A bomb is about to kill thousands of people. One terrorist might have the information you need. What do you do?
I know what Jack Bauer would do; he would torture that guy so fast we would have a confession in no time at all. A little knifey-knifey in the knee, maybe a bullet to the shoulder, or perhaps some electro-shock therapy to open his mouth, all of which are fine on 24, because there is some “greater good” that needs to be saved. We find ourselves rooting for Jack, hoping he will stop the bomb in time by getting that quick confession.
There are many good characteristics of Jack Bauer that are worthy of imitating. He is utterly selfless. He never puts the his own personal welfare over the country’s. He is courageous, and he is a hard worker. If you need a terrorist caught and the entire United States government can’t do it, give Jack twenty minutes, a PDA, and his awkward buddy Chloe on a computer and you’ll get your terrorist.
Despite the addiction that is 24, we have to ask ourselves an important question. Is it ever ok for a person to use torture in order to do something good, like getting information to save lives? After all, the person you are torturing is a major bad guy who wants to kill and hurt innocent people.
Actually, the answer is a simple no. One is never permitted to use evil so that good may come of it. The good end that one wants can never justify the use of evil to reach that end. Every human person, no matter how atrocious and wicked, retains personal sacredness. The use of torture, whether using physical or moral violence, is condemned by the Church as a sin against human dignity.
You might be thinking, “But didn’t the Church in the Middle Ages use torture?” The Catechism confronts this exact problem (CCC 2298). Yes, there were Catholics in the Church and State that used torture, and many of the Pastors of the Church were silent when it came to torture. This does not make torture okay, though. Rather, it means that the Church is made up of sinners who often act against Christ’s teachings. Evil is evil no matter who is doing it and evil is evil no matter why we are doing it. Even if Jack Bauer had to save L.A., or the Church is trying to stop the Albigensian heresy, torture is not allowed, even though Jack is so good at it.
Another reason why torture is forbidden is that these practices lead “to ones even more degrading” (CCC 2298). Societies never declare, “Let’s be as evil as we possibly can!” It’s all done in small steps for some ‘greater good’. Torture is first seen as a necessary evil, then it becomes common practice, then policy. Human life is now systematically de-valued, and more dangerous evils flood into society. We find ourselves torturing not just the bad guy, but innocent people to get what we want, or we sanction the murder of innocent people for some greater good. This is exactly the path of 24, where in Season 1, Jack Bauer would torture a terrorist, but by Season 5 we watch as he shoots an innocent woman in the leg in order to get her husband to talk, or shoots his boss in the back of the head to buy more time from the terrorists. Sin begets more sin and one evil act today can become a web of evil tomorrow.
One step in the wrong direction, no matter how much it seems to be justified, still is in the wrong direction. Soon we find our society capable of greater evils with a cleaner conscience. 24 might be an addicting show with exciting action and a million cliff-hangers, but the use and acceptance of torture is immoral and dangerous. Keep this in mind the next time you feed your addiction for more Bauer. Booyah.