Why Evangelicals Aren’t Talking About The Three Dead At Gitmo
Apologies all around for the silence. The past two days have been full of near-manic writing frenzies. My resolution for this year was to write 5 spec scripts for various sitcoms and send them to various agencies, and yesterday was pretty fruitful. Suffice it to say, it’s taken about 5 hours for me to quit thinking like Don Glover’s Troy from Community.
And now I’d like to try and overthink on some more serious stuff as a way to detox the brain.
I read this piece by Dahlia Lithwick about Scott Horton’s report on the possible cover up of murders at Gitmo and it struck a chord in me in relation to the Religious Right and their positions being so dissonant with their stated beliefs.
First, let me state: it’s possible that these deaths at Guantanamo weren’t murder. It’s possible that these men weren’t tortured. Read the pieces and come to your own conclusions. For myself, suffice it to say that the only conspiracies I could actually seeing attempted is the kind where government bureaucrats, whether wearing fatigues or suits, attempt to cover-up past mistakes. Of course, since government is woefully incompetent, they fail at these cover-ups and we learn of the error. I don’t even have to go back 24 hours to find an example: a significant chunk of last night’s Daily Show was about John Edwards confessing that he was the father of Rielle Hunter’s child. So if someone tells me that D.C. has been hustling to hide the death of three men they accidentally tortured to death, I won’t discard it like I will the Birthers or Truthers.
Lithwick, in her must-read piece (along with Horton’s must-read report), wrote:
The fact that three Guantanamo prisoners—none of whom had any links to terrorism and two of whom had already been cleared for release—may have been killed there and the deaths covered up, should be front-page news. That brand-new evidence of this possible atrocity from military guards was given only the most cursory investigation by the Obama administration should warrant some kind of blowback. But changing what we allow ourselves to believe about torture would change the way we have reconciled ourselves to torture. Nobody in this country is prepared to do that. So we have opted to ignore it. [emphasis added]
This is unnecessarily broad, but if we can hone the focus, I think this critique is devastating. The fact is that there are plenty of Americans who are aware that we tortured people at Guantanamo. Go to Berkeley, Ann Arbor, Madison, or Boulder and you’ll find plenty of people protesting what President Bush did in the name of The War on Terror. We also know, however, that this group is significantly out-numbered in this country. The people who Lithwick is referring to is not “we” as in all Americans, although it is noble of her to try to not castigate a specific group. I have no such qualms: the people who choose to ignore the reality of our GWoT behavior are the very people who support it- conservatives, and, as is the wont for this blog to point out- evangelicals.
I mean, let’s call things what they are. The Pew Forum did the groundwork, and here’s their findings on the relationship between evangelicalism and support for torture:
So 79% of white evangelicals support torture in some circumstance. I recently wrote that I’m amazed by the evangelical tendency to tolerate behavior that, if it took place in a Third World nation, would be a cause célèbre, but this is utterly astounding, even for me.
In any case, Lithwick’s pointed critique lands home, but let’s be clear where it should land: in the heart of a city like Colorado Springs, my hometown. And I can tell you how this piece will be treated in that town: either (1) they’ll castigate the messenger (“It’s in Harper’s magazine. Harper’s. They’re just a bunch of liberals trying to blame America first.”), (2) They’ll toss in the “ticking bomb” scenario, or, most likely (3) refuse to read the piece for the reason Lithwick states: to reconcile a religious position based on mercy and forgiveness with the hideous deaths of innocent men is an ugly, and, in my opinion, impossible task. Much better to deny that such a task exists, right?
It’s a remarkable situation, but when one realizes that, for most American evangelicals, their faith is as much an act of nostalgia and cultural identity as a salvific act, the dissonance becomes more understandable. While the reality is that the Bible says little in the way of specific policies and socio-economic positions, many American evangelicals have chosen to create their own hybrid of Cross-and-Flag religion, one where America’s Divine Exceptionalism (At Least When GOP Policies Are In Place) is axiomatic. So to them, threats to the US’s safety are not just threats to their political self, but even to their theological self. Now I will be the first to admit that many believers don’t consciously think about it this way, but I would argue that that’s more damning: if you have a religion that is practically a sociological class identifier rather than a path to salvation from eternal damnation, what good’s that “faith”?
Over the past century, the term “existential threat” has gone in-and-out of vogue with the American Right. At various times Hitler, the Soviet Union, illegal drugs, pornography, homosexuality, and Islamic terrorists have all represented deep-seated dangers to the very soul of the nation. Existential threats are powerful motivators: when faced with the choice of existence or non-existence, it often feels that few courses of actions are “too extreme”. So if someone thinks that al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood are forces that threaten everything about his or her life, the idea of torture becomes more palatable. The Diminishing Effect Of Impending Doom is why we can watch Jack Bauer do unthinkable things: if a nuke is going to destroy Los Angeles, cutting off someone’s hand with an axe is pretty kosher.
But here’s the rub: Christians shouldn’t have existential threats. As a Christian, your identity is only in Christ. Read the book of Acts, read Paul’s writing about secular leaders. Do you see any legislative activity? Any think tanks? Any policy prescriptions? I didn’t think so. Christians are to be concerned with eternity, and according to their theology, if someone entrusts his salvation to the sacrifice of Christ the earthly body is only a temporary concern. If one is in Christ, there is no earthly threat great enough to destroy you. At least, that’s how the Scriptures, traditions, and worship music have posited it for thousands of years. James Dobson & Co. would beg to differ.
Earlier today, Joe Carter of First Things responded to some of the concern expressed by Andrew Sullivan, among others. To Sullivan’s comment that Carter, as a prominent Christian seems curiously unwilling to contemplate the possibility of the US government torturing a man unto death, Carter responds:
Sullivan also claims to be a Christian. It seems to me that a Christian would want to avoid slandering the good names of many men and women by accusing them of the cover-up of a three murders.
Allow me to list a few of the problems I have with Carter’s post that I am going to set aside at the moment: a presumption of governmental competency that belies his conservative credentials, a reliance on labeling the article as akin to a “conspiracy theory” to provide the majority of his rhetorical push, and a backhanded cheap shot, àpropos of nothing, at the soldier who is the primary source for Horton’s article.
I’ll stick to the fact that we have a vocal member of the evangelical community saying that Christians should be concerned with slander when considering criticizing their government. Newsflash: if someone is making a good-faith comment about a possible wrongdoing by a governmental actor, there ain’t a court in the land that would convict him of slander. Furthermore, what loyalty or debt is owed by a Christian to the United States government? As an American, a man should be thankful and loyal to the state. But Christians? Anything? Any Bible reference used so suggest that Christian men and women need to be sure they do not speak calumny of their government will have to be twisted, mangled, and, well, tortured to prove the speaker’s point.
Carter’s also saying, apparently: “no, the 3 innocent men at Guantanamo weren’t murdered, they committed suicide” and has done little to show that he’s concerned by this. I would love for him to disprove me on this: Carter would be quite effective if he came out and said “even if these men weren’t murdered, it is disturbing to this Christian that my government runs prisons that house men, who, while found guilty of no crimes and after months of hunger strikes, find death as the only escape from their confines.” I’m loathe to present current events in black-white terms since it’s rarely so clear, but I think I’m right here:
Christians need to publicly and privately denounce torture in all its forms. Any other position is one based in something other than the saving nature of Christ’s action on the cross.
The fact that I had to write that, the sheer absurdity of it, is part of the reason why I no longer consider myself conservative or evangelical.