October 19, 2012

Why Torture Still Matters

Steve questioned the importance of torture in this election in our last thread.  I agree.  It is not on the radar screen, even though the Republicans have pledged to reverse Obama's ban on certain tortures.  And as several polls have shown, Bush's torture regime has succeeded in making torture more acceptable to American society.

But for me, torture is more than a policy debate.  It revealed the lack of core belief or morality in the conservative church--the very same church in which I was raised.

It is the "canary in the mineshaft," because unlike abortion, or wealth or slavery, or whatever other issue, torture has not been historically debated among Christians. Perhaps because Christians were often the target of torture in the ancient world, but there is no established Christian orthodoxy (that I know of) that finds torture acceptable. And I would suggest, that if we move back in time just a few decades, the people who shrug or defend torture now would not if the enemies looked different. As I have noted before, Ronald Reagan signed us into a treaty banning torture and no one denounced him when he did so. That was assumed to be basic American values. 

But Christianity has changed, and not for the better. This is not unique with me, but many have noted that the introduction of the so-called "moral voters" has politicized faith in a way that we hadn't seen in this country. Republicans, in my view, saw a group of people who were largely apolitical or disconnected from politics, but believed firmly, and decided to target them with social issues. 

In the beginning, those social issues fit within the religious framework of the conservative Christians (though you might be surprised to find out that protestants didn't mind abortion and even defended it strongly until around 1979). But feminism, gay rights, etc., proved a good way to make conservative Christian citizens into good and steady Republican voters. There was (and is) nothing inherently Christian about lower taxes or less government, but those have been combined into the moral values tent. 

Ok, so that worked for a while (even though I found it problematic at the time). But torture reveals something bigger than just a litmus test. It showed that conservative Christians were tribally conservative in a way that I didn't see. After all, had Clinton authorized torture, I suspect those same Christians would have seen that as proof of his immorality. But when one of their "tribe" authorized it, they backed it without even really thinking about it.  One of my Facebook friends defended torture almost explicitly because somehow Bush was on God's side.  The stupidity of that still stuns me.  As I told him, that is exactly how every goddamned tyrant justified torture.  

It is that tribal connection that bothers me the most. It has changed the way these Bible-believing, Church-attending Christians process moral issues.  If the issue is a conservative issue (abortion, gays, dependency) my friends view it through a (supposedly) Christian lens.  But if the issue is labeled "liberal" they view it through Republican lens.   How did torture become a liberal issue? When it was Soviet agents torturing downed pilots, or Chinese communists torturing Christians, it certainly wasn't a liberal issue. It was a clear violation of human rights and of basic human morality.  But torture, the environment, poverty, science, death penalty, etc., are now "liberal" issues and so are discussed in the political context rather than the moral.  

And given the problematic reading of scripture in those deemed religious, even the readings of abortion and gays become Republican talking points more than theologically informed discussions.  Even lying has become a politically framed issue, where Mitt's constant lies are seen only as political issues, not religious.  The irony of these same people pushing the Ten Commandments would be funny if it didn't have such consequence.  

Torture may have faded from the news, but for me, it will always be the issue that revealed, at least for me, the conservative church's transformation from religious institution to political tribe.


steves said...

Very true. I certainly did not want to give the impression that I didn't think this was an important issue. It is. I am glad that you still blog about it. This is also a reason why I like Glenn Greenwald so much. He also writes about it, and other similar issue dealing with civil liberties.

Christians that are ok with torture need to take a serious look at their faith and why they think it is acceptable. I just don't see how it is, nor have I ever heard an argument that would justify it in the least.

Streak said...

And I didn't mean to imply that you didn't think torture was an issue, just that you were correct that it isn't big in this election.