As a Catholic moral theologian, Marc Thiessen makes a great Republican speechwriter

February 10, 2010 § 4 Comments

In Chapter 6 of his book Courting Disaster, former G. W. Bush speechwriter and professional torture apologist Marc Thiessen describes the foundation for the moral reasoning he uses to justify the positions he has been publicly promoting for his paycheck:

Casuistry is much misunderstood, so I asked one of America’s great moral theologians, University of Chicago Divinity School Professor Jean Bethke Elshtain, to explain casuistry and how it applies. She says casuistry is “the form of moral reasoning within which the just war tradition is rightly located. In casuistry one reasons from norms. There are times when one finds an exception to the norm, but the norm remains. The exception must be justified. And that justification can take on consequentialist grounds within casuistry. This is what ‘protecting and saving the innocent’ would be.”

I’d quote more – I may well quote more – but suffice to say, it goes downhill from there. The average St. Blogs combox critter has a more rigorous grasp of the rudiments of Catholic moral theology than Mr. Thiessen, who would do well to refer himself, not to Protestant political philosophers, but to the saints and martyrs of the Church, as well as her authoritative Magisterium:

The unacceptability of “teleological”, “consequentialist” and “proportionalist” ethical theories, which deny the existence of negative moral norms regarding specific kinds of behaviour, norms which are valid without exception, is confirmed in a particularly eloquent way by Christian martyrdom, which has always accompanied and continues to accompany the life of the Church even today.

[ … ]

Such theories however are not faithful to the Church’s teaching, when they believe they can justify, as morally good, deliberate choices of kinds of behaviour contrary to the commandments of the divine and natural law. These theories cannot claim to be grounded in the Catholic moral tradition. Although the latter did witness the development of a casuistry which tried to assess the best ways to achieve the good in certain concrete situations, it is nonetheless true that this casuistry concerned only cases in which the law was uncertain, and thus the absolute validity of negative moral precepts, which oblige without exception, was not called into question.

Reading Thiessen on moral theology is like reading Richard Dawkins on religion: the absolute, nakedly clueless holding forth on the subject matter in question is embarrassing to behold.


§ 4 Responses to As a Catholic moral theologian, Marc Thiessen makes a great Republican speechwriter

  • Anonymous says:

    RE: Some things never change.

    Our Government, as a matter of policy, did not authorize the use of torture until the Philippines Insurrection (1898-1902). The use of torture happily caused great dismay in the USA. It led in part to the formation of the Anti-Imperialist League (founded by Mark Twain). The PI Insurrection was a bloody affair. Depending on who you consult up to a million Philippinoes lost their lives (out of @ 7.5 million). At the height of the fighting the USA had almost as many combat troops in the field (@44,000) as it did in Vietnam (@55,000). The use of torture by US Soldiery was wide spread. The principal torture technique was the “water cure”. Remarkably the torture advocates (then as now) claimed that the water cure was not torture and that it worked and in so doing saved American lives. One of the principal proponents of the water cure was Teddy Roosevelt.

    Between 1901 and 2001 the US Government by policy did not torture prisoners. But made great and admirable efforts to treat prisoners humanely.

    In 2001 our government authorized the use of torture (principally by CIA contractors) in the GWOT. This lasted until 2009 when by Executive order the President committed all US Personnel and Agencies to abide by the standards of US Army Filed Manual 32-54.

    It is of interest to note that the two times, by policy, the USA used torture the victims were Muslim. The first time the victims were principally Catholics.

    In both wars the US launched an unjust, conventional invasion of far away lands which resulted in bloody, frustrating insurgencies. The insurgents were often motivated by their religions faith. Torture was used as a tool of punishment, revenge and terror.

    It is also of interest of note that the Muslin insurgents in the southern Philippines never surrendered. US forces, more than a hundred years later, are back there now fighting them.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  • JohnMcG says:

    I would like Thiessen to identify a time, now or in the future, which would not be an “exception” to the “norm” that we should refrain from these techniques.

    Has there been a time in history when there was not a need to “protect and save the innocent.”

    If an event like the underpants bomber represents sufficient cause to depart from the norm, I submit that it is not such a powerful norm.

  • Tom says:

    Maybe in a world where “moral theologian” means “political philosopher,” “waterboarding” isn't “torture.”

  • […] … it falls under the just war doctrine. Consequentialism […]

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