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Archive for January, 2010

It is between fifty and sixty years since I read [The Apocalypse] and I then considered it merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy or capable of explanation than the incoherence of our own nightly dreams.

Thomas Jefferson (Third President of the United States, 1743-1826)

 So what is truth anyway? Is my truth the same as your truth? Is truth absolute or is it variable, conditional, a product of culture, or depend entirely upon the interpretation of the word itself? Is truth only a matter of faith or are there empirical ways of getting at the truth? Well, it appears that truth is not absolute. Truth is, quite simply, what we agree it is. It is a matter of consensus that can change over time. Scientific truth operates in this conditional sense of everything being subject to change. So, why not any other “type” of truth?

Theologians, when discussing truth, would answer that everything has a cause and that cause is God. In their opening pages to their book, The Idiot’s Guide to the Bible, the authors ask a thought provoking question in their own right. If everything has a cause (as theologians assert) then what caused God? Theologians, of course, don’t answer that question and can’t answer the question.

At one level these questions are asking for an answer that is logical, empirical and straightforward, based on reason and facts. Most of us lead lives that are rather pragmatic and ordinary where we tend to answer everyday questions using facts and reason. At another level some questions simply have an underlying dimension of value judgments. The answers to these value-laden judgmental type questions also tend to be value-laden, judgmental type answers.

It should be obvious the judgment type answers to value-laden type questions are not facts or data; they are nothing more than statements of value or preference. For example, people on both sides of the abortion issue often ask and answer questions that are riddled with value judgments. Another example of a value judgment question (it must be remembered that many cherished beliefs are really cherished values) is–what is the purpose and meaning of my life? Since everyone presumably would have a different purpose in life, what this question is really asking is, “Does my life have value?”

 Science of course is unable to answer judgmental or value-laden questions such as meaning and purpose, or the ultimate value of one’s life. Theologians and ministers ask these types of questions and provide these kinds of answers every day. 

 At times it is true that scientists also make value judgment statements about the value of research findings, and the delight and joy at making discoveries and unraveling the laws of the universe. There is value when science does succeed as when cures are found for illness, and new medicines created in the laboratory. However, that is where the similarity between science and religion ends. Real knowledge and scientific methodology separate physical science, medicine, and the social sciences from religion. While the physical sciences (chemistry, biology, physics and medicine) came on strong from the 17th century, the social sciences of psychology and sociology made their strong entry and debut into the world of science, and scientific methods, during the twentieth century.

Knowledge in medicine and the physical and social sciences are contained in books, articles in magazines, newsletters, the Internet and small publishing houses that cater to the publishing needs of scientists everywhere. And such a body of knowledge spreads back in time regarding the content of the material.  In addition there are over 1500 formal academic journals published around the world each month. Each journal usually covers 10-12 articles on new research findings that have passed muster by a professional peer-review process.

Unlike the quality and quantity of authoritative serious knowledge created and reported upon by scientists today, religions rely almost exclusively on ancient documentation to support their belief systems. In order to provide religious answers on meaning and purpose special documentation is needed.  In Judaism, it is the Old Testament known as the Hebrew Bible. In Christianity it is the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. In Islam it is the Koran. Scriptures are used to teach adherents and to serve as justification for a particular belief system.

This is only speculation, but perhaps the first writers of the Judaic and Christian gospels needed to “market” the material as–you guessed it–“The Word of God.” If God is the real author and architect of the bible, He would be much better than some nondescript followers of Jesus. Ever wonder why there is so much debate as to who wrote this chapter or that chapter in the Bible?

One must remember that in the timeline for authorship in the Old Testament their mythological stories were created by men centuries before the New Testament. In order to garner support for the New Testament someone among Jesus’ later adherents to the new religion came up with the bright idea that wouldn’t it be nice to hijack the scriptures of another religion and call it their own. If Judaism’s Old Testament were borrowed, wouldn’t that increase the probability that other non-Christian Jews might throw their support to the fledging Christian religion?

