My dear colleague JMR —
Thanks for your responses overall, including your exchange with my friend and fellow subversive Steve Hays. It’s good to see the extent to which you are willing to defend your position.
A clarification before I continue on the topic of this letter — in your reply “Men Should Crucify No Man”, you said:
Generally he thinks I am not Christian in my reasoning.Let’s make sure that if this is how you are receiving what I have said, the other readers of this exchange will understand me to have said this:
While I think you are at best failing to show some of your moral calculus here, at worst you may be missing the point of the Bible itself by missing the key matter of the scope and force of justice in God’s economy. There’s much more to be said here, but I look forward to your response to this.The status of the Christianity of your reasoning is not my concern: whether or not you’re referencing even broadly the Bible and its moral reasoning is. Let’s not derail this into a discussion about whether or not you are a follower of Jesus Christ. I’m willing to take that at face value and simply point out that your reasoning in this matter doesn’t include all the relevant citations from the OT, the Gospels, and Paul.
Let’s be concerned about what’s Biblical in regard to this subject before we turn to what is “Christian” as one precedes the other.
That clarified, you said this as well:
Suppose Turk is asserting the following:Well: sure. And you do a great job of further developing this point to say that everything that one deserves is not necessarily what one ought to get from the next person walking by — the example of the thief stealing from the thief is spot-on.
If A deserves x and B gives A x, that B was right to give A x.
This is absurd on its face.
To give a Victorian example, A may deserve to be kissed and B may kiss A, but B be wrong to give a kiss to A.
In some cases, a person deserves a thing, but only from a particular individual or in a particular way. That is the case with punishment. The state has the right to do something (x) to me, but that does not give you that right.
The problem is that you are have framed this in terms of rights rather than responsibilities.
Listen: if the thief steals my Nissan Altima and I find where he lives, I don’t have a right to “steal” it back or even repossess it, let alone incarcerate him for his crime: I have a responsibility to report the theft, and to report (if I find him) the name and location of the thief to the proper authorities. It is then their responsibility to take action to enforce the letter and spirit of the law. They are entirely responsible to recover my property which was stolen insofar as they are able. They are responsible to charge the thief with his crime, and to punish him if and when he is convicted of the crime.
This process is congruent to the moral/civil code of the Bible — it’s not identical because our system is not a theocratic system which is focussed on making the Temple and its worship & sacrifices the center of our social order. But our system is established on the meaning of justice.
And it is this word, this concept which your arguments frankly do not want to deal with. For example, you have turned the fact that Paul says that the justice meant for us was poured out on Jesus into an argument against the state pouring out that kind of punishment ever again — but in fact Paul would repudiate such a notion. You cannot find any place in the NT where Paul or Peter or Jesus repudiate the kinds of punishment the civil authorities use to turn back evil-doers. Peter in fact says, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. [1 Peter 2:14-15]” His framing there is interesting as he’s telling the persecuted church that what the rulers at all levels are responsible for is a good thing.
But get this as Peter goes on: “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. [1 Peter 2:20]” he says explicitly that some offenses are rightly dealt with by administering beatings: it’s no credit to you to endure a beating for transgressions — because, it is implied, this is what you deserve. You simply cannot sweep that under the carpet as a lack of information regarding the proper outcome for criminal behavior, or a lack of clarity on Peter’s part. Plainly the apostolic view of just punishment for normal criminal activity was far more severe than yours and mine.
This circles back to the biblical question of justice. Justice is not a right that individuals exercise: insofar as justice is a right, it is a right which we can demand from the responsible authority. The Bible — and the NT — is simply rife with examples of this from Moses’ murder of the Egyptian official to the parable of the ungrateful servant. The offended may have a right to justice, but he does not have a right to extract justice. He has a responsibility to plead for justice from the responsible and governing authority.
My point to this place is simply to indicate that justice under normal circumstance, insofar as the Bible describes it, is far more severe than what we practice today — for more than one good reason, I am sure. But when the Bible speaks to rulers acting in justice, it is not merely describing a system of demerits: it is describing a system where the punishment is designed to hurt the offender and therefore deter other potential criminals.
Not everyone is empowered to do this because it is a violent and costly act. And this is where most of your reasoning comes apart, JMR: you want to make every man morally equivalent in society — and in this case, every man is not morally-equivalent. The citizen is not a police officer; the officer is not a judge; the judge is not the prison warden or the guard or the executioner. And most importantly: the guilty does not have the same standing as the innocent. The questions of responsibility, authority , and justice have to be reckoned in what we are discussing.
As this is true in merely-judicial matters, it is also true in the case of war. That is: while you and I as citizens have no authority to declare war, if either you or I became President (for example), we would have the ability to petition Congress for a declaration of War, and also thereafter the responsibility to wage war. Whether the process there is particularly-biblical doesn’t interest me at this time: what interests me is the question of whether conducting war is an act of justice or not — that is, whether those who have the authority to wage war also have the ability and the intent to do so.
See: the Bible says they do, and rulers need to see this clearly. Committing an act of war is either just (that is: a right use of the responsibility of ruling and judging) or unjust (a wrong use of the right responsibility). I can’t imagine you’d deny that at all — it’s a classic definition of a “just war”, which of course points us to “jus ad bellum” and “jus in bello”.
Before we go there, it’s important to say this out loud: what a ruler does in war is not the same thing he does in common judgment. What one does to enforce the common law is not hardly what one will do to overcome the threat of another nation — it is in fact much more severe in scope and objective. And this translates into personal acts which are inconceivable apart from the context of war.
That said, I think that you, JMR, are worried about the matter of whether “torture” is jus in bello. At some point, you have to frame what you’re saying in those terms, and I look forward to reading what you have to say on that matter.
Here’s what I would say on that matter as a starter:
 The very nature of war is an abandonment of normal reasoning principles regarding charity, civility, kindness and human fellowship — in fact, I suggest to you that the only “normal” reasoning basis we can use to frame up activity in war is “justice”. War is what we have when all that is at stake is Justice.
 To that end, all the qualifications of jus in bello can be measured and framed up: distinction, proportionality, and military necessity.
 Given these criteria, all enemy combatants must assume they are going to be subject to all manner of conceivable necessary responses based on the methods they adopt in engagement.
 Captured combatants should expect to be interrogated to the end that their enemy will use them to determine what is militarily necessary.
 “Interrogation” is a method of war, and is subject to jus in bello reasoning to determine the methods, means, and modes to achieve the end of a just war. But note: the final state of those subjected to those methods must be “defeated” — and may mean “dead”.
That lines out the broadest possible outline of where I’d steer this conversation — and I think it is by far more useful and applicable to real combat and real wartime decision-making than the therapeutic definition of “torture” you have provided. Your definition would eliminate all manner of activity in war-time, and the next time I write I’ll explain what I mean by that. In the meantime, may God bless you and may this discussion be of use to you and to our readers.