Torture and the Eucharist

Torture is a kind of theater in which people are made to play roles, and thereby reinforce a certain kind of social imagination. The Abu Ghraib photos lay this dynamic out for all to see. The detainees in the photos are made to play the role of deviant, of the filth that the terrorist is in the morality play that we call the War on Terror. Hooded, contorted, stacked naked, chained to cages, cowering before snarling dogs, covered with excrement, dragged around on leashes, made to masturbate and howl in pain, the prisoners become what terrorists are in our imagination: depraved subhumans. The imagination of the War on Terror is inscribed on their bodies in a kind of ritual drama, or anti-liturgy [….]

The Eucharist is about the construction of a social body—the Body of Christ—that is capable of resisting the imagination of the state when resistance is called for [….] If the Church is the Body of Christ, the sacrament and sacrifice for the world, then we are to be broken and given away as food for others. The Church is, as Paul says, to “make up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col. 1:24), by suffering together with the victims of violence. If it is the case that the Eucharist makes the Body of Christ, then the Church does not simply commemorate God’s “no” to violence, but embodies God’s answer to violence in the world. We ourselves prefer to absorb the violence of the world rather than to perpetrate violence. (William T. Cavanaugh, “Telling the Truth about Ourselves.”)

The Eucharist, as Cavanaugh (a student of Hauerwas!) teaches us, is about the formation of “a certain kind of social imagination,” a certain way of seeing the world together with others. Specifically, the Eucharist teaches us that there is no friend/enemy division with those who call themselves Christians, for we were all once enemies of God but are now called his friends. Thus we learn we have no enemies, or better, we are all enemies called together to share at one table in one body.