The Secret of Torture

The spiritual consequences of secrets are sudden potholes in integrity, surprises, and struggles to keep a secret hidden rather than open and exposed to wonder—wonder being the most basic posture of spiritual life. Always, certain people will choose to be with something so challenging, to wash and heal the culture and individuals. And knowing why something exists can include many more people who listen, think, and wonder a bit to learn what torture is and what it means for a society and for people who are providers or receivers.

The spiritual consequences of torture are that you either are moved to act against it or you stifle and smolder. For each of us who have paid for torture through our taxes, the dilemma is strong. Our cultural myth of the independent individual making change and doing good encounters a fierce don’t-rock-the-boat mentality in the public arena. Choosing to act in any form brings a sense of integrity and oneness with our deepest feelings of justice—always good for mental and spiritual health. It will also inevitably bring some disappointment, loneliness, and the need to explain oneself.

The choice of not acting is the more common response. Life is already full, and we tell ourselves: What might one do anyway, and aren’t I in enough trouble already? It hurts to see and know what is there; we could let this one go by and forget. How much awareness do I need to maintain, anyway? The monster is too big for me to address. But both acting and not acting are work, requiring energy and effort; and only one has a payoff.

To have torture as part of the heritage the United States has provided to the world in the last several years (think of the wars in Southeast Asia and Central America, not to mention Iraq) is to experience a national loss of integrity, an ignorance, and a panic of discovery in each of our hearts—regardless of whether we approve of torture. Torture has always been easy to justify, but it resembles the addict’s stash or the unwashed bruise hidden under clothing: maybe known by others, unable to be stopped, and always a greater pain than is understood.

To have U.S. leadership participate, deny, spin, and wink over the use of torture in our wars abroad lingers within us like glimpses of the car wreck that we can’t get out of our minds. Torture injures all who know any aspect of it from any distance, and it shames all other good works done over hundreds of years. To do anything other than admit to it and stop it is to participate.

There is indication that torture will continue to increase. Therefore, I believe the time has come for Quakers to call a study conference on torture. The purpose would be to become informed, spread information, and choose actions of education, investigation, prevention, and treatment. Because this is a most repulsive topic, a conference may draw a small number of people at first. A conference will require careful planning, and to avoid exhausting participants it will require a measured, reflective pace. If its purpose and program are explained well, it could draw participation that included experts from a wide range of fields.

I have neither the time nor energy to create such a conference—yet I know that I cannot turn away. I ask three things of you:

  • Please share this call to conference widely among Friends, Friends meetings, and Friends organizations. A letter will be on my website,, with future updates.
  • Please take this call to heart, and hold the effort in the Light.
  • If there are talents, gifts, or resources you or your organization have to help make this conference happen, please be in touch with me directly.