 Interpretation of Scriptures

 In Christianity one problem that surfaces is that the documentation provided is itself highly problematic and questionable as a source of any kind of authority in its own right. In the case of the 27 books of the New Testament and 39 books of the Old Testament, interpretation of scriptures is not a straightforward process. Far from it! Differences of opinion differ everywhere from biblical experts, scholars, and from biblical archaeologists on the one hand, to practicing priests, ministers, and Christian schools on the other. Believers differ greatly on the matter of whether scriptures hold any “truth value” for them.

One important reason scriptural interpretation is so varied is that the Bible itself is believed to have had many authors and many scribes to convey its content. Richard Dawkins has commented that, “The fact that something is written down is persuasive to people not used to asking questions like: ‘Who wrote it, and When?’ ‘How did they know what to write?’ ‘Did they, in their time, really mean what we, in our time, understand them to be saying?’ ‘Were they unbiased observers, or did they have an agenda that colored their writing?’ Ever since the nineteenth century, scholarly theologians have made an overwhelming case that the gospels are not reliable accounts of what happened in the history of the real world. All were written long after the death of Jesus, and also after the epistles of Paul, which mention almost none of the alleged facts of Jesus’ life. All were then copied and re-copied, through many Chinese Whispers generations by fallible scribes who, in any case, had their own religious agendas.” [i]   

If one thinks that these differences of interpretation of the Bible are occurring only in the modern era, he or she is poorly informed. Before the orthodox only abbreviated viewpoint of Christian literature was assembled into what we call the Bible today, the rich tapestry of comprehensive writings on Christianity from many different sources were, for the most part, circulating throughout the ancient religious communities of the Middle East.

 Diversity of Opinion in Early Christianity

 There was no New Testament for early Christians. The books that were eventually collected into the New Testament had been written by the 2nd century but had not been gathered yet into a widely recognized and authoritative canon of Scripture.[ii] The best way to determine if early Christians held differing opinions about Christ and Christianity is to know what their beliefs were and how they differed.

For example, according to Erdman, “The wide diversity of early Christianity may be seen above all in the theological beliefs embraced by people who understood themselves to be followers of Jesus.”[iii]  Erdman goes on to cite an impressive offering of different beliefs among early Christians of the second and third centuries. Among those Christians, some thought there was just one god, and others believed there were two gods. Some thought there were thirty and some even believed there were 365.[iv]

There were Christians that thought God created the world; other Christians thought or believed that this world had been created by a subordinate, ignorant divinity. (Why else would the world be filled with such misery and hardship?). Yet other Christians thought it was worse than that, that this world was a cosmic mistake created by a malevolent divinity as a place of imprisonment, to trap humans and subject them to pain and suffering.[v]

There were Christians in the second and third centuries who believed that the Jewish Scriptures (the Christian “Old Testament”) was inspired by the one true God. Others believed it was inspired by the God of the Jews, who was not the one true God. Others believed it was inspired by an evil deity. Others believed it was not inspired.[vi]

 In the second and third centuries there were Christians who believed that Jesus was both divine and human, God and man. There were other Christians that argued that he was completely divine and not human at all. (For them, divinity and humanity were incommensurate entities: God can no more be a man than a man can be a rock.) There were others who insisted that Jesus was a full flesh-and-blood human, adopted by God to be his son but not himself divine. There were yet other Christians who claimed that Jesus Christ was two things: a full flesh-and-blood human, Jesus, and a fully divine Christ, who temporarily inhabited Jesus’ body during his ministry and left him prior to his death, inspiring his teachings and miracles but avoiding the suffering in its aftermath. [vii]  

 Finally, there were Christians who believed that Jesus’ death brought about the salvation of the world. Others believed that Jesus’ death had nothing to do with the salvation of the world. There were other Christians who said that Jesus never died.[viii]  

At the time the New Testament was written (The Gospels that were included in the New Testament were all written anonymously), and later assigned the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as reputed authors, there were other Gospel books (to be discussed later) that were becoming available as sacred texts that were being read and revered by different Christian groups throughout the world.[ix]

But all these other Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses were viewed as heresy by the orthodox religious authorities of the day. As rich and as popular as these books were among early Christians, they were excluded from becoming part of the sacred scriptures or canon of Christianity. What eventually became the 27 books of the New Testament is only a subset of all Christian literature that was once available to all Christians.

