April 10, 2009

This torture thing during Easter Week

I have been involved in a long and contentious debate on torture. A lot of it is about the difference between Bush and Cheney's policies and those Presidents who preceded him. Some of it has to do with the partisan divide in our country and the inability for our political elites to rise above that on something as ethically challenging as torture. I am more aligned with Eugene Robinson's suggestion that the information is out there, and we have to prosecute these people. I kind of wonder what kind of political world we have created places us in a position where no matter what the crime is, the claim of partisanship can over-ride that.

Part of the conversation turned angry yesterday when we turned to the subject of Easter and torture. I was reminded of how conservative Christians seemed to find Mel Gibson's Passion film meaningful mostly because of the ill-treatment that Jesus suffered during and before the crucifixion. I found it very interesting that those who pointed to the Roman's mistreatment of Christ were the most silent or even approving of Bush's torture regime. Not a new observation, but in yesterday's conversation, this idea was articulated most clearly when some one noted that perhaps conservative Christians saw a difference between torturing the Son of God and torturing someone who openly wanted to kill innocent people. I think that statement reflects a lot of the belief in conservative America.

Today is Good Friday. I have always had a pretty weird connection to Easter and one that I cannot quite explain (I have written about that here), and the conversation yesterday is still running through my head. Sometimes I don't know what I believe. But what I do know, is that these stories have meaning, and that meaning is important. A lot of the power in Christianity is embedded in this annual reflection on the death and resurrection story.

Thinking about these two thoughts--the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, and the issue of how we respond to others (yes, even those who profess to do evil)--and I have to say that I think the conservative theology is missing a pretty key element. I am no theologian, but isn't the power of the Easter story that Jesus gave himself as a sacrificial lamb for all of humanity? Isn't it based on the idea that he didn't deserve to die, but we all do? That we do not deserve grace or salvation, but he extends it to us anyway?

To go from that story to suggesting that it might be ok to mistreat others based on what they "deserve" strikes me as missing the point. I truly wonder if American conservatives have so conflated faith and country that they can no longer tell the difference between their own faith and their national arrogance. This week, many conservatives exploded in anger when Obama told the world that we were not a Christian nation--yet so many of them defend Bush's torture regime. Is that how it works?

I hope not.