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Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church … Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system … a cheap covering for … sins; no contrition required.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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I often observe that the loss of faith in secular culture produces behavior that secularized commentators just do not, by their own admission, understand.  Their puzzlement is amplified by their unfamiliarity with psychology and intellectual history.

Take, for example, the U.S. Senate’s release of their report that is critical of interrogation techniques used on battle field combatants and avowed terrorists captured in our post-9-11 military efforts in the Middle East.

Commentators wonder how it is that the Senate could release such a report, which could have multiple serious negative consequences for those involved in the interrogations, innocent American civilians unconnected to the detentions, our military presently deployed around the world, and our national security.

Why, the commentators ask, would the Senate release something that can be that harmful?

Without passing on the merits of the detention or the interrogations, one thing seems to explain to me why such a report is issued.  Mind you, there may be a number of motivations in releasing the report.  But one thing stands out for me.

It is the notion of “cheap grace” that martyred Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer discusses at the beginning of his book The Cost of Discipleship.

In the book he discusses how people tend to receive the benefits of grace without acknowledging a countervailing obligation of discipleship.  To Bonhoeffer, “cheap grace” is the receipt of an extraordinary benefit without any sense of obligation resulting.

Mind you, I am not saying that our interrogations or detentions were a grace.   But I am saying that the members of the Senate, like all Americans, received some benefit from both the interrogations and detentions.  It is simply impossible to say that there were no benefits derived.  Mind you, as well, that I am not saying that the practices are to be replicated or not.

But I am saying that, in faith, grace is a reciprocal relationship.  There is, as Bonhoeffer would say, no cheap grace.

More to the point I am saying that the Senators who supported the release of this report appear to have missed the idea of reciprocity.  They, like us, were beneficiaries of the interrogations and the detentions.

That said, we cannot wash of hands of either the interrogations or the detentions so we might feel better, cleanse any sense of guilt.

Assuming that the practices were in any part unacceptable, reciprocity would require that having accepted the benefits we not act in a manner that can accrue to the detriment of others, either those who did our bidding or the innocent. Likewise, if there is sin the desire for contrition is necessary.  Public announcement of sin is not, and never has been, contrition.  We cannot feel good at the expense of others.




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