Especially for Christians who are charged by Jesus to love and to justice in a past ancient biblical world rife with torture and injustice committed by countries large and small. And perhaps this a contemporary example of an actualizing American myth as it works itself off the silver screen and x-box games into the public venue of historical actualization and acceptance by fell deeds of inhumanity taking root within the incorporated behavior of its people's consciousness. Transversing to American policies committing her to do the same to her enemies should they continue in their support and participation of terrorism - rather than pursuing more civilized methods of civil dissonance and patient diplomacy. An actualizing myth in the sense of moving America's acceptance of such brutal interrogation onto the public docks of coercive policies both domestic and international.
And by recent judgement it seems that America's public posture may have drastically changed since 2001 during our present war on terrorism from selective practices of enactment to aggressive policies of enforcement and methodology. Not that it hadn't ever been done before, but that it is now being pursued so vigorously, however the means employed (waterboarding being one such practice). To this precedence the several articles below would caution restraint and general disuse realizing that barbarity can come to any culture idealizing freedom and liberty. Certainly, laudable aspirations for any nation, but especially venomous to a nation not actively practicing its constitutionally appointed rights and mandates to even those whom it would consider as its enemies. Turning a blind eye to its inherent charters of constitutional humanity and pursuing more brutal policies to its own destruction and demise.
Thus, we would advocate the lessening of saber rattling in Hollywood, and in caustic media portrayals of America, and a return to a more civil restraint of mind and conscience. But this cannot be done by national mandate and laws, but from within a society's heart and soul. That we demonstrate an America no longer epitomized by its international image as a self-serving protector of its own rights, to that of a country more cautionary and respectful in its policies and aggrievement proceedings, corporate resolutions, and stands on solidarity with other similarly aggrieved countries. Providing, as it were, a common ground of civil ideology from which to work in recreating an era of peace from the turmoils and manifold injustices currently existing between hostile nations in grievance with America.
To not be content with mythologizing our enemies as zombies, aliens, predators, vampires, and stereotypical images of thuggery and violence. Nor promoting ourselves in the form of anti-heroes, or by roving mob attitudes of kangaroo-court justice, or cowboy gallantry. But focused on the legitimate rights and needs of even our enemies chaffing at America's deployment of force and strength against its coffers of blood money and capitalistic lust. To stand down from actualizing our mythologized ideas of ourselves by returning to a more civil engagement of humanity found in personal and corporate practices of public service to disenfranchised minorities and dispossessed ghettos everywhere replete within the 21st Century's moiling masses of humanity. Crying out, as it were, for merciful justice, human rights advocacy, meaningful and permanent civil services, beneficial civil infrastructures, and generally, personal empowerment.
By realizing that by serving the needs of others we might re-establish our own balance of civility towards a more corporate posture of compassionate human rights and solidarity previously unimagined or expected. Relieving us of our guilt and fears ingrained by previous policies orientated towards war and suppression in the name of defense and security. And thereby reducing us to an isolated, posturing population of brawn and muscle rather than focusing on the legitimate needs and outcries of our enemies as fellow human beings reacting to the capitalistic oppression and unjust rape of their people and resources. Even if it were by America's willful propping up of oppressive heads of state within their own regional jurisdictions of control and oversight pursuant to America's goals rather than to that country's means and interests.
America is a great county. Made great by its idealized version of itself as a "City on a Hill" planted within its own heart by its originating forefathers who were refugees themselves fleeing political, religious, and civil persecution. Determined to rediscover their personal rights within a new society no longer hostile to their differences and heritage. Forefathers who wished to open America up to all dispossessed refugees of oppression seeking asylum, basic human rights, civil liberties, and humanitarian forms of justice. It was the right of every man under God to which the American constitution provided political structure and will. However, we harm ourselves by not more actively exploring how to help and assist other countries in obtaining what little freedoms and liberties we have carved out for ourselves by God's largess and blessing. Though lately it would seem that we have not committed our ways nor our will to God's benevolence and grace. For without this most basic human commitment America's corporate responsibility for its behaviors and policies will disintegrate under its own self-interests. Hence, we must work everyday as a blessed people to humanize the best forms of our citizen government in order to better enact peace, freedom, and responsible relations to a world racked by pain and injustice. This would include the Muslim countries no less than to China and Russia.
Moreover, we do well to realize that we do not stand alone in our fears, our angers, nor our sufferings, within this world that we live in. That many times over it has been the sad experience of other woeful citizenry caught between powers of oppression. From Eastern Europe, to the Muslim masses, to the impoverished African countries controlled by fierce, inhuman gun lords and tyrannical governments. To SE Asia's experiences of aggressive sino-socialism, even to countries in South America and Mexico powerless to stop the rape and pillage of their own citizenry before the cruel hands of powerful crime and drug lords. For this America bears responsibility to lead by strength, and by strength of will, in all matters of human resolution, protection, civility, and justice. Even to unempowered nations ravaged by sin and hatred within their own assemblies and land-bound contracts with one another.
