12 November 2007


The first reading at yesterday's mass was taken from the Second Book of Maccabees, and told of four brothers - the full story involves seven, but just under half of it was read - who willingly suffered torture and death rather than break the laws of their ancestors. It's an interesting passage for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which concerns how the martyrs' beliefs were not shared by the Sadducees of the Gospel passage. I'm sure there are plenty of people who'd find the brothers' readiness to die rather alarming - John Hume's observation that there's a fine line between willing to die for something and being willing to kill for something does rather spring to mind. I'd not be inclined to dwell too much on that, though; it does seem that the Maccabean resistance to the Seleucids was more than justified.

All of which reminds me: there's an excellent article on the excellent Small Wars Journal site about whether waterboarding constitutes torture - and yes, it does. Despite checking SWJ pretty often, having been first told about it a few months back by a friend of mine who occasionally contributes to it, I had somehow missed that piece until I read a discussion of it over at Crooked Timber. Check it out. It's important, especially with all the sophistry being spouted nowadays about how controlled drowning isn't really torture.

Have you ever read Terry Pratchett's Carpe Jugulum? You should, for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is that it stars the marvellously astute Granny Weatherwax. I bring it up just because the other day I was in town, flicking through The Wit and Wisdom of Discworld, and saw one of my favourite passages from Carpe Jugulum, where Granny Weatherwax gets embroiled in a discussion about religion with a rather earnest and troubled missionary by the name of Mightily Oats.
'You've counted sixteen?' said Oats eventually.
'No, but it's as good an answer as any you'll get. And that's what your holy men discuss, is it?'
'Not usually. There is a very interesting debate raging at the moment about the nature of sin, for example.'
'And what do they think? Against it, are they?'
'It's not as simple as that. It's not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of grey.'
'There's no greys, only white that's got grubby. I'm surprised you don't know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people like things. Including yourself. That's what sin is.'
'It's a lot more complicated than that-'
'No. It ain't. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they're getting worried that they won't like the truth. People as things, that's where it starts.'
Treating people like things. There's a lot to be said for that as a definition of sin, and we don't need to be doing something as dramatic as waterboarding to be guilty of it.

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