body of Christ, capitalism, modern nation-state, political theology, thesis, torture

Tortured and Torturer, a Good Friday Reflection

The Silent Torture of the Church by a Democracy

While torture, as Scarry states it, “aspires to the totality of pain,” torture does so with the specific aim for destruction of a human being. It is the literal beating down of a human being into nothing: “Torture is a condensation of the act of ‘overcoming’ the body present in benign forms of power.”1 Torture is the violent, systematic deconstruction of a human being by another human being. “Apart from its ineffectiveness and illegality, torture is one of the cruelest, and most dangerous things that the United Stats can be doing. The claim that torture should somehow be justified is really an attack on the very dignity of humanity. It sinks us all to an inhuman and uncivilized level. It debases the victim and the torturer. In the end, torture destroys everything we value as human beings.”2 The anthropology of torture is thoroughly counter to any conception of humanity by Christianity. In fact, to move Christians in America towards accepting a torturous of vision for humanity is an attack on the Christian story and the community that claims to be the body of Christ.

However, American Christianity seems to care so little about torture. Torture is meant to isolate and break down other human beings and it is done in an incredibly violent and/or coercive manner, as I have argued. Torture results in victims who “are scripted into a different socio-political drama, recreated as abused, bastard children of the regime” and yet comparatively, so little is said about torture.3 Some Christians have no answer when challenged, they are simply indifferent, while others are resolutely pro-torture.4 In my mind, this is a gigantic theological leap from the kerygma; to be indifferent of or for torture is not based on the Christological event of Jesus – the one who was tortured. So how might such a leap be made? What is it that makes these Christians the torturer?

This leap is not theologically acceptable, however, the justification for torture can find less opposition outside of Christianity and a positive perception of torture within society, especially within the powers behind the status quo – the state, with its raison d’état, and the capitalistic market.

1. Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain 57.
2. Ratner and Ray, Guantánamo: What the World Should Know, 35.
3. William Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, 42.
4. From a discussion with Randall Balmer. The subject of the discussion can also be found here: “Following the revelations that the U.S. government exported prisoners to nations that have no scruples about the use of torture, I wrote to several prominent religious-right organizations. Please send me, I asked, a copy of your organization’s position on the administration’s use of torture. … Of the eight religious-right organizations I contacted, only two, the Family Research Council and the Institute on Religion and Democracy, answered my query. Both were eager to defend administration policies.”


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