At the root of the development of orthodox views only of Christianity–was politics, even in the ancient world. Holding a conservative orthodox view of Christianity today is, as it was in early Christianity, to see only one view of Christianity. Just because it’s a politically derived set of canonized scriptures doesn’t make it any more descriptive of the historical Jesus than if the literature of those branded the heretics of Christianity had succeeded instead in dominating the sacred texts of Christianity.  

 Modern Day Differences of Opinion

 Despite the orthodoxy of winning the battle to control the scriptures of early Christianity, large differences today exist among the world religions and the many denominations within Christianity itself.

Any particular church’s doctrine may be at great variance, not only with other world religions and other denominations within Christianity, but with the very tomb of religious cannon itself that they promote as their source of authority–the Bible. There are wide variation of opinion regarding Christian doctrine espoused by skeptics, the general public, evangelicals, born-again Christians, notional Christians, agnostics and atheists, and differences by age, gender, and race.

Differences of opinion are the rule where the Bible is concerned, not the exception. One group that has received a lot of media attention is known as the Jesus Seminar. This is a group of academic scholars who question the truth behind the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith.

 According to Lee Strobel,

 The Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith: the Jesus Seminar believes there’s a big gulf between the two. In its view the historical Jesus was a bright, witty, countercultural man who never claimed to be the Son of God, while the Jesus of faith is a cluster of feel-good ideas that help people live right but are ultimately based on wishful thinking.[x]

 One of the great apologists for Christianity was C.S. Lewis (1898-1963). Many younger generations may more likely remember C.S. Lewis for his creative fictional work, “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.” C. S. Lewis was one of the great defenders of the Faith since his conversion to Christianity in 1931. There were many Christians at Oxford in the 1940s. Many, like Lewis, felt that both the pros and cons of the Christian religion should be discussed openly. This led to the foundation of the Socratic Club.[xi] C.S. Lewis served as its president until 1954 when he became a Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English Literature at Cambridge University, England.

 Many scholars today probably would dismiss Lewis’ logic as nothing more than Socratic debate double-talk, or that his underlying assumptions about the relationship of natural to supernatural things or events made no sense at all. There was one statement in the Preface to Lewis’ book that did make a lot of sense. That is, Walter Hooper wrote, in the preface to Lewis’ book, God in the Dock, “Regardless of one’s education, it is impossible to decide whether Christianity is true or false if you do not know what it is about.”[xii] The methodology, of course, of knowing what something is about, should be based on observation, knowledge, and interpretation of the facts and assumptions made.

 Interpretation of the Bible itself is made further difficult by the conflicts between various texts. There are texts within the New Testament that conflict with one another as well as conflict with those sacred texts that were rejected by the Orthodox Church. These rejected texts may have been more representative of who Jesus was and what Christianity was about than those texts that eventually became the “Orthodox view” of the Bible people read today.

For example Elaine Pagels reports in, Beyond Belief–The Secret Gospel of Thomas, “Christian mystics, like their Jewish and Muslim counterparts, have always been careful not to identify themselves with God. But the gospel of Thomas teaches that recognizing one’s affinity with God is the key to the kingdom of God.”[xiii] Pagels goes on to say that, “Orthodox Jews and Christians, of course, have never wholly denied affinity between God and ourselves. But their leaders have tended to discourage or, at least, to circumscribe the process through which people may seek God on their own. This may be why some people raised as Christians and Jews today are looking elsewhere to supplement what they have not found in Western tradition.”[xiv]

 Where Does the Old Testament Come From?

