Torture is becoming more prevalent in world news. Will it become a staple, an aspect of life that -- yes -- we live with?
Late news focuses on a 47-year-old man, a former taxi driver from Britain, who was held captive after traveling to a war-torn region to assist with relief work. He became a world figure when news of his beheading was released. He was included in a global message to President Obama: "Obama, you have started your aerial bombardment of Shams, which keeps on striking our people, so it is only right that we continue to strike the neck of your people," it was announced.
What, exactly, does this mean? We had more or less accepted beheading as something Queen Elizabeth I did to Mary Queen of Scots. A long time ago. Do we now see it -- moving up the nuclear scale? -- to a fresher, more demanding kind of demonstration of civil disobedience? Is there a lesson to be learned from Hong Kong? Could it be teaching us newer, fresher, ever more demanding examples of civil disobedience?
This inescapably leads me to the towering figure of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the great moral figures of our time. He was held by the Nazis in Tezel Prison in Berlin. Then he was moved to even closer Gestapo confinement. In 1943 he was hanged naked as an example of civil disobedience. Instead of focusing on the evils surrounding him, he found solace and grace where he could. As, for example, he wrote "The other day I heard on the wireless some excerpts from the operas of Carl Off... I thought they were first rate, so fresh, so clear, and so serene... I also heard a Concerto Grosso by Handel, and once more I was astonished at the effectiveness with which he uses an extended phrase as he does in the Largo. There was something so comforting about it."
Bonhoeffer left us the legacy of his concept of "religionless Christianity." He also left behind three "miscellaneous truths."
The first: "The translucent is not infinitely remote, but close at hand."
The second: Absolute seriousness is not without a sense of humor."
The third: Death is the supreme festival on the road to freedom."
Did Bonhoeffer experience torture? Yes, of course. There is torture in silence that is designed as torture. Torture in victimization. Torture in damage to the soul. Torture in victimization as enforced solitude. Torture in frenzied and heightened noise. Torture in the extended rape of the soul.
Let's not play childish games with torture. It is here in our midst.