Nuremberg Barbie’s Blasphemous Punchline

If I were in charge, reality TV celebrity Sarah Palin told the recent convention of the National Rifle Association, “waterboarding is how we [would] baptize terrorists.”

Perhaps, as a friend of mine commented, Mrs. Palin would describe force-feeding of hunger strikers in Gitmo as a form of Communion.

The calculated gibe – a casual blasphemy — was a flawless applause line for Palin’s audience, which drew heavily from among conservatives of the sort who are expansively skeptical of power unless it is deployed with lethal effect against anybody the Government has designated an enemy.

Nuremberg Barbie’s punchline mocked both a sacred gesture of Christian commitment and the ineffaceable humanity of those accused of terrorism and other grievous crimes. Christian tradition and teaching have recognized for centuries that torture is not only ineffective in practical terms, but an abominable sin and a horrible crime.

Does Sarah Palin believe that the Prince of Peace – who was tortured before giving His Life for our salvation – would support or countenance torture? A distressingly large number of American Evangelical Christians appear to think so.

In August 2009, The Economist magazine published the findings of a global survey conducted by World Public Opinion on the subject of torture. Large population samples from fourteen countries were asked which of the following two propositions they agreed with: Either that “All state torture should be prohibited,” or that “Some degree of torture should be allowed.”

Of the national populations surveyed, the one most emphatically opposed to torture was that of Great Britain, with more than 80% rejecting it in all circumstances, and only 15% describing it as tolerable in certain situations.

What of the United States of America, which has the most pious population of any developed nation and a Constitution that expressly forbids cruel and unusual punishment? The USA finished eighth of the fourteen nations surveyed, with nearly half supporting torture in some circumstances and just over half rejecting it outright. More than half of American Christians who attend worship services once a week agreed that torture was “sometimes” or “often” justified.

Americans were more likely to condone the use of torture than citizens of Muslim nations such as Indonesia and Egypt. And in proportionate terms, more Americans than Chinese support the practice. In this sense, regrettably, America is a genuinely exceptional nation.


12:15 am on April 28, 2014