 It is important for people to understand that,

 The stories of the Bible evolved slowly over centuries before the existence of orthodox religions. Many belief cults spread stories and myths handed down by oral tradition from generation to generation long before people wrote them down. Many of the stories originally came from Egyptian and Sumerian cults. All of these early religions practiced polytheism, including the early Hebrews. Some of the oldest records of the stories that later entered the Old Testament came from thousands of small cylinder seals depicting creation stories, excavated from the Mesopotamia period. These early artifacts and artworks (dated as early as 2500 B.C.E.) established the basis for the Garden of Eden stories at least a thousand years before it impacted Hebrew mythology.[xv]

 How eventually were they written, depended upon different languages. According to Martin Manser, “The two main original languages of the Bible were Hebrew and Greek. The Old Testament was mostly written in Aramaic. The entire New Testament was written in Greek, the language commonly spoken and written throughout the Roman Empire in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D.”[xvi]

Today there does not exist any original writings of the Old Testament. What does exist are hundreds of fragments from copies that became the Old Testament. The original material of the Old Testament was handed down as mythological stories via an oral tradition. However, when scribes got into the act they began to use Cuneiform tablets, papyrus paper, leather etchings and the famous Dead Sea Scrolls.[xvii]

 The writers, or scribes of the Old Testament, as mentioned wrote in classical Hebrew except for some portions written in Aramaic.[xviii] 

 The traditional Hebrew scribes wrote the texts with consonants but the Rabbis later added vowels for verbal pronouncing…In the second century C.E., or even earlier, the Rabbis compiled a text from the manuscripts as had survived the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E…This text incorporated the mistakes of generations of copyists, and in spite of the care bestowed on it, many errors of later copyists also found their way into it. The earliest surviving manuscripts of this text date from the ninth to eleventh centuries C.E. It comes mostly from these texts which religionists have used for the present Old Testament translations.[xix]

 Where Does the New Testament Come From?

 In a nutshell,

 Scholars have long debated whether Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John actually penned the Gospels. Because John and Matthew were thought to be original disciples and Mark and Luke were companions of Paul, their names may have been used to add credibility to the account. Many scholars argue that the gospel writers were disciples of disciples or members of communities who were influenced by Paul or the disciples.[xx]

 Pastor William R. Grimbol regards the Gospel writers as editors. According to Grimbol,

 Although the primary sources for the story of Jesus are the Gospels, the Gospels are not firsthand accounts. The writers of these books were not reporters. The Gospels were recorded several decades after the events of the life of Christ. They were written from the perspective of looking back upon Christ’s life and forward in anticipation of his return. The Gospels were not your average history books. The gospel writers gathered many patches of oral tradition concerning the life of Jesus. Each gospel writer received several of the same patches, some that were slightly different, and a few that were unique. Each gospel writer then weaved these patches together with the thread of his personal faith standpoint.[xxi]

 There is great discontinuity in the bibles that were created. First, the material of the Bible came from many unknown authors spread over a great expanse of time. One Thousand Two Hundred and Fifty years separates the beginning of the writings on the Old Testament to the end of such writings (1450 B.C.E. to 200 B.C.E.).[xxii]

It is believed that any New Testament writings didn’t begin to be written until more than 30 to 95 years after the death of Christ.[xxiii] It is believed that Christ died in 30 C.E.[xxiv]  “The Gospels cannot really be dated, nor are the real authors known. It is based on speculation that Mark was the first, written between 60 and 70 A.D., Matthew second, between 70 and 80 A.D., Luke (and Acts) third, between 80 and 90 A.D., and John last, between 90 and 100 A.D.”[xxv]  The Epistles were written by the Apostle Paul long before the first Gospels were created. These Epistles were written between 48 and 58 C.E.[xxvi]

“All of the Gospels except John contain possible allusions to the destruction of Jerusalem, which was destroyed in 70 C.E., and thus it is likely they were all written after that date.” [xxvii]  Also, there appears nothing in Paul’s letters that either hints at the existence of the Gospels or even of a need for such memoirs of Jesus Christ.[xxviii]

Some scholars believe that in 90 C.E. Old Testament books called, “The Writings,” were created as part of the Christian Canon. The Writings included Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, and Chronicles.[xxix]

It is also reported that, “The oldest copy of the New Testament yet found consists of a tiny fragment from the Gospel of John. Scholars dated the little flakes of papyrus from the period style of its handwriting to around the first half of the 2nd Century C.E. The language of most of the New Testament consists of old Greek.”[xxx] In 150 C.E. two important events occurred: (1) the four Gospels were collected and put together, and (2) The School of Alexandria was founded in Egypt, quickly becoming a major center for both Christian Theology and Greek Philosophy.

