Generous Orthodoxy  

Monday, May 12, 2008

"Enhanced interrogation techniques"

My recent reading in the theology of the Cross has led me to various reflections on cultures based on honor and shame rather then guilt and innocence. This is notably true in Japan, but in our present situation it is most relevant with regard to the Middle East. Numerous articles about what happened at the Abu Ghraib prison have reported that prison guards and other soldiers charged with detaining Iraqis were instructed that Arab men have a strong sense of shame, particularly with regard to nudity, women, and sexual matters in general. We now know that this information proved to be a spur to the particular sorts of humiliations that were visited upon the prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Jesus Christ "endured the cross, despising the shame," writes the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The extreme shamefulness of crucifixion is not sufficiently emphasized or understood in today's congregations. A man who is dragged through the public streets to the howls of the crowds, then nailed up with sexual organs and bodily excretions on display for the contempt and derision of the multitudes has undergone an extremity of shame.

Therefore when we look at the pictures from Abu Ghraib, we see something analogous to crucifixion: the exploiting of a helpless human being in very specific ways designed to shame him—a human being, what's more, who has been judged an insurrectionist, an enemy of the state.

The world being what it is, people must sometimes be taken prisoner, held, and interrogated. This is not the issue. The issue is that when we pass over the line into deliberate state-sponsored humiliation, degradation, and torture, the fundamental affirmations of the Christian faith are profoundly undermined. If the Crucifixion of Christ was the world-overturning event that the apostolic gospel says it is, then every form of exploitative behavior should be categorically renounced in the name of the One who gave himself up as the utmost act of sacrifice, as Hebrews repeatedly says, "once for all."

And so there is another aspect of this matter that elicits thought. In some of the most infamous photographs, the unfortunate female soldier Lynndie England is gleefully mocking naked male prisoners. Continuing the work of Christian imagination to see the Cross by analogy in this picture, the One who is mocked has placed himself in that position intentionally and purposefully, but that is not all. He has done so precisely and deliberately for the specific result that Lynndie England and every other perpetrator should be redeemed.

That is the radical gospel.