Posted by: jackslife | April 28, 2009

Torture’s Wrong, but What About Lying?

Much online “ink” has been spilled already on this topic, including posts by David Schaengold, E.D. Kain, Daniel Larison, and John Schwenkler.

I was engaged in several real world conversations over the weekend regarding a Christian’s perspective on torture.  A wide variety of opinions on the topic were expressed, ranging from complete condemnation, to situational approval.  During one of these conversations a friend of mine asked why we can support the lying and deceit that is required by our government intelligence gathering.  This question was elicited by my hard-line on the question of torture based on Christian principles, and my friend was suggesting that I should take just as a hard a line on spying, etc to be consistent.  She even mentioned that Rahab in the Bible was not condemned for lying to save the spies of Israel.  I have some opinions on this topic, but I would be curious to hear what some of you think about this question.



  1. These are some really tough questions. You can certainly justify a lot of things as “necessary evils” in situations like this. I think a small difference in the question asked by your friend vs the torture debate is the detailed information we have. I am aware on some level that our govenment and intelligence agencies do have to lie and spy to acquire information. I don’t know what methods they use or the extent they have to go to accomplish it.

    Spying doesn’t seem in any way the same as torturing another human being. From a Christian perspective eventhough we all know in God’s eyes all sin is equal, we still attach more evil with certain sins over others. Even our judicial system hands out more severe punishment to certain offenders than others despite the fact that each is guilty of breaking a law. To me there is no way to place spying or lying on the same level as torture.

    Torture is torture, lying is lying. They’re both wrong, but if I had to pick which I’d rather our country not participate in, I’ll take torture. I don’t see how that makes me hypocritical to be more against one than the other.

  2. I think it’s important that you define torture. There are things that are called torture that are not (i.e. humiliation). I think that might be where some of your disagreements come into play.

    • That is certainly a valid question, which I have had some discussions on (see the comments on this post), it wasn’t really the issue in the conversation that I was having the other day. I agree that the word torture has been too broadly applied in regard to some of the elements in these memos, but as I have stated in the previously mentioned post, waterboarding has been widely accepted as torture since the 1800s, including by our own government. The discussion I had over the weekend was specifically about whether a Christian could justify the use of torture by utilitarian arguments.

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