What many Christians fail to understand is that, in addition to the four Gospels of the New Testament, there were many other texts created by the early Christian religion. But these texts were suppressed [These texts will be discussed in detail in Part II]. They were known as the Agnostic texts, and were very important to early Christianity.[xxxi] The first recorded use of the term “Christian” occurred at Antioch, Syria, home of one of the first Christian Churches.      

The backdrop of the path of how today’s Bible became what it is, is based on modifications over the last 2000 years. According to the history of the Dark Bible, “There has existed over a hundred different versions of the Bible, written in most of the languages of the time including Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin. Some versions left out certain biblical stories and others added stories.

The completed versions of the Old and New Testaments probably got finished at around 200-300 C.E. although many disputed the authenticity of some books which later ended up as Apocrypha (un-canonical or of questionable authorship). For example, the book of Ecclesiasticus appears in the Catholic Bible but not in Protestant versions.”[xxxii]     

 In Part II of Problems of Interpretation of the Bible several areas will be covered including: Texts that were banned from the Bible, the problems connected to literal, figurative, and symbolic interpretation of scripture, the differing characterization in the Bible of God as a Loving God or a Murderous Thug, and the contradictions in the Bible as to whether the path to salvation is through Faith or Good Works.


[i] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion ( Boston & New York: Houghton, Mifflin Company, 2006) 92-93.

[ii] Bart D. Erdman, Lost Christianities—The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 3.

[iii] Ibid., 2

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid., 3

[x] Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), 124

[xi] C.S. Lewis,  God in the Dock—Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), 8

[xii] Ibid., 9

[xiii] Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief—The Secret Gospel of Thomas, (New York: Random House, 2003), 75

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] The Dark Bible: A Short History of the Bible  n.d. [online]; accessed 5 Sept. 2005; available from  http://www.nobeliefs.com/DarkBible/darkbible2.htm

[xvi] Martin Manser, Bible Stories, (Bath, UK: Miles Kelly Publishing, Ltd., 2000), 8

[xvii] The Dark Bible.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] Pastor William R. Grimbol, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to The Life of Christ, (Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2001), 7

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] The Dark Bible.

[xxiii] These dates are a matter of conjecture. No one knows for sure when they were written.

[xxiv] Richard Carrier, “The Formation of the New Testament Canon (2000)” [online]; accessed 10 Apr. 2006; available from http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/NTcanon.html

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] Ibid.

[xxix] Individual books of the Writings occurred much earlier. They were not put together into a collection until 90 C.E.

[xxx] The Dark Bible

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] Ibid.

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America at Crossroads of Morality And Conscience

 The people of theUnited States are at the crossroads of morality and conscience where torture policy in America is concerned. Much harm has been done to the reputation of this country as a civilized people, due to the expediency of policies during the Bush Administration; they believed such policies aided and assisted the job of national security. As a result of such beliefs, a secret policy of torture was promoted by the Bush Administration ostensibly to counter international terrorism. Subsequently, every “MOW-RON” and his brother came out of the woodwork to euphemistically describe torture as, “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.” While it’s one thing for a misguided, uneducated general public to miss the historical, religious, social, legal, sociological and psychological basis for prohibiting torture, there really was no excuse for former members of the government to do so, many of whom knew it was wrong from the start.

In recent months, the primary motivation of Dick Cheney and others who promoted an after-the-fact dismissal of national and international law, including the Geneva Convention—was self-preservation, and the fear that they might one day be prosecuted and incarcerated for crimes against humanity. Since we now have President George Herbert Walker Bush’s confession on tape, broadcast on the Keith Olbermann MSNBC show, the country now knows that there was approval at the highest levels of government to commit these war crimes. Those guilty of war crimes do reach all the way from “lackey” levels in the CIA, to military prisons in Iraq and elsewhere, and finally to the White House itself. More blatant rationalizations came recently from ex-vice president Dick Cheney. Cheney, who never went beyond his freshman year of college, seems to lack any understanding of law and shows absolutely no remorse for initiating and promoting torture and crimes against humanity.

