Magazine article The Christian Century

Torturous Times

Magazine article The Christian Century

Torturous Times

Article excerpt

THE WEEKS AFTER EASTER are full of miracles, especially if you are following the postresurrection story in the book of Acts. Acts positively spills over with signs and wonders. Take chapter five, for example: Ananias and Sapphira fall dead after being scolded by Peter. The sick are carried into the streets in the hopes that Peter's healing shadow will fall on them. The apostles heal people tormented by unclean spirits. When the apostles are arrested and imprisoned, an angel comes to them, opens the prison doors and instructs them to "stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life."

The police quickly lock the apostles up again, but Peter and the others persist in preaching their gospel of Jesus, "Leader and Savior." By this point, the members of the council have had it with the apostles. This time they want to kill them.

The apostles' lives are saved by Rabbi Gamaliel, who talks his angry colleagues down with a reasoned proposal. Look at the other revolutionary leaders who have risen up in the past, he says. They attract some followers, but nothing comes of it. They claim to be somebody, but eventually their followers disperse and their movements fail. If this movement is not of God, he argues, history teaches us that it will fail without our having to kill anybody. But if it is of God, nothing we do will be able to stop it.

Of all the signs and wonders in Acts 5, Rabbi Gamaliel's seems to me the most wondrous. There's no magic to it. The only angels who assist him are the better angels of his nature. But it is miraculous nonetheless, a sign and a wonder of the highest order--a reasoned, intellectual intervention into anger bent on killing.

On April 22, the New York Times reported that the decision of the United States to employ brutal methods of interrogation after 9/11 was approved "without a single dissent from Cabinet members and lawmakers" who were briefed on these methods by the CIA. Never in the course of these discussions did a single Rabbi Gamaliel raise his or her voice. The Times concluded that this "extraordinary consensus" was possible because no one involved in these conversations knew the history of these methods of interrogation. What they knew was that the American military subjected their soldiers to these techniques in specialized training. This, apparently, was reassuring to our lawmakers. Surely techniques we used on our own soldiers were legal.

What they did not know is that our military learned these methods from torturers who used these "alternative" forms of interrogation to extract false confessions from American prisoners of war. …

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