Friday, May 1, 2009

who would jesus torture?

Oh my. What a giveaway, as Michael Palin would say.

Pew Research recently conducted a poll on people’s approval or disapproval of the use of torture. They came up with some startling (or perhaps not so startling) data:

“WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey.”

Wow. So what happened to all that love and brotherhood shit? You know, all the stuff that Jesus guy was always on about?

“More than half of people who attend services at least once a week -- 54 percent -- said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified. Only 42 percent of people who "seldom or never" go to services agreed...”

It is interesting to note too, that if American soldiers or even journalists (filthy beasts that they are) are found to have been tortured or killed outside the arena of combat, it is considered a heinous crime. Look at the mileage John McCain got out of his treatment at the hands of the Viet Cong during the presidential campaign. Note also the many current references to the Japanese soldiers who were tried and convicted for torture (waterboarding, etc.) after World War II.

Not to diminish in any way the misery McCain or anyone else suffered. Indeed, that’s the point: every fiber of my being says that treating another human being this way--ANY other human being--is wrong. We know it’s wrong if it’s done to us. But if it’s wrong for them to do that to us, why is it not also wrong for us to do it to them?

Here’s the scary thing that this poll reveals: this blithe, casual dismissal of other people’s suffering comes directly from Judeo-Christian teachings. The double-think at the heart of the pro-torture camp (the very idea that a great many Americans could rightly be identified as “pro-torture” in this day and age is in itself repugnant) that is, the contradictory notion that we can look away when torture is performed on terror suspects while simultaneously denouncing the same treatment as inhumane when it is performed on Americans can be said to stem directly from the Bible.

If you read the Bible closely, (and, yes, Virginia, I have read it, in its entirety--more on that in a future rant) retribution against The Other is a long-held and intrinsic part of the whole deal. Granted, it’s a remnant of our tribal roots, our desert nomad ancestors who lived in a violent, brutal, and lawless time, and who had good reason not to trust outsiders. But that fear and hatred of The Other remains today, and it informs the book that was supposedly put down by God’s stenographers, direct from The Big Guy Himself.

Indeed, violence against The Other, that is, one who is deemed unworthy of God’s love--again, despite the fact that we are meant to believe that He created them too--whether that means other tribes, family members, children, or the countless women who are portrayed in the bible as little more than sex toys to be bought, sold, used for men’s pleasure and/or killed, is part and parcel of the Christian faith. With so much suspicion and rage and vengeance woven into the entire system of belief, is it any wonder God’s foot soldiers would have internalized these base and brutal impulses?

It’s the ultimate ‘top-down’ argument: not only did Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush, et al order and approve of torture--so did God.

So it can be said that this has been a rigged game all along: sure, be nice to your mom and dad, don’t murder each other, don’t steal, etc. (oh, and be sure to obey Moses’ rules on when and how to go about selling your daughters!) But only within the tribe. When it comes to anyone outside of our tribe, all bets are off. Is it any wonder that so many supposedly ‘good’ people, church-going, religious people, the ‘moral’ ones among us, the ‘values voters’ whose beliefs we are told must be respected at all cost, would support the wanton and useless torture of godless brown people who are not part of our tribe?

In fact, biblical scholars, in particular evolutionary anthropologist John Hartung says that the admonition “Thou shalt not kill” was originally intended to mean “Thou shalt not kill other Jews.” (I am referencing a paper Hartung wrote on the evolution and biblical history of in-group/out-group morality that was in turn referenced by Richard Dawkins in ‘The God Delusion,’ but I admit I haven’t read the entire paper itself)

Of course, self-proclaimed Godly people routinely violate this most inviolable of commandments at will anyway. Just as routinely, they forgive themselves for these transgressions, creating all manner of justifications that allow them to see these acts as forgivable, if not blessed.

But it is downright hilarious that these most revered of God’s supposed words--the words that countless Christian demagogues would like to see plastered on every public building, even if they can’t recall very many of the commandments--may not even apply to those of us who weren’t born of a Jewish mother.

And it isn’t so far-fetched. You don’t have to read much further along in Exodus to find God’s command to go out and slay the Hivites, Canaanites and the Hittites (who were people, presumably, and people who were presumably also created by God, as Christopher Hitchens points out in ‘God Is Not Great.’)

Seems to me that He could have spared everyone a lot of trouble if He had simply foregone creating those other tribes in the first place and instead erected a big old ‘For Lease’ sign in Judea.

So, when He said ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ what could He have meant? Too bad there was no such thing as ellipses in the biblical times. It should have been ‘Thou shalt not kill, unless...’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal, except...’

There is so much gleeful butchery in the Bible--Old Testament and New--that if an alien species were to come to earth and be given a copy, and told, ‘This is the book by which we conduct ourselves, and which we hold to be the highest truth about how to live,’ the aliens would surely nod, nervously smile, and rapidly say a polite good-bye.

Then they would proceed to run for their lives--that is, if we let them live long enough to actually read the damn thing.

The bible is more sado-masochistic than DeSade’s ‘Justine,’ by a mile. DeSade is a rank amateur compared to the Creator, who created us in his image. One of the most revered and oft-cited scholars of Christian philosophy, Saint Thomas Aquinas came up with what he called the Cardinal Virtues: prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude. Of course, he also wrote: “That the saints may enjoy their beatitude and the grace of God more abundantly, they are permitted to see the punishment of the damned in hell.”

Guess he should have added schadenfreude to the list.

As physicist Steven Weinberg said: “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things it takes religion.”

That is torture, in a nutshell. It may be God’s law, according to the countless scribes who wrote, re-wrote, purged and re-interpreted the bible over the centuries, but it is not our law. It is not the law of a modern, enlightened America.

We know better than to sell our children and we know better than to stone ‘disobedient’ women.

And we know better than to torture.

1 comment:

Faylei said...

"It may be God's law..." No, torture, revenge -- these are not God's law! The Bible shows us a growing human understanding of who God is, beginning with a very primitive view, growing through the prophets, and culminating, after the resurrection of Jesus, with a more intimate knowledge of God’s mercy and an understanding that there is no violence or vengeance in God. (For this reason, the early Christians felt it went against their faith to serve as soldiers. See C. John Cadoux, “The Early Christian Attitude to War,” .)

Unfortunately, many Christians still have not grasped the fact that we are called to transforming union with the God of love and peace, made known to us in Jesus.

‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you..." (Luke 6:27)