On Torture and "Tribulation Saints"

On Torture and "Tribulation Saints" January 3, 2008

“What if she doesn’t flip? How long do you give it?”
“If you can’t get to ’em somehow in the first forty-eight hours, more of the same isn’t going to be any more effective.”
“Starvation isn’t a motivator?”
“Would be for me, but I guess they’ve proved it with prisoners of war. The ones who can survive that first round of psychological and physical torture aren’t likely to ever break, no matter how long you keep it up.”

—from Armageddon, book 11 of the Left Behind series, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins

One of the tenets of faith of Christian end-times believers is that, in the tribulation period after the rapture, the world will be taken over by a planetary government ultimately run by the Antichrist. True Christians will be a tiny, hounded minority in this totalitarian vision, forced to live underground and always on the run from the forces of evil, and those who are captured can expect torture and execution.

If you happen to be reading this site in an apocalyptic, post-rapture world, there’s one piece of advice you should probably keep in mind, as given in this list of 14 things to do for those who miss the rapture:

Endure to the end, Saint. Don’t give up no matter what happens to you. Do not denounce Jesus. Give your life if you have to, but do not denounce Jesus in any way!

No doubt, this warning stems from Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:33:

But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

Given that rapture-believing Christians tend to interpret every verse of the Bible with blunt literalism, this warning must be terrifying. If believers give in, even under torture, and deny Jesus, they will lose their eternal salvation. To protect themselves against this disturbing possibility, many of them imagine that people who truly wish to can withstand torture no matter how bad it is. The excerpt quoted above from the Left Behind series makes this claim.

But this statement, like much else in the LB series, displays a total ignorance of human psychology. In reality, no person can withstand torture indefinitely, and it is quite possible to use it to force people to say or do anything.

Consider the torture technique called waterboarding. In this technique, the prisoner is strapped to an inclined board, head downwards. Plastic or cloth is wrapped over his face, and buckets of water are then poured over his nose and mouth. This treatment triggers choking and the gag reflex and gives the victim the terrifying sensation of drowning. This technique was used by the Spanish Inquisition against suspected heretics and by Japanese soldiers against prisoners of war in World War II. It is also now being used by the American government against known or suspected members of Al Qaeda.

Waterboarding is a far more terrifying and effective method of torture than it might at first appear. Consider what happened when CIA agents, to rehearse the tactic for use on detainees, first tried it on each other to see how it felt. Keep in mind that these were the CIA agents chosen for field interrogation, the toughest of the tough. They knew they were in no danger and that they could stop what was happening at any time. Bearing all this in mind, how long did they last?

According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in.

Fourteen seconds. And when the technique was tried on the actual detainees, similar results were obtained:

They said al Qaeda’s toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.

(If you have any remaining doubts about the effectiveness of waterboarding as a torture technique, consider this post from the Straight Dope Message Board, where a poster tried it on himself to see what it felt like. Not recommended for the faint of heart.)

As an interrogation technique, waterboarding and other forms of torture are worse than useless; they will soon produce a prisoner eager to say anything he thinks his questioners want to hear. But in the end-times scenario, this is precisely the outcome desired. A Satanic one-world government, with no compunction about using these or other torture methods on prisoners, could easily coerce any Christians it captured to deny Jesus in public and seal their eternal fate.

The only other explanation rapture-believing Christians could give is that their faith will give believers some magical, supernatural power to withstand torture. This belief, like rapture belief in general, is an example of how many end-times believers fantasize that their faith makes them special and exempts them from the rules and principles that apply to everyone else.

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