Shooting Torture In A Barrel, Feeding Donkeys To A Boa
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Sep 27, 2006 at 12:49:02 AM EST
On the new Faithful Democrats website, Amy Sullivan lays out an indictment from the mount:

"Law professor Paul Campos has a moving op-ed in the Rocky Mountain News this morning about the morality of torture. His conclusion? "Torture is wrong. It is always wrong, at all times, in all places." "

Now, we can surely agree that - yes - torture as national policy should be roundly rejected...

...And there's surely wide consensus among Democratic Party supporters that a certain moldy old dilemna currently in vogue  - of the terrorist who must be tortured in order to extract information that will prevent the immolation of an entire city by a nuclear explosion - deserves to be flushed to obscurity simply for its dubious claim that recourse to torture, in hopes of preventing a vastly greater evil, should be a matter of official national policy -  as if the rare few Bruce Willis stand-ins who might be caught up in such an unlikely situation would simply collapse into infantile helplessless in the face of such a transparently obvious moral dilemma.

Torture should be denounced. Yup. But, amid the recent and much heralded reawakening of liberal and principled religious conscience within these American shores, it bears consideration that other, perhaps equally important contended territory besides opposition to torture is being largely abandoned or even forgotten : support of base political constituencies, their key issues and even their civil rights, for example, or concern that facts should trump PR.

"Who would Jesus torture ?" is now - of course - making the rounds and the "Who / What would Jesus __ " ( fill in the blank ) trope certainly does a good deal of useful rhetorical work,  but it also falls flat on its nose in the face of certain hot button issues generating culture war sturm und drang for the Christian and religious right. "Who / what would Jesus..... gay marriage ?" Partisan Christian factions can wave around supportive Biblical exegesis for their positions until the cows come home or go mad, but it is unclear what the position of Jesus might have been on same sex marriage or - for that matter - on abortion. We will not likely ever know for sure and, meanwhile, the ceaseless trotting out of "what would Jesus __ ?" fosters the illusion that there are "Biblical" ( shorthand for "Biblically correct" ) positions to be extracted by those with suitably keen theological "discernment" and then plugged into any and all areas of social policy ( damn the minority religions and beliefs, full speed ahead ). "The Jesus test" serves to exclude non Christian Americans and reinforce Christian nationalist attitudes of entitlement, and the results of such attitudes themselves don't hold up well to the "Jesus Test" unless Jesus is viewed as ultimately protean, a chameleon or a Zelig : "Who would Jesus marginalize by the promotion of Christianity in public schools ?" - "Who would Jesus hound out of town for complaining about that ?"

Meanwhile, beyond the hubbub of "Who would Jesus... ?" this and "what would Jesus.... ?" that, the religious right has long been busy seizing - in the public mind, anyway - the moral high ground, as representing ( you guessed it ) Jesus on abortion and reproductive rights. Now, it is moving aggressively, says Chip Berlet, author and Senior Analyst for Political Research Associates, to do the same in its opposition to same sex marriage. That task - were the left, and antitheocratic and libertarian American doing their jobs - should not, in theory at least, be too difficult.

Religious right argument, invective, and bile against same sex marriage amounts to a rough and sloppy beast at best and one that really should be easily smacked down, with a rolled up newspaper of facts and logic, so that it stops soiling the public discourse and slouches whimperingly back to Paul Weyrich's kennels. To wit: Massachusetts has had legal same sex marriage for two years now and still retains the #1 position as the lowest divorce rate state in the nation ( the MA divorce rate dropped 7-8% in that 2 year period )  and - meanwhile - three US states that recently passed state constitutional amendments prohibiting same sex marriage were among the four US states that had significant divorce rate increases during the 2 year tenure of legal same sex marriage in Massachusetts.

Evidence that debunks the social policy prescriptions and legislative agendas of the religious right is mounting rapidly. Texas is undergoing a mini STD boom that appears to begin, roughly, around the time when the Texas State legislature mandated that sex education - if taught in Texas public schools at all - be the "abstinence only" version, that is to say the avoidance of sex education garnished with dire warning, exhortations of "just don't !" and deceptive talk about the ineffectiveness of condoms. Ten years down the road the results are fairly clear : "abstinence only" - even with liberal state and federal funding - has failed in Texas. Arguments for "abstinence only" and against same sex marriage - in the form of books and pamphlets, speeches, radio and TV shows, emails and probably skywriting too -  that waft from belching smokestacks of Focus on The Family, The Family  Research Council, and other similar factories churning ideological product, should be easily huffed and puffed away if a few more stalwarts of the punditocratic classes would spend the breath, ink, and keyboard strokes. Even letting sleeping pundits lie, several dedicated college level interns could probably work wonders in shifting the PR balance, to pluck or at least dull the fangs of Christian right propagandists - the empirical case against same sex marriage or for "abstinence only" education is about as incoherent - if more slickly packaged - as Paul Cameron-style pseudosociology.

