One of the reasons I am a Christian is because of ethics; the ethics of Christ resonate with me in a way that feels right. I have chosen to follow him, in part, because the pattern of life that Christians are called to follow provides an ethical center that makes sense to me. With that in mind …
Somebody please correct me if I have misunderstood something with this one. I am sure that I must be oversimplifying the situation again, a habit of mine which some of my friends have been kind enough to point out in the past. I trust that if I am guilty of doing so this time, I will be duly chastised.
HOWEVER …(I am now done prefacing, on to the actual content!)…
It seems to me that some people are trying to advance the argument that, since terrorists use unethical tactics, our military should too. The argument is most evident around the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. As if, because the terrorists commit such evil, nasty, horrific, etc. etc. actions against innocent people, that justifies treating them with a lowered ethical standard, or at least, not being overly concerned about potential mistreatment or ethical violations. There is no coherence in the ethical system that says that terrorists commit atrocities, so we ought to be able to, as well.
Before I go further, it is important to note that reports of the actual treatment of detainees in the “War on Terror” vary widely, from the most horrific pictures of torture and abuse to an almost idyllic luxury. It is not surprising to note which commentators are espousing which reports. The truth is probably somewhere in between the two extremes.
The point is, the actions of terrorists should not change the ethical standards by which we live, even to the point of affecting how the terrorists themselves are treated. This should not be a “lowest common denominator” world, in which our ethics are determined by the person who acts the worst. That’s an elementary school playground worldview, in which the phrase, “Well they started it” is regarded as logical reasoning. Such ethical deterioration makes it possible, for example, for people to say, “No, I don’t approve of the homosexual lifestyle, but at least I’m not Fred Phelps.” As if his twisted perspective sets the standard.
John Wesley, writing about slavery, wrote, “Notwithstanding ten thousand laws, right is right, and wrong is wrong still. There must still remain an essential difference between justice and injustice, cruelty and mercy.” He wrote that prosperity should never be attained at “the expense of virtue.” And neither should the elimination of terrorism be achieved (if that is even possible) at the expense of our own ethics. We may make our regulations about questioning detainees as vague as we want, we may interpret the Geneva Conventions as loosely as we want, we may play with terminology to spin the situation to our benefit all we want, but right is right and wrong is wrong still.
Christ calls his followers to a higher standard.
A part of this ethical system relates to the distinction between one’s attitude toward a large, anonymous group and one’s attitude toward individual people. As I continue to think about the “lowest common denominator” ethics prevalent in our society today, I’ll post again this week about that distinction.