiction book, None of Us Were Like This Before. Ron Paul is the only Republican candidate taking a stand for basic civil liberties, such as the right not to be illegally detained, tortured and killed with no accountable jurisprudence whatsoever.

IV. Why True Christians are Presently Defined as Terrorist Threats

What many Christians don't seem to realize is that Christians who support the sanctity of life and are against abortion are actually defined as right wing extremists and potential domestic terrorist threats presently in the US. The same goes for someone who believes homosexuality is a sin. This is defined as "hate-oriented" behavior, when, in fact, it is not. Jay Sekulow of the ACLJ had demanded a retraction of this position, but there was no formal written retraction. The indicting language was simply taken down from public government websites:

“Right-wing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly anti-government, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.”[17]

Jesus prophesied that Christians would be increasingly persecuted in the End Times, as outlined in Matthew 24.10. "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me." By identifying with the righteousness of Christ and moral absolutism, true Christians will be persecuted. Christian persecution has been occurring around the world since Christianity began, and, more recently,  has been on the rise in Western culture.[18]

The underlying problem for the government is not a particular issue, such as abortion. But it's the fact that true Christians are moral absolutists who have a basis for morally judging the increasingly corrupt relativist government. When Dick Cheney described US involvement in secret intelligence practices, he made a  remarkable admission about delving into "the dark side" of life:

"We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective." (Emphasis in original.)[19]

If you are familiar with the Bible, there are only two sides, the dark side and the light side. If you aren't familiar with the Bible, perhaps you watched one of the Star Wars movies. Darth Vader was on the dark side. A nation is either moving towards the light side, moral righteousness, or it is moving towards the dark side, moral corruption. In the Old Testament, during times of moral corruption, prophets who spoke up for moral righteousness were mainly persecuted. In the New Testament, the early Church represented by the church in Smyrna was mainly persecuted. The reason why the early church was persecuted was well summed up by the late Francis Schaeffer:

"No totalitarian authority nor authoritarian state can tolerate those who have an absolute by which to judge that state and its actions. The Christians had that absolute in God's revelation. Because the Christians had an absolute, universal standard by which to judge not only personal morals but the state, they were counted as enemies of totalitarian Rome and were thrown to the beasts."[20]

V.  Standing for Truth and Justice in a Dark and Corrupt World

I don't want to try and sugar-coat the implications of what is occurring today. If the US officially passes the NDAA, then this will mark the country as a totalitarian state. The complete annulment of civil rights will most likely lead to serious human rights abuses. In our increasingly immoral society, true Christians will most likely bear the brunt of those abuses. Christians who were courageous and stood up for truth in the first century were martyred. Ten Roman emperors enacted wave after wave of persecutions attempting to exterminate Christianity. But, despite the Roman persecutions, the church actually grew tremendously during the first century. A courageous Christian willing to stand up for truth and suffer persecution is a lot more convincing than a Christian handing out leaflets on a street corner.

In our day, many Christians don't want to 'rock the boat' by saying anything that is 'politically incorrect.' We should pray for wisdom and discernment for God's people in how to courageously stand for truth. We should try to help inform Christians that we are moral absolutists and waterboarding is not acceptable, and neither are politicians who support it. If Dick Cheney admitted his team entered the "dark side" with the secret  interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding secretly signed into US policy in 2002, why on Earth would you want to defend it? There is still a semblance of a democratic process allowing for change. But, unfortunately, many Christians are voting for people who represent their very own future punishment and persecution in the name of neoconservatism. Though there are petitions regarding torture in US politics, they do  not seem to be garnering very much interest.[21] If you feel compelled to stand for truth and justice, there are some resources available to encourage you. John W. Whitehead, who founded the Rutherford Institute, has published a new tract, Taking a Stand for Truth and Righteousness, in which he "offers hope and inspiration for the battles that lie before us" offering, "You, that one solitary individual, can make a difference."[22]

A blogger recently asked me if I believed it was possible that the tragedy of 9/11 was assisted by US clandestine forces. If I were to answer that question in the affirmative, "Yes, considering the documented history of Operation Northwoods and other documented historical facts, that is a definite possibility." - then, according to the NDAA, I could be subjectively labelled as a terrorist sympathizer and killed by my own government. Somehow, I believe the Founding Fathers created the system of moral checks and balances so that this type of  power abuse would not become legalized policy. My opinion regarding 9/11 is centered on the multiple documented facts that show the official 9/11 report contains blatant errors, omissions and outright fraud, as outlined in one of my articles, Armed SWAT Raids Confirm 9/11 Criminal Hearings Necessary.[23] There is no doubt that we live in perilous times, just as Jesus predicted there would be. As sheep among wolves, Jesus advised his disciples to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.[24] May God's will be accomplished in each of our lives as we look to the eventual and sure establishment of His eternal kingdom of love and truth.


[1] Montana Senators Who Voted for NDAA Face Recall,
[2] YouTube, Jonathan Turley CSPAN interview, Obama stated he can kill any American anywhere, December 20, 2011 on C-Span (starting at 15:50)
[3] George Washington University, Faculty Directory,
[4] Snopes, NDAA,
[5], A Christian's Response to the CNN Poll on Torture,
[6] Conservapedia, Debate: Define Torture,
[7] Christian Research Institute, Any Absolutes? Absolutely!,
[8] Tough Questions Answered, Waterboarding: Does the End Justify the Means?, Bill Pratt,
[9] Christianity Today, 5 Reasons Torture Is Always Wrong,
[10] Ibid.
Ronald Takaki, Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 113.
[11] David P. Gushee,  Jillian Hickman Zimmer, J. Drew, Religious Faith, Torture and our National Soul, (Mercer University Press, Macon, GA) P 55.,
[12] ICRC, What is the definition of torture and ill treatment?,
[14] Rutherford Institute, Rutherford Institute Joins with Other Human Rights Groups to Challenge Government Secrecy on Waterboarding ,
[15] Businessweek, Republican Candidates Differ on Waterboarding of Terror Suspects,
[16] Ibid.
[17] The Voice Magazine, ACLJ Demands Retraction from DHS on Labelling Pro-Lifers as "Extremists" ,
[18] CT, Christian persecution on the rise,
[19] America at War, Cheney’s “dark side” Quote,
[20] The Shelter, Schaeffer quotes, Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?, Ch. 1,
[21] The Petition Site, Tell GOP Contenders: Waterboarding is Torture!
[22] The Rutherford Institute, Taking a Stand for Truth and Righteousness,
[23] Templestream, Armed SWAT Raids Confirm 9/11 Criminal Hearings Necessary,
[24]  Matthew 10.16,

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