Fantasy Courage and Real Cowardice

Item:  At the kickoff for the 40 Days for Life in Seattle, a number of pro-abortion thugs occupied the parking lot of the University of Washington Newman Center and screamed some slogans on behalf of baby-killing.  Finally, one of the priests at the Newman Center—as gentle and kindly-spoken a man as you could possibly imagine—went out to the parking lot to inform the screamers that they were on private property and needed to move to the sidewalk.  One of the protesters screamed in his face, “You don’t intimidate me!”  What courage to stand up to a meek priest like that!

Item: Cold Case has done hard-hitting drama on the huge problem American society faces with Christian abstinence groups stoning the backslidden.  It always takes guts to face down those legions of killer Christians.

Item:  During the GOP primaries, when asked what he would sanction in the interrogation of prisoners in the proverbial Ticking Time Bomb Scenario, six-time Planned Parenthood donor and serial adulterer Rudy Giuliani replied “Every method they could think of”.  He was interrupted by applause from the Republican-dominated audience.  When candidate Ron Paul dissented from the question and noted that the term “enhanced interrogation” (a term first coined by the Gestapo) was “Orwellian” he was ridiculed by Giuliani and derided broadly by the party faithful–because there is nothing more courageous or realistic than the Jack Bauer approach to life.  Indeed, many GOP “realists” were willing to overlook Giuliani’s long record of commitment to abortion—including partial birth abortion—because of his alleged “courage” in being willing to do whatever it took in a Ticking Time Bomb situation.

Item: Last year in Chicago, one Muslim parent requested a couple of Ramadan decorations be added to some traditional Christmas decorations in the local school district and the school district responded by panicking.  They issued a draconian decree—which the Muslim parent had not at all requested—that abolished any recognition of Christmas. The guy who made the request was gobsmacked by the jittery district’s over-reaction.  Eventually, sane parents (including many Muslims) coaxed the school district back to acknowledging the existence of Christmas—and Ramadan.

One useful spiritual exercise is to look at the covenant blessings and curses of Leviticus 26 and see what light they shine on our lives today. Admittedly, those blessings and curses pertain to the covenant with Moses, not directly to the New Covenant. But, as Paul says, "These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come." (1 Corinthians 10:11).

As I contemplate the stories above, one passage from Leviticus 26 stands out in particular:

But if you do not heed me and do not keep all these commandments… I will make [them] so fainthearted that, if leaves rustle behind them, they will flee headlong, as if from the sword, though no one pursues them; stumbling over one another as if to escape a weapon, while no one is after them–so helpless will you be to take a stand against your foes! (Leviticus 26:14; 36-37)

What strikes me about our culture when I see things like these stories is how much courage we have in the face of highly imaginary threats, and how incredibly timid we are about the things of God.  The Planned Parenthood shill pats herself on the back for facing down the threat of a baby and soft-spoken priest.  Cold Case is boldly gutsy in warning, yet again, of the entirely imaginary menace posed by those Phantom Theocratic Christians. The politician has a sure-fire applause line that wins over people who once claimed to care about the unborn when he bravely confronts a situation which virtually never occurs in real life.

For the fact is, the priest was no threat to the woman who felt so gutsy screaming at him (though pro-lifers do regularly get harassed and harmed by pro-choice thugs and lawyers).  There are no legions of Abstinence-Promoting Killer Christians out there stoning people to death (though there are plenty of Muslims abroad stoning people to death).  And though every episode of 24 and every excuser of Bush Administration Torture Policies loved to cite it, the reality is that Ticking Time Bombs Scenarios are vanishingly rare staples of television suspense fantasy, not a realistic scenario ripped from the headlines.

In short, we are teaching ourselves to be enormously courageous in the face of increasingly imaginary menaces even as we are becoming increasingly fearful of our own Christian culture.  So when a leaf rustled in the Muslim community of Chicago, the people entrusted with teaching the next generation panicked and ran when no one was even pursuing them.  If Leviticus 26 is any indication, that’s not a sign of a spiritually healthy culture.

Mark Shea


Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog and regularly blogs for National Catholic Register. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Cooky642

    There is a story in the O.T. (haven’t found the reference, yet, but I will) about an army that lays siege to Jerusalem. The king is extremely agitated: his army cannot beat back this enemy, and his city and kingdom will fall. God says to him something to the effect of stand still and see what I will do. In the middle of the night, a spirit of confusion enters the camp, and the soldiers slay each other so that, in the morning, the enemy is all dead.