Hence, we do not wish to turn a blind eye to our own governmental policies as citizens of Nazi Germany once did. A Catholic Christian country that became inhuman and hellish to the very state of humanity itself. Nor to become powerless citizens before the creation of an oppressive state system by the hands of our own making in its socialistic and militaristic endeavors. Charged with the simultaneous mandates of peace and humanity but found within its parts to be anything but that. But to become citizens actively declaring to our government and media industry a stronger will of intolerance to any deviations from Jesus' mandates to love and to service to one another. To behave ourselves wisely and not to become caught up in the lifeboat malpractices of ethical confusion to the general harm of those "unlike" ourselves. To consider every man, woman, and child, as an image bearer of God, and precious in His holy sight. To mandate the right of civility and humanity in actualizing terms that would remove any images and myths that would reduce us to civil impoverishment and divine judgment.
Movies like "Zero Dark Thirty" cannot be so much ignored or boycotted as accepted and published in public declaration to just how far we have strayed from America's former commitments to life and liberty for all mankind. Rather than denying Hollywood's horror flicks and indiscretionary violence for violence sake, it should reawaken us by putting our pulse upon the lifeblood of our great nation and forthrightly declare to us our fears, our shame, guilts and sin. Fighting Hollywood and the media is not the issue here. It is we ourselves that this industry is portraying. And it to ourselves that we must work to change by the help of Almighty God and in the power of His Holy Spirit. For within the heart of man is sin and darkness. And in man's rebirth through Jesus can be found light and life. It is to this Kingdom that we wish to share and envisage with all the nations of the earth.
Consequently, music and movies, novels and news, may more accurately tell us of ourselves than we may wish to accept or believe - though we would pay dear coinage for any revisionary image of ourselves that we can find - myths and game technology included. For in those images do we find our actualized versions of ourselves if we continue to allow our selfish absorptions to continue and progress. But these are imperfect, dithering images made by man in his own lamentable image, and not in the Son of God's own image of grace and goodness. Against which we find hope in any local municipality, corporation, school, college, church, or community group, promoting the welfare of others by active service, giving, personal involvement and participation. These are the laudable sublime practices of a liberating nation wishing to break its stereotypes by opening up hand and heart to the needs of those around it. For it is by giving of ourselves that we may find ourselves. By focusing upon the needs and rights of all men - even our perceived enemies - if we wish to dispel the boogie-man of our fears and nightmares, fantasies and delusions.
February 25, 2013
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Is This (Torture as Entertainment) What We Have Come To?
by Roger Olson
February 24, 2013
A New York Times article by Samuel G. Freedman (republished in my local newspaper Feb. 23, 2013 under the headline “Through a theological lens”) discusses the film “Zero Dark Thirty” and its implications for the subject of torture.
The movie is about the investigation leading up to the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound and depicts scenes of people being tortured for information leading to that.
The article quotes Princeton theologian George Hunsinger asking “What does it say about American culture that torture has become a form of entertainment for us?” Hunsinger rightly, I believe, concludes that “Torture has been normalized since Sept. 11 in a way that’s unimaginable.”
According to the article, a Pew Research Center poll found that between 2004 and 2011 a majority of Americans came to favor use of torture against suspected terrorists.
Evangelical ethicist David Gushee says “Our culture has almost lost the ability to have a genuinely moral conversation.” What he means, and I agree, is that pragmatism has swept away almost all sense of ethical absolutes.
I won’t be viewing “Zero Dark Thirty.” Nor do I rent movies I know show scenes of torture. It’s amazing how often, however, such scenes appear in “family films” rated PG-13. [Amen - res]
One movie I will recommend that contains a rather gruesome torture scene is one most people seem to have forgotten: The Siege (1998). It shows one of the problems with torture. An innocent man is tortured to death.
Many experts have argued that torture doesn’t work because under torture suspects will say whatever they think their tormenters want to hear. Another problem, of course, is that nobody knows with certainty whether the person being tortured has the information desired. Finally, it’s a slippery slope. If torturing the suspect doesn’t work, why not torture his family in front of him? Once pragmatism replaces absolutes there’s no place to stop.
But those are pragmatic arguments against torture. From a Christian point of view, if not just a civilized one, torture is wrong because it violates the dignity of a person created in God’s image and likeness.
I would like to suggest that torture in movies (and some TV shows) has become a new form of pornography. It’s widespread use demonstrates that many viewers want it. They must get some kind of enjoyment out of watching another person’s pain.
This is a subject for sermons. I wish Christian pastors of all traditions would speak out about it and urge their congregations to 1) avoid movies that depict torture scenes, and 2) write e-mails to movie makers and theaters urging them to cease portraying torture. Maybe a boycott is in order?