Given enough airtime, facts do really matter and politicians and their proxies should wield those to maximum effect in defense of the liberty and lifestyle choices of their political constituencies. That would seem basic, and so it is a mystery that an entire emergent field of research data debunking Christian right claims on homosexuality, divorce, human sexuality in general, sex education, the public schools, on and on, is being neglected while strategists, pundits, and erstwhile deep thinkers of the American progressive and Democratic tradition get sheepishly rounded up, shorn of common sense, and herded by yapping miniature Coulters, Hannitys, and Bauers towards bipartisan bills mandating that across the nation doctors must lie to their patients concerning the ability of prophylactics to prevent pregnancy and HIV.

Surely there are many beyond the herd ? If so - it seems - few care to bother. Absurd claims on same sex marriage, reproductive rights, and the efficacy of "abstinence only" education go mostly unanswered - and Christian historical revisionism chock full of distortions, lies, and half truths goes un-rebutted except by a handful of talented ( and unpaid ) amateurs, and as a consequence the Christian right maintains a crude appearance of prevailing in the realm of ideas - and if that is only so due to its now mammoth ability to shovel out intellectual excreta far faster than its foes can chuck the fussilades back, that in the end still amounts to a winning strategy not too different from the Soviet WW2 ability to simply produce many more tanks and numerically overwhelm advancing Panzer columns : quality is good, but quantity, in the end, works fine as well.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has opened the throttle to full, in high speed reverse, on abortion for gain in  the '06 election ( so goes the word on the street ) , and Talk To Action contributor moiv details the extent to which the Democratic Party seems to be willing to jettison reproductive rights issues for a political entente with the newly arisen DFLA - a coalition of groups that in some cases are actually somewhat hard to distinguish from the hard Christian right but for - perhaps - moderate stances on poverty or in opposition to preemptive war. Are Democratic strategists - who have fashioned that strategy -  aware of  links between DFLA and the IRD sponsored "Renewal" para-church ministry groups that have been busily splitting apart, taking over, or otherwise eviscerating the mainline Protestant Denominations that historically have served as the repository of the Christian "social justice" tradition that propelled the Civil Right and Vietnam antiwar movements and even, in part, the Democratic Party agenda in the now halcyon days of the 60's and 70's ? Are they aware of links to the hard antiabortion movement ? Do the Democrats really care ?

We likely will never know, but the spectacle of self immolation inherent as the donkeys sidle up to allies associated with groups that have been busily undermining the Democratic Party's base is - to say the least - less than appealing, and the approach begs the absurdity of Democrats rebranding themselves as some variant of "religious right lite" : better to simply install "Purpose Driven" pastor Rick Warren as DNC head and be done with it - that would at least be honest, and Warren could no doubt impart some creativity and sound business practices, learned in the course of megachurch franchising, to help rebuild the Democratic base. For that matter, Tedd Haggard might whip the fractious donkeys into fighting spirit with kickass rock Gospel, affiliation groups answering to zone, and lessons on the myriad uses of cell churches.

But Haggard and Warren are more, rather than less, GOP affiliated and in any case the Democratic Party seems hellbent on coasting  a few years longer down the slippery hypoteneuse of its addiction to political triangulation, and that is a shame because the Christian right - a multi billion dollar pop culture business at this point, highly diversified and decentralized, international in scope and possessing its own media networks   - will certainly regroup, retool, and repackage in preparation for a counterttack : The Long March Through The Institutions will slow to a crawl, or  maybe a tap dance, but always shuffling towards a theocratic or theonomic set point.

Even if the Democrats regain both the House and the Senate come November the culture wars will not magically evaporate though they may quiet down for a bit, to fester at the local level. But, it seems an open question as to whether the Democrats would seek to mend the holes dynamited in the church/state separation wall by the Bush Administration, via any sort of concerted rollback of federal and state "faith based" pork - the rebranding of Democrats as the "we have faith too, really !" party is still a wee bit thin as of yet, and pork rivers once unleashed are devilishly hard to dam up again.  Would the Democrats also seek to combat the worst excesses of Christian Supremacy - faith based discrimination or families hounded out of towns by Christian nationalist mobs ?    

Can rueful donkeys can kick and bray their way from the belly of a giant boa ?




