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Torture and the Courage to Be Inconvenienced

By Steven Miles MD  Posted by Stephen Soldz (about the submitter)     Permalink
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[I was invited to give this talk at adult education at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church on May 4, 2008 and lead a discussion of this topic on the evening of May 6. The Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul informed me that Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life information@mccl.org encouraged people to contact the diocese to not allow me to speak because I am pro-choice on abortion and pro-euthanasia. Although I am pro-choice on abortion, I have written and spoke against physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. This talk on torture addresses neither. My wife and I have adopted and raised a disabled foster child. The Archdiocese unications@archspm.org instructed St. Joan's that I could not appear at the adult education in the church. St. Joan arranged for a college venue.

The author hereby grants permission to redistribute, download, copy and use this material in any electronic or printed form. No further permissions need be requested.]

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I am deeply honored to be able to speak with you today about the issue of torture.

Torture is not an exotic or esoteric topic. Although we rarely speak of it, it has directly wounded most of us. It is government policy in more than half of the world's 200 nations. Our relatives fled the torture in East Europe, Latin America, or East Asia. Some of us were dispossessed by torture which enforced United States racial policies. Some of us have lost colleagues to torture in mission. Some of us sent or lost relatives who fought against torturing regimes. Forty thousand families in Minnesota have a torture survivor; we all bear the costs of their diminished parenting abilities, earning power, and sadness.

My family has been touched by torture too. My wife's ancestors disappeared in the Holocaust of Belarus. Our adoptive son survived the Cambodia's killing fields and as a nurse put himself in service of the refugees of Ruanda. I have worked with survivors of torture on three continents and assist several groups, including Minnesota's Center for Victims of Torture, which strives to treat or prevent torture.

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The word "torture" comes from the word for "twist" capturing the design of devices like the rack or the wheel that contort the body. We should however not allow our empathic recoil from the image of a person's agony to cause us to miss the point that torture is aimed to destroy a community. The destruction of a person is the path-the destruction of a community is the goal. The Passion story has all the elements of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

The ostentatious and unnecessary use of an inside informer,

The mocking purple robe and the public label, "The King of the Jews,"

The scourging and the nails.

Jesus was not some Nazarene carpenter who was picked at random. He was selected and tortured in a manner that was designed to destroy the community carrying His message. In today's scripture, Jesus reflected on that communitarian nature of his impending arrest and execution,

I glorified You on earth
by accomplishing the work that You gave me to do.
I pray for them. And I have been glorified in them.
And now I will no longer be in the world,
but they are in the world, while I am coming to You.
John 17:1-11a

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Torture is generally used to attack and suppress civil society. This is why it is aimed at the monks in Burma, the political leaders of Zimbabwe, the playwrights of Czechoslovakia, the journalists of Russia, the students of Chile, or the union leaders of Uruguay.

In this use, torture is a strategy to maintain

  • The corrupt against the civic minded,
  • The empowered over the disenfranchised, and
  • The best fed in lands where most are poor and hungry.

Torture is government by intimidation, horror, fear and division. It is antithetical to those who would create societies to flourish by lovingkindness, justice, and inclusion.

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