St. George was a soldier, an officer, in the Roman army “back in the day” when such things as crucifixion and flogging and stuff like that were more or less business as usual for a trooper. They had no CIA or anything similar, I think, in Rome. If you wanted to find out what the locals were up to…were they sufficiently cowed to keep on paying tribute…you simply pulled fifty or so of them out of line and started skinning a few of them, or baking them, or crushing them by bits and pieces until one of them smartened up and told you what you thought you knew all along. Then you killed every one in sight, or sent them off to Rome to become players in the Empire’s version of “Ultimate Fights”.
Way back then no one got their shorts in a twist about torture, or EIT (Enhanced Interrogation Techniques). When you needed to know something you simply asked the fellow or girl, and, if you didn’t get the answer you wanted two things would happen. You’d kill them and yell, “Next!”. Or, you’d slice a bit of something off and ask the question again, and then kill them. It was neater that way.
That was until this troublesome Jew in Palestine threw a wrench into the works just around the time that Augustus was making things nice for everyone whose name ended in a vowel or an “ius”..pun intended.
One weekend a dozen or so weeks ago, the Washington Post ran a front-page piece on “ethicists” alleging that psychologists and physicians who supervised CIA interrogations “broke the law and shame the bedrock ethical traditions of medicine and psychology.” Now, nothing like this would have happened when the Roman “Band of Brothers” in occupied Palestine got a hold of some Jew who needed a little tuning up so he could tell the Procurator everything he needed to know…and then be crucified, or flayed or brought to some other entertaining end. “Hey Romulus, lemme have that hot poker over there, willya? Let’s see if mulling this guy’s eyeballs will promote a little evidence against everyone in the town.”
Doctor? Doctor, schmocter, they would answer if anyone suggested there be one on hand for humanitarian reasons, a word not invented until a couple of thousand years later, almost.
Anyway, George got the same treatment when he took an unhealthy turn towards that new thing Christianity that was getting a lot of people into a lot of trouble. Had there been a Fox Network back then, Christians might have been looked upon as some sort of terrorist organization, kind of like today’s Al-Qaida, trying to take the Empire down.
But that’s not my point, at all, though it’s an interesting one to consider for an essay question in the final exam for Ethics 101: Compare and contrast the Roman Empire’s response to Christianity with the Modern World’s response to Al-Qaida. Be sure to include in your answer a critique of the effectiveness of the methods used by both groups to advance their cause, whatever you conceive it to be. Use concrete examples and make reference to the Dar al Islam in light of the saying of Christ, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Whatever you may conceive that to mean. Entertain me.
As I said, though, it’s not my point. No, I was more concerned with the question of “ethicists” and their commenting on the fact that some doctors and psychologists may have broken the law and shamed bedrock ethical traditions. You see, there used to be something called morality which operated in matters like this. Ethics, which some say is the study of how, or what morality is: “The study of the general nature of morals…” as my American Heritage Dictionary has it, has taken the place in the wide world of that word or term which was once the subject of its study, morals or moral behavior.
Morality, conveniently, which carried with it the uncomfortable baggage of sin if contravened in thought word or deed, has been put under the bed in a nice box. Put there in favor of Ethics which is a nice thing, a malleable commodity available for sale in the person of ethicists who have studied the subject and know how to apply it to whatever the issue du jour is. (Nasty rigid Morality is connected to that concept called Natural Law; long ago discredited as something primitive and silly.)
Take “torture” for example; and the use of doctors to tell you when to stop and start again and ethicists pronouncing on the bad ethics of the whole thing. Now, one can go out the door of any office building in DC, or any large city, walk in the door of just about any other and find a floor full of “ethicists” who practice the profession. They’ll be happy to advise one and all about everything and anything; from the ethics of “dope slapping” an “insurgent” whose goal in life is to kill as many folks as he can and gain himself those 70 virgins to the ethics of how much liquor to serve under age teens at a prom party. The wonder of it is that you may purchase the services of an ethicist who will parse your problem…or slice it and arrange it in any number of ways until it simply disappears as a problem. This used to be called “casuistry”. ( Lately it has also been called Supreme Court decision, but that’s just my opinion, I think.)
You see, as it has been explained by folks on the other side of this torture question, desperate times require desperate measures. The ethics of desperate measures, I suppose presume the availability of things like torture to lower the risk of the times and their consequences to the folks on the side of Truth, Justice and Our Own Way.
This side used to be called God’s side. That’s now no longer necessary because we have an ample supply of ethicists to tell us, “Fine, nothing wrong here. Just make sure you have a doctor or two to tell you when to throw some water in anyone’s face…or not…as the need arises. Even if someone finds it unethical, it’s not illegal, and that’s ethical.” As everyone knows, doing things legally is ethical, hence my idea about Supreme Court decisions.
Since we have done away with natural law, and pretty nearly done away with the idea of God, ( thank, umm, something or someone) that’s all anyone need concern themselves about. That and no one else with their own staff of ethicists to tell them, “Nuh, uh. No fair doing that.”
At least that’s what the evidence seems to show was the case with a few of the memoranda released written in answer to the question, “How far is far enough?” “Don’t concern yourself with such matters,” the ethicists say. “We have the answer.”
Poor St. George. He was silly enough to have thought such things, in light of his foolish decision to become a Christian, immoral. What’s immoral, nowadays, seems to be ethics.