Display:
But I question whether you can successfully combat irrational hate with facts and reason. Ever try to convert a racist with logic? It doesn't work! But let's say that it would work. Who's going to do it? Theocrats have a media empire and a nationwide network of pseudo churches to push their ideas on a daily basis. What organization on the other side can counter that? A conservative politician doesn't even have to be inflammatory. All he has to do is make clear his opposition to homosexuality and let Dobson, Robertson etc whip up the hate to get the voters out. A liberal politician supporting gay rights has to put forth all the science himself. And with no real organizations to back him up and keep pounding the message in to the public mind, he's unlikely to be very convincing. But Democrats do need to stand up for something soon. Otherwise they'll create so much apathy in their supporters that none of them will vote. However, they need to find their own issues rather than fight a losing battle with these. Gay marriage support is still a minority view. And although pro choicers have a majority, it's still a losing issue because pro lifers are far more apt to base their political decisions on abortion than pro choicers. They could probably win if they went back to the traditional Democratic ideas of FDR etc, but being almost as reliant on corporate sponsorship as the Repubs, I don't see that happening. And it's to bad, because if they could win with their own issues, they might be stronger on the antitheocratic positions without worrying so much about the political consequences. I really don't know what option they have. And the reason we can't know what Jesus would do on issues is because Jesus paid his taxes but stayed out of politics. Today's preachers talk nothing but politics and never pay taxes. Could they be less like Jesus?

by Dave on Wed Sep 27, 2006 at 09:30:22 PM EST
As does reason.

I agree with your sense of the obstacles ahead, but I have faith that reason - maybe love too -  can prevail. Of course media broadcast reach is key, but conviction - that the world we live in must change - can go a long way.

One of my favorite touchstones of faith is the story of the little village of Le Chambon. If goodness could happen in Le Chambon, it can happen anywhere. I should mention that I learned of that story from a man who had lived through the Holocaust.

by Bruce Wilson on Thu Sep 28, 2006 at 12:18:46 AM EST
Parent



As the author of a "Who Would Jesus Torture" diary, (also frontpaged at My Left Wing, rec list at Mydd, lots of comments, but no glory at DKos), I'm delurking here to say that I have no intention of justifying a Biblical or even religious standard for law.  Indeed, I quoted from Robert Altemeyer's research into rightwing authoritairanism and the insights it provides into the contradictions of authoritarian Christians:
 In a 1985 experiment, students were asked what they thought about two passages from the Gospels: "Do not judge, that you may not be judged.  For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged. (Matthew 7:1), and "Let he who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her."  Altemeyer reports:
    Twenty Christian Highs said we should take the teachings literally.  Twenty-seven other Christian Highs said we should judge and punish others, but none of them explained how they reconciled this view with Jesus' teachings.  Apparently, they `believed' both (contradictory) things.  But the kicker came when I looked at various measures of authoritarian aggression I had gathered from these students.  No matter what they said they believed, both these groups of Highs were quick with the stones on the Attitudes toward Homosexuals Scale, the ethnocentrism Scale, and Posse-Homosexuals (Enemies of Freedom, pp. 222-224).
In short, high RWA "Christians" have a much deeper belief in rightwing authoritarianism than they do in Christianity.
While I agree wholeheartedly with the larger point of this diary about the dangers inherent in a knee-jerk embrace of WWJD rhetoric, I think there is great promise in taking up that rhetoric as a problematizing strategy, which is precisely what I have attempted to do.

And what better opportunity to take than this one???  When I talk "shooting fish in a barrel," I'm talking about the barrel of my gun!

I believe that religious traditions are a source of significant moral guidance, and as such have an important role to play in our public life.  But we are a secular democratic republic, based on the logic of the Lockian social contract, which sharply bounds the role that religion should play in determining government policy--as opposed to shaping individual and group norms.

In this case, however, the Gospels reinforce a Lockian perspective on what government should not do.  The Axial religions and social contract theory all agree: the core of human dignity demands a total ban on torture.

What stands against this view is nothing, aside from abject "fear itself"--the success of terrorism in undermining our faith in ourselves and our traditions, both civil, secular and religious.

by Paul Rosenberg on Thu Sep 28, 2006 at 03:46:40 PM EST

Maybe I didn't convey my intended point as clearly as I should have - it's not that I think the "WWJD" meme is a bad one - up to a point.

I do think it tends to reinforce Christian nationalist attitudes, but it also is a powerful way, I think, of challenging some on the Christian right.

In the end I think WWJD is good but better not overused - as a spice or a garnish rather than a heavy topping.

My larger point, though, concerned the fact that opposition to torture is a bit of a lowest common denominator position and while there seems to be a widespread willingness on the left to stand up to torture ( except among elected Demcratic representatives ! ) commitment to a range of traditional democratic party positions - support for individual rights, religious liberty, reproductive rights, etc., seems to be waning.

by Bruce Wilson on Fri Sep 29, 2006 at 12:43:33 PM EST
Parent



Thank you for the mention on your site.

We encourage you to voice your opinion on our <a href="http://www.faithfuldemocrats.com">site</a&g t; to begin a discussion with our online community.   



by FaithfulDemocrats on Thu Sep 28, 2006 at 03:56:55 PM EST
we hope you will point people our way as well, and join in the conversation about the religious right and what to do about it.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Sep 28, 2006 at 04:38:11 PM EST
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