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Published: February 22, 2013
Almost nine years ago, journalists on “60 Minutes II” and at The New Yorker revealed a trove of photographs showing the abuse and humiliation of Iraqi detainees by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison. The images of inmates variously stripped, hooded, leashed like a dog, piled into naked heaps and forced to simulate oral sex then spread widely, causing international outcry.
Even on the patriotic home front, the revulsion was widespread. President George W. Bush called the Abu Ghraib episode “abhorrent.” Senators across party lines, having been shown more than a thousand photos, described them as “appalling” and “horrific.”
At the 2013 Oscars on Sunday night, one of the nominees for best picture, indeed one of the most lauded films of the year, contains scenes of prisoner treatment that closely recreate the Abu Ghraib tactics. Yet in “Zero Dark Thirty"the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, forms part of a heroic narrative, as a valiant C.I.A. officer tracks down Osama bin Laden.
A still from the Oscar-nominated movie "Zero Dark Thirty," in which
a Navy SEAL team raid Osama bin Laden's compound. Pictures by
"Jonathan Olley/Columbia Pictures."
There has been much debate about the film, primarily about its historical accuracy, but one might say not the right debate, not the deepest debate. Aside from a few Hollywood dissidents like Edward Asner, it has been left largely to theologians to call the film into question not on the pragmatic ground of its fealty to facts but on the moral ground of its message: that torture succeeds, and because it succeeds we should accept it.
“Our culture has almost lost the ability to have a genuinely moral conversation,” said Prof. David P. Gushee, 50, a Southern Baptist who directs the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University in Atlanta. “The utilitarian-type reasoning is the only vocabulary we have. The only way we can decide what to do is whether it works. That’s a terribly impoverished moral conversation. It leaves out the question of whether torture is intrinsically right or wrong.”
For the Rev. George Hunsinger, a Presbyterian minister who teaches at Princeton Theological Seminary, “Zero Dark Thirty” evoked the same kind of moral questions he associates with the American decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan. But the film has the added complication of being something that the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki never were: an instant box office product.
“What does it say about American culture that torture has become a form of entertainment for us?” asked Mr. Hunsinger, 67, who is involved with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. “Torture has been normalized since Sept. 11 in a way that’s unimaginable.”
That normalization can be measured in specific ways. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, “Zero Dark Thirty” has grossed $88 million at the box office and received the top prize from the New York Film Critics Circle. It will compete in five categories on Sunday’s Academy Awards, including best picture and best original screenplay.
The film has also received some criticism, which may dampen its Oscar prospects. Writing in The New York Review of Books, Steve Coll assailed “Zero Dark Thirty” for taking fictional liberties from the factual record, all the while asserting on-screen that it is “based on firsthand accounts of actual events.” Among the real episodes omitted, Mr. Coll pointed out, are the objections to “enhanced interrogation techniques” by certain military and legal officials during the Bush presidency.
Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war, joined with his Senate colleagues Carl Levin and Dianne Feinstein in writing an open letter to Sony Pictures, which released the film, declaring “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners is an unreliable and highly ineffective means of gathering intelligence.”
So, by the first argument, the film is flawed because it does not follow the historical record. By the second, the film is flawed because torture does not work. What neither argument takes up, but what some theologians have been wrestling with throughout the “global war against terror,” is what a civilized society should think about torture even if it does work.
In that respect, “Zero Dark Thirty” may have done an unintended favor to the national discourse by positing that torture, at least sometimes, succeeds. How do we feel about that? The numerous awards for the film already suggest that we feel tolerant, even approving. Polling by the Pew Research Center has shown a swing between 2004 and 2011, from a majority of Americans rejecting the use of torture against terrorist suspects to a majority favoring it.
In 2007, as opinion was shifting, Professor Gushee of Mercer University helped write “An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture.” While condemning Al Qaeda’s attacks on the United States, and while affirming the nation’s right to self-defense, the declaration stated near its end:
“When torture is employed by a state, that act communicates to the world and to one’s own people that human lives are not sacred, that they are not reflections of the Creator, that they are expendable, exploitable, and disposable, and that their intrinsic value can be overridden by utilitarian arguments that trump that value. These are claims that no one who confesses Christ as Lord can accept.”
At least one such person offered a prominent rebuttal. Keith Pavlischek, who was then a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, faulted the declaration for not adequately distinguishing between captured terrorists and prisoners of war, and for not precisely defining torture.
At a theological level, he argued that the document had “explicitly repudiated Christian just war teaching.”
One can only wish that a similarly spirited discussion, one rooted in the concept of morality, might have gotten beyond religious and ethical circles and brought some gravitas to all the attention to the red carpet and Oscar pools.
But moviegoing is, in part, about escapism, and now that escapism apparently includes the matter of torture.
“By transforming all of this into suspenseful entertainment,” said Prof. James Turner Johnson of Rutgers, a scholar of just-war theology, “the film is presenting actions that there was a great deal of debate over into something that must be done, standard operating procedure. It tends to baptize it.
And the truth is that we, as a society, are looking away.”