Torture, Terror & the Body of Christ

Document Type

Article - Open Access

Publication Title

Journal of Catholic Social Thought

Publication Date


Abstract/ Summary

This essay constructs a distinctly Christian ethic of torture by first defining torture and exploring several secular arguments for and against torture (ticking time bomb scenario, torture warrants, and the dirty hands argument), it then draws on uniquely Christian sources (Catholic social thought and theologies of the cross) to argue that atonement theories that focus on Jesus’ suffering and death as a kind of blood price for salvation are not only theologically distorted, they make all suffering, including torture, a good. It concludes by examining what the torture debate reveals about the identity and responsibilities of American Christians. Christian approval of torture is fueled in part by a soteriology that emphasizes suffering as essential to salvation. In order to convince Christians that torture is intrinsically evil, they must first be convinced that the supreme good, salvation, was not won through the torture of Jesus body, but by his obedience.