Why is a country full of followers of the Prince of Peace so enamored of conflict?
The most dispiriting thing about the revelations contained in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report released last week isn’t the depiction of acts of torture committed in our name by the CIA. It isn’t even the exculpatory response of large segments of the political and pundit class. Though shocking, the report was no surprise to anyone who’s followed the torture debate for the last decade, and it is likewise no surprise that Washington’s red and blue teams would line up to bash each other on the issue.
No, the most dispiriting thing about the entire affair is the attempt by many Catholics to justify those acts on grounds that have nothing to do with the teaching of the Church and everything to do with the utilitarian conviction that torture is acceptable when, in the words of former Vice-President Dick Cheney, it helps us “achieve our objective.” In order words, ends justify means.
The well-known Catholic blogger Mark Shea has been decrying the evil of torture for a long time, attempting to awaken the conscience of Catholics to the reality that torture is just another manifestation of the “culture of death.” Since the release of the SSCI report, Shea’s comboxes have exploded in an orgy of hackneyed justifications, obfuscations, redefinitions, redirections and false comparisons, all offered by Catholics who one would think (and hope) might know better.
Most disappointing are those Catholics who pair their acceptance of torture – which in the case of the CIA’s operation resulted in the death of at least one innocent man – with an assertion of their impeccable pro-life credentials, as if their condemnation of one intrinsically evil act cancels their embrace of another intrinsically evil act, sort of a moral “buy one, get one free” deal. If nothing else, this response demonstrates once again the appalling state of catechesis in the American Church, where members, lacking deep formation in the Gospel, interpret the world through the lenses of ideology and party affiliation.
Sadly, none of this is really any surprise. Most Americans think of themselves as good Christians. Many consider the United States to be a Christian country, founded on Christian principles, and the preeminent defender of Christian values in the world. But our comfortable attachment to violence gives the lie to all of that.
Consider that this Advent and Christmas, while we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, Hollywood is rolling out its annual catalog of nauseating violence: “Dying of the Light,” about a vengeance-minded CIA agent; “Poker Night,” about a serial killer and the cop who hunts him down; “American Sniper,” the “true” story of America’s “most lethal” military sharpshooter; “Maze Runner,” a violent teen apocalypse; and “Hunger Games 6: Mockingjay,” another installment of the franchise built around teen-on-teen violence. And, of course, we are the world’s leading producer and exporter of pornography, an inherently violent and degrading form of addictive entertainment.
Violence saturates our television programming, from “The Walking Dead” and “Homeland” to the fare targeted specifically at children and young adults. The A.C. Nielsen Company estimates that the average child will see 8,000 murders on television by the time he or she completes elementary school, and a given child will view over 200,000 acts of violence by the age of 18.
The $60 billion a year video game industry’s most popular 2014 titles – “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare,” “Dragon Age: Inquisition,” “Far Cry 4,” “Assassin’s Creed: Unity,” and others –give players the opportunity to kill with relentless, bloody satisfaction. By some estimates, nearly 90% of American boys and young men play video games, and up to 15% of those meet the criteria for addiction.