“Christians” Wink at Torture

CommonDreams, by Ray McGovern

Anyone harboring doubts that the institutional Church is riding shotgun for the system, even regarding heinous sin like torture, should be chastened by the results of a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.

Who but the cowardly crew leading the “Christian” churches can be held responsible for the fact that many of their flock believe torture of suspected terrorists is “justified?”

Those polled were white non-Hispanic Catholics, white Evangelicals, and white mainline Protestants. A majority (54 percent) of those who attend church regularly said torture could be “justified,” while a majority of those not attending church regularly responded that torture was rarely or never justified.

I am not a psychologist or sociologist. But I recall that one of the first things Hitler did on assuming power was to ensure there was a pastor in every Lutheran and Catholic parish in Germany. Why? Because he calculated, correctly, that this would be a force for stability for his regime. Thus began horrid chapter in the history of those who profess to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth but forget his repeated admonition, Do not be afraid.

A mere seven decades after the utter failure of most church leaders in Germany, their current American counterparts have again yielded to fear, and have condoned evils like torture by their deafening silence.

What kinds of folks comprise this 54 percent? An informal “survey” of my friends suggests these are “my-country-first” people – like the fellow who recently gave me the finger when he saw my bumper sticker, which simply says “God bless the rest of the world too.”

They are people accustomed to hierarchy and comfortable being told what they should think and do to preserve “our way of life.” They place a premium on nationalism, which they call patriotism, and on what the Germans call Ordnung. I suppose that this may be part of why they go to church regularly.

It’s a problem that has existed for almost 1,700 years, ever since 4th Century Christians jettisoned their heritage of non-violent resistance to war and threw in their lot with Constantine.


Nowhere is the phenomenon of obeisance to hierarchical power highlighted more clearly than in the Grand Inquisitor story in Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, who could plum the human heart as few others.

In the tale, Dostoevsky has Jesus joining the “tortured, suffering people” of Seville during the Inquisition. The Cardinal of Seville immediately jails and interrogates Jesus, telling him that the Church has “corrected” his big mistake. Rather than donning “Caesar’s purple,” Jesus gave us freedom of conscience.

While it has been 130 years since he wrote Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky captures the trap into which so many American “believers” have fallen in forfeiting freedom through fear. His portrayal of Inquisition reality brings us to the brink of the moral precipice on which our country teeters today. It is as though he knew what would be in store for us when fear was artificially stoked after the attacks of 9/11.

Here is how the cardinal ridicules Christ for imposing on humans the heavy burden of freedom of conscience:

“Didst thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil? … We teach them that it’s not the free judgment of their hearts, but mystery, which they must follow blindly, even against their conscience. … In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet [and] become obedient. … We shall tell them that we are Thy servants and rule them in Thy name. … We shall tell them that every sin will be expiated if it is done with our permission.”

Recently, prominent Baptist layman and distinguished senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, gave a gratuitous hat-tip to the Inquisition. At a May 13 Senate hearing discussing interrogation techniques like waterboarding, Graham explained that, “One of the reasons these techniques have been used for about 500 years is that they work.”

I was reminded of one of the things Gandhi said about Christians: “Everyone in the world knows that Jesus and his teachings were non-violent except Christians.”

And the reason that regular churchgoers don’t seem to know this is because the historical Jesus is not preached.

My guess is that those who go to church on Sunday expect a modicum of moral leadership.  If the pastor is silent on torture, then torture must somehow be okay. How easy it is then to cede one’s conscience to an American-flag-draped pulpit.

Go here to read the rest of McGovern’s article.

See how the Lutherans don’t seem to be in agreement with Martin Luther and Jesus, and the leadership of the Presbyterians strongly called for investigations into the torture issue, but failed to make sure the message made it as far as the pulpit.  Similarly, the leadership in the Methodist church cannot conceive that Jesus would give his blessing for torture, but seems tickled pink to have George W. Bush’s presidential library on the grounds of Southern Methodist University, despite thousands of protesting Methodist parishoners.  The Catholics created a study guide called “Torture is  Moral Issue,” but failed to design it for actual publication, because there was uncertainty on how much demand there would be for such a thing (of course, if no one knows about it, there will be no demand).

And finally, the Mormons can count among their more prominent members staunchly moral creatures such as Jay Bybee, who wrote the infamous memos stating that anything up to and including “serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or death” is just fine; New York attorney, David Wenger, who would be uncomfortable writing torture memos, but thinks torture is not “against the tenets of our faith”; James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the two fake psychologists  who showed the CIA how to torture; and Robert Walpole, who made up the NIE entitled, “Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction” dated Oct. 1, 2002, which tricked Congress into authorizing the war in Iraq.

In my humble opinion, this is why we cannot base our humanity or morality in religion.  Humans are fallible creatures, and religion seems to give an added layer of illusion that we can rely on the fear of the wrath of a higher being to keep us in order.  How much proof do we need in order to see that it just isn’t so?

McGovern concludes…

There is hope. As St. Augustine pointed out 1,600 years ago:

“Hope has two children. The first is anger at the way things are. The second is courage to do something about it.”

With those two, well, I think we can. Yes we can.

5 thoughts on ““Christians” Wink at Torture

  1. Thanks for posting this. I’m going into IMHO-Mode now…

    Organized Religion is a fraud.

    I am atheist. I do not personally believe that the Earth was created by some deity. And I believe that I am a decent enough person with a perfectly acceptable moral center, despite the fact that I fear no deities. I do not need a threat of Hellfire and Damnation to make me behave towards others the way I would like others to behave toward me.

    And that is the primary message that all major Abrahamic religions teach. (Eastern Religion follows a different approach.) We have laws that cover this (for the most part, except in the world of finance and capitalism, but that’s a subject for another post), and violating them comes with an Earthly punishment, usually involving separation from society and paying large fines. And, again for the most part, it works as well as obeying Religious Law works. (And how do priests religiously justify molesting young boys?) But to tell people that they will suffer an eternity of punishment, no matter what else they may do, if they do not believe in God is wrong! For one thing, it’s completely unprovable. Nobody knows what happens after we’re gone. We can comfort ourselves with beliefs of what that might be, but no one can tell you whether you are right or not. (If I were to choose something to believe in, I would probably pick the possibility of Ascension into a higher form of energy, without any connection to the Christianity kind of Ascension, but that’s just me. Yes, I’m a huge Stargate SG-1 fan.)

    Instead, Organized Religion has historically been used to control people’s lives under penalty of death, dismemberment, or imprisonment. And that is morally wrong.

    Believe what you want, but don’t believe that your immortal soul depends on believing what a bunch of frauds say. If you’re willing to think about it at all, you’re already much smarter than that.


    Thank you.

  2. The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power

    by Jeff Sharlet.

    The author was on Maher this weekend. I plan on getting this book.

  3. Anyone who thinks organized Christian religion has a problem with torture has obviously forgotten the various stages of the Inquisition.

    Remember…no one expects the Inquisition.

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