November 07, 2007

Torture, human rights, and life before God

After doing some reading on issues of torture this week, and also listening to the talk surrounding the nomination of Michael Mukasey for attorney general, I've been doing a lot of thinking about "human rights" and torture. First off, I have a visceral loathing of torture by the US government. It seems like the sort of thing only "other" countries would do. But all of that aside, on what grounds do I oppose torture. Is it some inalienable human right intrisic to our status as human beings that is the ground for my opposition, or is there more?

I've also been doing some reading about natural theology this week, as I read through Donald Bloesch's A Theology of Word and Spirit. And as someone who has been strongly influenced by Barth, he includes an extended discussion of just what Barth's opposition to natural theology was all about--the primacy of the revelation of God through Jesus Christ that stands above all other sources of knowledge about God. This opposed an approach that included seeing some intrinsic property within humanity that corresponded to the divine, or some intrinsic knowledge that humans have of who God is, whether through inner reflection or outward observation. While it is true that God's power and glory are reflected in creation and specifical in human beings, it isn't the ground of our knowledge of God, but is instead something that is distorted and leads to idolatry.

What does this all say about human rights? The ground of our knowlegde of God is God's address to us in Jesus Christ, and the same is true of our vaule as humans. We are indeed God's creation, but we have value precisely because God stands in relation to us, and all human beings are people related to God. That is the ground of our need to respect every individual's rights, because each person is a person who is and can be related to God, and who can receive God's grace and reconciliation through Jesus Christ. This leads to just the sorts of conclusions that the Bible would have us reach, like loving our neighbors as ourselves and wanting to treat them as we would want to be treated, because we all stand as humans before God. It also leads to leaving retribution up to God, just as Paul writes in Romans 12 that justice belongs to God, and we are to love our enemies (echoing Jesus' Sermon on the Mount).

I am certainly not working out all the details of what it means to be human, or what our rights are, nor does this short post deal with all of the intricacies of a public theology that includes a robust theology of the state, acknowledging traditions such as the Just War tradition. I don't think these conclusions necessarily assume a certain view of those issues, though I do think it informs the way we think about them. And it certainly should inform our view of what it means to torture another human being. Regardless of whether they are guilty or innocent, they should receive respect. That is for their honor, but also for our own honor, and for God's.

Just some thoughts to add to an important conversation.

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