    I have been praying that story back to God for some weeks, now, asking Him for that same spirit of confusion on the enemies of His beloved in this country: may they become so confused and busy fighting each other that they have no time, no ambition, no power to legislate any further harm to this country. I think I’ll add Leviticus 26 to my prayer. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Christi Derr

    What a great article!! How very true!!

  • Pingback: Fantasy Courage and Real Cowardice | Pelican Project Pro-Life()

  • kent4jmj

    Ron Paul, seen once again in a very positive light. Integrity and bravery kind of like a two for one special.

    Yes I’m gushing a little because I admire and respect him a great deal.

  • JimAroo

    Mr Shea has previously made a reasoned and principled attack on torture. Who could disagree? Everybody detests it so why is there a continuing argument about it?

    The reason for the continued debate is that it is useless to discuss torture without a definition or examples. For instance the most recently revealed declassified torture descriptions (and CIA operatives were disciplined for these enhanced interrogation techniques) was that those CIA thugs exposed a known terrorist to……….(please remove children from the room)…..SECOND HAND SMOKE!!!!! This guy blows up a navy ship and kills 11 sailors and we have to apologize because the interrogator was smoking a cigar to kill the stench???? I never knew my parents were torturing me all those years as a child (where’s my lawyer?).

    The other two examples in the declassified document were that this same known admitted terrorist was threatened with an automatic pistol (unloaded, but he didn’t know that) and threats were made against his kids back in Saudi Arabia.
    Perhaps, Mr Shea, in your opinion these are torture. That is, of course, your right to so believe. But if it is your opinion, then you and I are not talking about the same thing when we use the torture word.

    Let’s be clear….all of those three techniques are used in every interrogation room of every police station in the USA…. sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. I am against torture as a Catholic…. but this isn’t torture.

  • Mark Shea


    You are limiting your description of events rather severely. Bush (and now Obama) policy made room for such deeply Christian detainee interrogation policies as “(a) threatening to blow their brains out, torture them with drills, rape their mothers, and murder their children; (b) choking them until they pass out; (c) pouring water down their throats to drown them; (d) hanging them by their arms until their shoulders are dislocated; (e) blowing smoke in their face until they vomit; (f) putting them in diapers, dousing them with cold water, and leaving them on a concrete floor to induce hypothermia; and (g) beating them with the butt of a rifle“.

    I’m pretty certain that when over a hundred prisoners are dead and even the US government itself acknowledges that they were killed under highly suspicious circumstance or flat out acknowledges that they were murdered (as, for instance, is the case with Dilawar and the Ice Man (Google them) that we don’t have to wonder if the abusive treatment crossed the line into torture.

    Further, we really need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that, since we tortured people, they must have been terrorists. 80% of the people at Abu Ghraib were never charged. And, of course, the old lie that Abu Ghraib was an exception is now shown to be false by the stories emerging from other prisons and from the recent report on the CIA black site interrogations. This stuff was policy. The “few bad apples” lie was a way of making subordinates take the fall.

    Indeed, the fact that our torture policies endanger innocents is made clear by the link above, because CIA ops threatened to kill children and rape family members of suspects. Christians should really think about this, not only out of the fear of the fires of hell for making excuses for it, but also for the much more practical reason that these policies remain in place. To quote a source I cited on my blog:

    “So here’s a handy summary of those positions, as drawn from the Bush administration’s arguments in court, the Justice Department’s torture memos, and various public statements. Cheney believes that:

    1. The president has total authority, subject to no review by any court, commission or anyone else, to decide to whom the Geneva Conventions — a treaty obligation of the United States — applies and in what circumstances.
    2. The president has similarly total, unreviewable authority to arrest and detain anyone, for any period of time, on any grounds the president thinks may be in America’s national-security interest. He himself defines what counts as “security” and at how many removes from actual military operations the suspect in question may be. (Thus, for instance, if decides that criticism of himself is enough to cast suspicion on someone, he may have that person detained without the right to petition a court to review the grounds of his imprisonment.)
    3. The president’s prisoners can include not just foreigners or those captured “on the battlefield” or while bearing arms, but anyone picked up anywhere, including U.S. citizens and/or people arrested within the borders of the United States.
    4. Prisoners can also include teenagers as young as 14, based on claims of foreigners that they had some kind of terrorist involvement when they were as young as 11. (Actual case, I’m not making this up.)
    5. While detained, prisoners can be held incommunicado and/or at secret locations and denied access to counsel.
    6. They can also be subjected to treatments that the United States government itself has historically defined as torture. CIA agents or contractors who inflict such treatment should have total immunity from further investigation or prosecution in all cases, even if a prisoner dies as a result of it.
    7. If any formal proceeding is ever brought against a prisoner, he may be subject to any penalty, including death, based on evidence he is not allowed to see or rebut, and/or based on statements extracted from him, or from someone else, under the treatment methods mentioned in #6.
    8. Meanwhile, the president has unreviewable authority to order the wiretapping of anyone he deems a threat for any reason, without having to submit the order, even after the fact, to review even by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court. (Again, if the president decided that criticism of the president itself posed some kind of security threat, however indirectly, then he could order wiretapping on that basis, and no judge or court would have a right to know that he had even done it.)

    I’m probably forgetting a point or two, but these are all among the positions that Cheney and his cronies have taken and that the Bush administration defended at least for a time, until the Supreme Court finally started weighing in. We can save some time in future discussions like this one if we just start with these propositions and see who’s willing to defend them. As I said earlier, if you’re not willing to, then you actually disagree at least with Cheney and probably with Bush, because these have been their positions. And, also as I said earlier, if you defend these propositions you should do so in the full knowledge that “the president” referred to in them — and therefore the one who would now be in a position to use these powers as he sees fit — is not Bush, but one Barack Hussein Obama. Be sure you’re OK with that before you try to tell us how great Dick Cheney and his ideas about torture are.”

  • Mary Kochan

    Not to mention that we have NOT been faced with a real “ticking bomb scenario” ever.

    Actually I believe that a real “ticking bomb scenario” — which may never happen — would warrant the use of physical punishment to extract information, but that the likelihood of ever facing the very narrow criteria that justifies it approaches zero.

    We would have to know with absolute certainty that the person in custody had planted a bomb. It seems unlikely that we would know that without a confession of same (which absolutely cannot be obtained through torture), or perhaps an extortion threat. At that point, I think almost any expediency could morally be used to extract information, absolutely excluding the threatening of innocents (such as his family). But the person of the bomber may morally be subject to any amount of pain to make him talk. My reasoning is this: The bomb is in and of itself an instrument of military attack that he is wielding at this moment against an innocent civilian population. Were he entering a populated city with a plane, with a tank etc., any military defensive action against him would be warranted. Even if it caused him to be shot, lose limbs, be burned alive, etc. As long as the bomb is ticking he is in active attack mode and may be dealt with accordingly. The moment the bomb goes off, though, no attack against him would be moral, since he is no longer actively wielding a military weapon.

  • kent4jmj

    I was intrigued by your reasoning. Nice.
    I think it was very important that you underscore the “narrow criteria” needed. I don’t suppose the kind of restraint needed, to use the principle you defined, is commonly available.

  • Cooky642

    Thank you, Mark, (and you, too, Mary–I hadn’t thought through the issue that thoroughly) for a truly scary scenario. I’d always responded to these issues with “if you’re not doing anything wrong, why would you object?” Now, you’ve given me a reason I don’t have a smart-aleck come-back for! Additionally, while I can certainly make a case NOW for no one EVER having that much unchecked authority, you’ve guaranteed me unlimited nightmares knowing that that kind of power rests in the hands of the Manchurian Muslim!!!!

  • JimAroo

    Mr Shea you really do a great job of changing the subject and avoiding the point.
    And I thought it was a fairly simple point.

    Just where did I defend Cheney? I condemned torture as a Catholic and you try to paint me as a defender of drowning people.

    The guy in the story of the three torture tactics WAS indeed a terrorist convicted of blowing up the USS Cole.

    And the Obama Administration said those three tactics were torture and the perps had been punished. Do you agree those actions were torture? Or do you disagree?
    That is the question….agree or disagree? Should the interrogators been punished? I say none of that was torture and no punishment was warranted.

    The word “torture’ is being thrown around by the liberal word manipulators. Be careful how you use it. That is my point.