On Giants' Shoulders

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Let Freedom Ring

I read an editorial in our newspaper this week that described the practices that our government is proposing we reinterpret the terms of the Geneva convention to allow. My reaction was horror. When did we become 16th century England or twentieth century Russia, or any of the other nations in other places or other times that used torture to get people to divulge information? When we read about the Elizabethans putting people on the rack we respond with appropriate horror. When we heard about the sorts of things that the North Vietnamese did to our prisoners we responded with outrage. Now we have our own government saying that we need to do things of a similar nature in order to protect ourselves.

Of course the Elizabethans put Catholics on the rack to protect themselves against civil unrest. The North Vietnamese tortured our prisoners to try to find out information that would allow them to protect themselves. Stalin tortured suspected traitors to attempt to protect himself. A government that operates out of fear is not a good government. The thing that we have to fear is fear itself.

A few years ago the government began asking bookstores to keep records of purchases and libraries to keep records of books borrowed. The attitude of a lot of people seemed to be one of indifference. If they weren't reading something wrong, why should they worry. After all it was a matter of protecting people, right. The police could use those library records or booksales to find out who was trying to build a bomb, or find out about poisons, or figure out undetectable ways to commit crimes. So they could. However, ten years from now they could as easily use those records to find out who is a Christian, who is a Catholic, who is anti-abortion or anti-gay marriage. They could use them to find out who believes in spanking, or late weaning, or co-sleeping, or any of the other myriad of parenting choices that run afoul of the ideas of the people in the social welfare community. At the moment these practices may seem to be protecting us, but they could at any time be turned against us.

You think not? I would remind you that in fifteenth century England to own a rosary was to be a normal English person. To own a rosary in Elizabethan England was a crime. To hear Mass in fifteenth century England was a normal practice. To hear Mass in Elizabethan England (if you could find a place to do so) was a crime. To be the priest saying the Mass was punishable by death. To assert that homosexual practice was deviant behavior was considered right and good for most of the twentieth century in Canada, to assert it in twenty-first century Canada can get you in legal trouble in some cases. To procure an abortion in 1950's America was a crime. In twenty first century America it is a crime to attempt to stop an abortion from happening. Things that were unthinkable in the 1950's became a matter of public policy within the last few decades. We have no guarantees of freedom once our government starts re-interpreting the consititution, or the Geneva convention in ways that are convenient for current theories of public welfare.

Frances Schaeffer said in his book How Shall We Then Live that the time would come when people would allow freedom to be taken away in favor of personal peace and affluence. It seems that we are aleady very far down that road and apparently there is an effort to speed the journey along. There is now a proposal that ISP have to keep a record of every site that every person visits on the internet. Now this proposal is perportedly to attempt to curb child pornography and child abuse. The ramifications of this sort of policy, however, are far broader. The message is, that we have here a medium that is so powerful that we must contain it in a new way. In fact they are correct, there is a new medium, one that is not controlled by powerful rich men, but one that allows the average citizen with access to a computer a voice similar to the pamphleteers of an earlier era. It ultimately is not child pornography or terrorism that they are attempting to curb. What is ultimately the goal is a curb on anything that will upset the power structure that is currently in place.

We far prefer to think of ourselves as nice people. We don't like to think of ourselves as people dependent on slave labor whose government tortures potential enemies. We like to think of freedom of speech as something that all good law abiding citizens should have, but as something that criminals should not have. We don't ever think that with a change of policy we could become the criminals. A current political ad in our state condemns an incumbent for not voting for a bill that would have restricted the rights of the accused in one sort of crime. Some people see the candidate's action as being soft on criminals and not protecting the victim's rights. However, his action was entirely consistant with our own state constitution which says no one can be forced to give evidence against himself. The rich candidate who is railing against this man has not even lived in the state for very many years and obviously is unfamiliar with the state constitution, yet some people are going to feel that he is correct. Once again we are operating on the basis of fear.

As a Christian I cannot support torture of another human being. Even if I could support it morally, I can't even support it pragmatically. The evidence from history is fairly clear that torture produces false confessions, false information, false accusations against people. If we are seeking the truth, torture is not the way to find it out. Like many other quick fixes, it simply doesn't work.

In the 1950's Superman was said to stand for "truth, justice, and the American way." We were raised to believe that our government did things differently that we operated on a higher moral plane than our enemies. We later discovered that that was not always the case. We found out that we'd been lied to that our government did not always act on those high principles. However, frequently, when our government has violated those principles another wing of the government has stepped in to set things right. This happened with Watergate, it happened with Irangate, it even happened when a sitting president had a dalliance with an intern.

I am disappointed that a president who claims to be an evangelical Christian, who makes far more claims in this regard than nearly any other president in the past few decades would be not only supporting, but vigorously supporting these policies. I believe he is wrong and I'm not alone in that belief. Five former joint chiefs of staff also believe that he is wrong to reinterpret the Geneva convention. I think it is time for the American people to wake up to the fact that we are attempting to preserve our lifestyles with actions that are indefensible. We need to let our representatives know that we don't want to allow our fears in the present to turn our country into something we would have very good reason to fear in the future. Our freedom is more precious to us than that. Our concern for the dignity of the human person should be more precious to us than that.

Let freedom ring!


At 2:22 PM, Blogger TheSnuggleWolf said...

Ok. I've decided it is official. You need to start submitting some of these mini-essays somewhere!!!!! the one below should go to Spin Off and Handspun, for starters; this one could go to one of the more intellectual Catholic magazines - but darn it, these are too good to just be on the web!!!

(says the girl who rarely takes the time to write *anything* anymore.. sigh.. but wishes she could and did and could do big or little things with her writing).

Submit, I say!! ;)

love ya mom..

At 8:44 PM, Blogger shenyuen said...

whoa... when did on giantshoulders come back??? (or, more appropriately, where have I been???)


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