How soon do the American people forget history? At the end of World War II many public servants, low-level bureaucrats, military officers, Nazi SS Elite, judges, and high-level government officials were brought to the Nuremburg War Crimes Tribunal and tried for crimes against humanity. Where German military and concentration guards were concerned, they were not allowed to defend themselves with rationalizations like “We were only following orders, or let’s put this all behind us and look to the future” (sound familiar). The Japanese were also tried after WWII for war crimes, including those who used waterboarding to torture prisoners. Many were sentenced to death for waterboarding. Crimes against humanity were viewed as great violations of this country’s values to respect life, human dignity and humanity in general.

Policies of torture rob our nation of both dignity and respect. If we fail to act responsibly now as a nation, and fail to bring to justice all those involved in initiating an American torture policy, either promoting or carrying out war crimes in the name of the United States, the consequences of a dishonored nation with a double standard will taint the American image, and thus the American people forever more. According to Alfred W. McCoy in his important book, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror, concluded:

Finally, as we learned from France’s battle for Algiers in the 1950s and Britain’s Northern Ireland conflict in the 1970s, a nation that sanctions torture in defiance of democratic principles pays a terrible price. For nearly two millennia, the practice has been identified with tyrants and empires. For the past two centuries, its repudiation has been synonymous with the humanist ideals of the Enlightenment and democracy. When any modern state tortures even a few victims, the stigma compromises its majesty and corrupts its integrity. Its officials must spin an even more complex web of lies that, in the end, weakens the bonds of trust and the rule of law that are the sine qua non of a democracy. And, beyond its borders, allies and enemies turn away in collective revulsion.

 CIA’s Historically Subversive Role

 The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been involved in torture, kidnapping, extortion, blackmail and murder since its official inception in 1947 when the CIA was organized from its predecessor, The OSS—Office of Strategic Services. Both agencies have had a long and vile history. Individuals responsible for these violations of national and international law have never been held accountable because of the veil of secrecy and the alleged compromise to American intelligence gathering and national security. The public ends up not knowing whether the CIA did their clandestine activities out of a legitimate need for protecting the nation’s security, or if it was a bogus smokescreen to cover up incompetence, criminal behavior, including murders committed on behalf of the agency.

More and more revelations every day demonstrate that the CIA engaged in a long rogue program of illegal activity bordering on treason (any act of betrayal or disloyalty—in this case—the undermining of the laws, values and ideals of the American people). In addition, the violation of civil and human rights (decade after decade) warrants a long overdue charge of “Crimes Against Humanity” directed at individuals responsible including the chief architects of such programs.

It is now clear that in order to regain any shred of national respect and honor in the eyes of the American people, and the rest of the world, those responsible must finally be brought to justice. Such vile human conduct of the last 63 years must not be whitewashed or swept under the rug of obscurity. Are you listening Mr. Eric Holder?

The CIA has used mind control drugs on unwitting experimental subjects, and has been a party to the murder or attempted murder of international democratically-elected political figures. They have also been involved in directly training 56,000 south American soldiers (School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia) in methods of torture. Torture methods taught were eventually used against innocent civilians (men, women and children), political figures, militant rebels, and military combatants and detainees, all sponsored on behalf of the CIA of the United States government.

 Society’s Inner Conflict over Torture

Ultimately, there are now serious long-lasting value conflicts going on between various segments of American society over the issue of torture. Since things went public, there are those who find torture the epitome of evil incarnate—a violation of human decency, abhorrent criminal behavior that has now put our troops at extreme risk, morally wrong and reprehensible conduct unbecoming of professionals like never seen before, and perversion of American’s highest ethical standards. They also view a national policy around torture as the promotion of despicable acts not worthy of the highest ideals a people can hold, by dishonoring the importance of human rights and dignity, and tarnishing the character of the American people.

