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(Sunday Homily) The Torture Report: Cheney Channels King David in the Struggle over Historical Narrative

By       Message Mike Rivage-Seul     Permalink
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Readings for 4th Sunday of Advent: 2 nd SAM 7:1-5, 8-12, 14A, 16; PS 89: 2-5, 27-29; ROM 16: 25-27; LK 1: 21-38

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Strange that according to a poll last week, more than half the "American" people think torture is permissible. I say "strange" because nearly 80% of Americans consider themselves "Christian." And Jesus himself was a victim of torture. On the other hand, can you imagine Jesus torturing anyone?

You'd think the similarities between the Romans' treatment of Jesus and the "Americans'" treatment of countless innocent victims would make devout Christians less accepting of torture. Maybe they'd oppose torture on principle, as a matter of faith.

Or perhaps it's that they just agree with ex-VP, Dick Cheney. After all, he wouldn't consider "torture" what the Romans' enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) did to Jesus -- not the prolonged beating we all witnessed portrayed in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," not the crowning with thorns, not forcing a beaten man to carry his own instrument of execution, not driving nails into his hands and feet, not leaving him for hours struggling for breath on a cross whose chief agony was bringing the victim to the point of asphyxiation (like waterboarding) and beyond.

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According to Mr. Cheney, that punishment would have crossed the line to torture only at the point when death proved imminent. Unfortunately, as with untold (literally) victims of U.S. enhanced interrogation, that line was crossed in the case of Jesus.

But in the end, as unconditional supporters of U.S. Empire, "American" Christians probably understand and forgive what the Romans did. After all, like its U.S. counterpart, the Roman Empire was under siege on all sides. And the Jews were particularly rebellious. And Jesus (in Roman eyes) gave every indication of leading a rebellion. An empire's got to do what an empire's got to do -- even if it means killing the innocent like Jesus.

I think however that there's something more than compassion failure at work here. The "more" is the power of propaganda. That's something addressed in today's liturgy of the word. There the author of 2 nd Samuel whitewashes the brutal King David and turns him from something like a mafia don into a national hero. In today's gospel selection, even the evangelist, Luke buys the distortion. He makes Jesus the successor of David.

I'll get to that in a moment. But let me first finish with the torture document. You see, (as Glen Greenwald has pointed out) it's no wonder that "Americans" can't identify with the tortured much less connect them with Jesus.

That's because since the Report's release on December 9 th , the mainstream media (MSM) has treated us to an endless parade of torturers and torture enablers explaining away the conclusions of the Senate's years-long study. We haven't heard a word from the victims of torture or from the families of those whose sons and daughters were killed at the hands of sadistic representatives of our government.

The result of this one-sided silencing of the victims has been to rob them of their humanity -- of their very existence. Given the deafening silence, why would we feel compassion for people who don't even exist? Out of sight, out of mind.

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Imagine how better informed we'd be if on "Meet the Press" or somewhere Mr. Cheney had to defend his policies against his victims -- many of whom, Greenwald reminds us (because he has interviewed them) are incredibly articulate. Perhaps the victims might suggest waterboarding the ex-VP to see if he really believes that practice doesn't sink to the level of torture.

According to University of Wisconsin --Madison Professor Alfred McCoy(the author of Torture and Impunity) this erasure of victims is all part of a five-stage policy on the question of torture. After the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in 2004, the first step was identifying the low level perpetrators with "bad apples." The second stage kept rumors of more widespread torture at bay in the name of national security. Thirdly, President Obama adopted the "let's look forward, not backward" approach. Fourthly came the move to exonerate all those guilty of torture or enabling the practice. Finally we've reached the stage which emerged last week: vindication before the bar of history of all those connected with U.S. torture.

Again, that's where the battle has been joined today; we're struggling over historical narrative. This is the stage all empires come to eventually as their crimes inevitably come to light. It's what we witness in today's liturgy of the word and the white-washing of Israel's King David. The example is instructive. It suggests practical responses to the Torture Report at both the level of faith and political action.

You see, there are really two separate king David traditions in the Bible. One presents the good David, the other, the bad. The good David is the one largely presented in I Chronicles 10:14-29:30. He also appears in today's first reading from 2nd Samuel and in the responsorial psalm.

This David is pious, and wants to build a temple for God. According to the story, God is pleased, and rewards him with everything a king could want: victory over his enemies, immortal fame, prosperity for his people, thriving descendants, and a dynasty that will last forever.

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Recently retired, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 40 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program.Mike blogs (more...)
 

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