Recently, in the news, there has been much discussion of the interrogation technique known as waterboarding. This technique simulates drowning and some have called it torture.
But most of the discussions I’ve seen on this topic do not debate whether waterboarding is torture or not, but instead debate whether waterboarding of certain terrorists was successful in obtaining key intelligence that foiled terrorist operations. In other words, did waterboarding work to extract vital information?
I am deeply troubled by this line of questioning because it clearly misses the point. Whether waterboarding works or not is hardly the issue, especially if you are a Christian. If you say that waterboarding is acceptable because it generates crucial intelligence, then you are claiming that the end (gathering intelligence) justifies the means (waterboarding).
There are two major categories of ethical systems: deontological (duty-centered) and teleological (end-centered). Christian ethics are deontological. Utilitarianism is a form of teleological ethics.
Christians believe that the end does not justify the means (utilitarianism). We believe that certain actions are morally wrong, and therefore we avoid them; we believe that certain actions are morally right and we have a duty to fulfill them. The results of an action do not determine whether it is moral or not. If waterboarding is truly torture, and we as Christians believe torture is wrong, then it does not matter what results it obtains! It is still wrong.
I am not going to comment on whether waterboarding is torture, as I have not given it enough thought, but that is the key question that Christians ought to be asking. We should not be talking about whether the results of waterboarding were successful or not. That is a clearly non-Christian view of ethics that needs to be avoided by all of us in this debate.