There are some in our society today who, reacting under the pressures of terrorist potential attacks, psychologically and morally cave-in to these pressures, by turning a blind eye to such public disclosures as a national torture policy. Fear and anxiety over potential terrorist attacks dominate and rule these people’s beliefs, however unfounded or useless the “Ticking Bomb Scenario” might be.

There is also a small percentage (around 6 percent) of the American public who have no moral qualms where human suffering is concerned, and would give our government a free pass to torture whoever they want.

While the above fearful types may be thought of pragmatists whose approval of torture is highly conditional (only in the case of the ticking bomb scenario), the latter group would allow the government to torture anyone they saw fit and exempt government from any control whatsoever. The fearful and anxious group of citizens needs education. Those giving government a free pass to conduct torture under any circumstances is not in need of education. Education probably won’t help them. What they need most is a psychiatrist.

The greatest problem facing both of these latter groups is that they have not taken the time to carefully think things through in any systematic or careful way. One of the key ideas that hasn’t been thought through at all by these groups—is the significance of our own system of laws, and history of jurisprudence in the United States. At the top of such history is our country’s two century plus old domestic problem of law enforcement beating confessions out of detainees (The Third Degree). In addition, there were many cases in which ( Brown versus Mississippi, 1936) Negro defendants were whipped in order to coerce a confession. Lynchings and murder were the mainstay of a desperate south trying to protect its repressive social order. One-by-one the legal system has successfully purged law enforcement its legacy of violence against the citizenry.

When the Rodney King incident occurred in 1991, society was relatively swift to punish law enforcement personnel who engaged in beating Rodney King. In addition, nationwide there have been other cases of law enforcement personnel who engaged in criminal acts such as torture, rape or murder of suspects or jailed individuals. In most cases media exposure and a strong public backlash brought forth law enforcement’s illegal behavior into the light of day. Criminal indictments often follow such illegal behavior on the part of law enforcement; and in the end, massive civil lawsuits follow the criminal proceedings in order to exact monetary retribution.

Society itself has changed its attitudes over the decades where child abuse and spousal abuse are concerned. Physical punishment and abuse are viewed more and more as acts of violence and torture. While there are still institutionalized acts of abuse committed within our educational system in some states, rationalizations for such behavior are no longer tolerated, as evidenced by widespread lawsuits, and teachers and administrators whose names are added to state databases and registrys as child abusers, threatening and putting at risk their own livelihood and personal reputation.

At least domestically, no one looks the other way or hides their head in the sand. At the national or federal level, those who, in the name of national security, commit acts of torture of prisoners of war—bring nothing but shame and dishonor following such acts. Underlying such criminal behavior, the word cowardice does come to mind.

Let the Generals Speak

On October 23, 2008, at the University of Virginia Law School retired military leaders, Lieutenant General Harry E. Soyster and Lieutenant General Charles Otstott, discussed the importance of using interrogation methods that are effective, lawful and humane, and the importance of the commander-in-chief setting the highest standards for all U.S. personnel in the treatment of prisoners.

“It doesn’t matter what they do, it’s what we do. We don’t lower ourselves to the level of this terrible enemy we are fighting. It’s about what our standards are.”

General Soyster

“The rules are the same, and should be the same. All the Machiavellian work that has been done to get around those rules is detestable, and I can’t believe we are doing that as an official policy in the United States of America.”

General Otstott

In an article on August 27, 2009, “CIA probe shields architects of US torture regime,”its author Bill Van Auken reported on the Obama’s administration’s coverup, reluctance to prosecute, and its substantial censorship of the CIA Inspector General’s Report on torture. “Given the number of murders that were perpetrated by the CIA, it is flabbergasting that the Obama Administration, which promised ‘accountability’ would fail the American people so miserably in this way.”

Bill Van Auken also reported that,

The censoring of information on similar torture deaths means that the Obama administration is acting to ensure that those who planned, ordered,and executed the torture program under Bush are literally allowed to get away with murder. Nor is this a matter restricted to the three deaths concealed in the report released Monday. Human rights groups have unearthed information on at least 100 detainee deaths during interrogations, and given the cover-ups carried out by the military and the CIA, there is ample reason to believe that there are many more. An indication of the widespread character of such fatal abuse was given by retired US Army General Barry Richard McCaffrey during an interview on MSNBC television news last April, following President Obama’s speech to CIA employees at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

In that interview General McCaffrey said,

“We should never, as a policy, maltreat people under our control, detainees,” said McCaffrey, who made repeated inspection tours of US-occupied Iraq on behalf of the military’s Central Command. “We tortured people unmercifully,” he added. “We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the CIA.”

