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photo by cheryl biren-wright
Anyone harboring doubts that the institutional Church is riding shotgun for the system, even regarding heinous sin like torture, should be chastened by the results of a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.
Who but the cowardly crew leading the "Christian" churches can be held responsible for the fact that many of their flock believe torture of suspected terrorists is "justified?"
Those polled were white non-Hispanic Catholics, white Evangelicals, and white mainline Protestants. A majority (54 percent) of those who attend church regularly said torture could be "justified," while a majority of those not attending church regularly responded that torture was rarely or never justified.
I am not a psychologist or sociologist. But I recall that one of the first things Hitler did on assuming power was to ensure there was a pastor in every Lutheran and Catholic parish in Germany. Why? Because he calculated, correctly, that this would be a force for stability for his regime. Thus began horrid chapter in the history of those who profess to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth but forget his repeated admonition, Do not be afraid.
A mere seven decades after the utter failure of most church leaders in Germany, their current American counterparts have again yielded to fear, and have condoned evils like torture by their deafening silence.
What kinds of folks comprise this 54 percent? An informal "survey" of my friends suggests these are "my-country-first" people like the fellow who recently gave me the finger when he saw my bumper sticker, which simply says "God bless the rest of the world too."
They are people accustomed to hierarchy and comfortable being told what they should think and do to preserve "our way of life." They place a premium on nationalism, which they call patriotism, and on what the Germans call Ordnung. I suppose that this may be part of why they go to church regularly.
It's a problem that has existed for almost 1,700 years, ever since 4th Century Christians jettisoned their heritage of non-violent resistance to war and threw in their lot with Constantine.
Nowhere is the phenomenon of obeisance to hierarchical power highlighted more clearly than in the Grand Inquisitor story in Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, who could plum the human heart as few others.
In the tale, Dostoevsky has Jesus joining the "tortured, suffering people" of Seville during the Inquisition. The Cardinal of Seville immediately jails and interrogates Jesus, telling him that the Church has "corrected" his big mistake. Rather than donning "Caesar's purple," Jesus gave us freedom of conscience.
While it has been 130 years since he wrote Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky captures the trap into which so many American "believers" have fallen in forfeiting freedom through fear. His portrayal of Inquisition reality brings us to the brink of the moral precipice on which our country teeters today. It is as though he knew what would be in store for us when fear was artificially stoked after the attacks of 9/11.
Here is how the cardinal ridicules Christ for imposing on humans the heavy burden of freedom of conscience:
"Didst thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil? ... We teach them that it's not the free judgment of their hearts, but mystery, which they must follow blindly, even against their conscience. ... In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet [and] become obedient. ... We shall tell them that we are Thy servants and rule them in Thy name. ... We shall tell them that every sin will be expiated if it is done with our permission."
Recently, prominent Baptist layman and distinguished senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, gave a gratuitous hat-tip to the Inquisition. At a May 13 Senate hearing discussing interrogation techniques like waterboarding, Graham explained that, "One of the reasons these techniques have been used for about 500 years is that they work."