It is the Christmas Season and our pop culture and consumer society lives in a total unreality, a fog of warm, fuzzy feelings around snowmen, Santa Clauses, gifts, good cheer, caroling, etc. while the U. S. Senate issues a report detailing that we have become torturers of other human beings. In the bureaucratic government jargon this activity was called “enhanced interrogation.” (Apparently this was exactly the same term used by the Gestapo for what they did to prisoners.) This is even a more egregious form of unreality. Like calling burning at the stake, “heat treatment.” This specter of torture reveals the depths of our social unreality, and this is not something that anyone really wants to hear.
And why talk about this during this “joyous and holy season”? But if we have any sense of what Christmas means for us Christians, never mind the “secular Christmas” of consumerism, then we have a sense of the human-divine reality that is the core of our being and that means we see and treat other human beings in a very different way. The “necessity” of torture or the “evil” of torture, then, cannot be and will not be simply a result of some calculation of a rational ethics that says torture is “not acceptable” or if the calculation goes another way, torture is “necessary” in this case. No, from the heart of the Gospel, from Bethlehem to Golgotha, torture simply cannot be allowed–it opens the door to a darkness that completely obliterates our divine-human heart.
This blog is dedicated to reflecting on the mystical/contemplative/monastic aspects of the religious journey, so you may also be wondering if this reflection isn’t “off topic.” But I would like you to consider the following words from John Lennon from long ago: “Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.” The fact is that this view was shared by the 4th and 5th Century Desert Fathers, the great figures who founded Christian monasticism. They saw their social order as thoroughly problematic and sought “escape.” They also knew that this “escape” would not be met with approval, even by their fellow churchmen. One the great Desert Fathers said, “A time will come when men will say you are mad because you are not like us.” Ezra Pound once said, “A person with a sensitive nose, living in a sewer, is bound to say something.” It was always part of the “monastic thing” to note the madness and unreality of the world that the monks lived in (as with Thomas Merton) and to support those who were confronting this darkness in a head on battle. But of course the monks would never stop at this negative critique but push forward toward the Light and the Reality that is always there.
A lot of people have commented on this torture report from a lot of angles. I have not seen any deep, profound reflection coming from any religious source, but there is this one reflection that in my opinion stands above all the others I have read and it is from a secular source. Here is the link to it:
I got the Lennon quote from it. This little reflective piece on the web is so good that I do not want to add any more words to it. If you really want to take that journey from “unreality to reality,” in the words of the Upanishads, then you need to understand what this author is getting at. If you want a more complete analysis and implications of this torture report, you can find it here:
From Pascal: “All the problems of humanity begin when a man is not able to sit in silence alone in a room.” For your homework, please connect the dots!