Judgment at Nuremberg Revisited

In 1961 a movie was released called Judgment at Nuremberg. The actual Nuremberg trials took place in 1945-46 in Nuremberg, Germany. Although a movie, the final speech by Spencer Tracy spoke volumes to the ramifications of what these trials meant and the long-term impact that crimes against humanity would have on the world.

These trials cut through the rationalizations of citizens following orders of a corrupt and evil dictator. The rationalization, “I was only following orders” carried no weight in the end. Individuals were held responsible for their own acts and were punished or sentenced accordingly. Half of the high-level original 22 defendants were hung.

Current and former members of the CIA, U.S. Army, or higher up political figures will not be allowed to hide from their crimes against humanity by shifting responsibility to “good intentions” or uncertain pragmatic beliefs about results. All that is irrelevant; what matters is that the United States Justice Department bring criminal offenders to justice and set an example of a democratic country doing what is morally and ethically just.

As you read ahead, empathetically place yourself inside the mind of Judge Haywood. In the movie Spencer Tracy played Judge Haywood. As you read his words see the striking connection to what took place this last decade in particular compared to the United States at the end of World War II in 1945. One can easily see that society today needs to be reminded of the Nuremberg trials because, indeed, history does seem to repeat itself and governments don’t seem to learn from either history or its mistakes. Individuals have memories; institutions do not.

 Speech by Judge Haywood Prior to Sentencing

“The trial conducted before this Tribunal began over eight months ago. The record of evidence is more than ten thousand pages long, and final arguments of counsel have been concluded.

Simple murders and atrocities do not constitute the gravamen of the charges in this indictment. Rather, the charge is that of conscious participation in a nationwide, government organized system of cruelty and injustice in violation of every moral and legal principle known to all civilized nations. The Tribunal has carefully studied the record and found therein abundant evidence to support beyond a reasonable doubt the charges against these defendants.

Heir Rolfe, in his very skillful defense, has asserted that there are others who must share the ultimate responsibility for what happened here in Germany. There is truth in this. The real complaining party at the bar in this courtroom is civilization. But the Tribunal does say that the men in the dock are responsible for their actions, men who sat in black robes in judgment on other men, men who took part in the enactment of laws and decrees, the purpose of which was the extermination of humans beings, men who in executive positions actively participated in the enforcement of these laws — illegal even under German law. The principle of criminal law in every civilized society has this in common: Any person who sways another to commit murder, any person who furnishes the lethal weapon for the purpose of the crime, any person who is an accessory to the crime — is guilty.

Heir Rolfe further asserts that the defendant, Janning, was an extraordinary jurist and acted in what he thought was the best interest of this country. There is truth in this also. Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary — even able and extraordinary — men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat at through trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen.

There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” — of “survival.” A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient — to look the other way.

Well, the answer to that is “survival as what?” A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult!

Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.

Final Comments

      The issue of torture and the war crimes committed by members of the government in our name isn’t going to go away. The choices are simple. The end does not justify the means and no amount of rationalization is ever going to alter that. No matter how many times someone tries to gloss over it, torture is a crime against humanity.

Those who have initiated policies to institutionalize interrogation techniques involving torture, otherwise promoted it, or carried it out, should receive the harshest of punishment, namely life in prison. It is not important what position an individual held in our government; those guilty of war crimes need to be brought to justice. It is an unacceptable act of betrayal and disloyalty to the values of the American people, that misguided buffoons in our government, led us down the path toward everlasting national dishonor and disgrace.

Given the failure of the United States to follow the principles of international law, and the failure of a sizeable minority of American citizens to comprehend the gravity of a democratic country promoting torture, the “land of the free and the home of the brave” are now in serious moral trouble.

 

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