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Torture advocates and the religious right

At first glance, it would appear that the followers of Christ, a man who was unjustly tortured and executed, would not be advocates of torture, or at least would not be part of a political coalition that includes torture apologists. Yet I think there is a structural affinity between torture apologists and the religious right, centered on their self-concept.

On the one hand, both share a sense of being the noble ones who are willing to make hard choices that offend the naive and idealistic. For the religious right, they’re ruining the party for those with unrealistically loosey-goosey sexual and cultural ideals. For the torture apologists, they’re getting their hands dirty to do the necessary thing in the face of wild-eyed idealists with their unrealistically rigid moral standards. In both cases, they’re ultimately benefiting the people they’re offending — either by creating a moral and orderly society or by protecting the crazy liberal anti-torture people from the ticking time bomb.

On the other hand, both share a sense of being victimized by the very prohibition of victimizing others. For the religious right, the state’s failure to discriminate against other people (gays, people of other religions in the case of something like school prayer) is directly an attack against them. For the torture apologists, not allowing the torture of America’s enemies is tantamount to prefering or even desiring an attack on America itself. Impeding the torturers in any way means aiding — and de facto joining — the enemy and therefore attacking the remaining true Americans, i.e., the torture advocates. In both cases, depriving them of their right to persecute others is construed as the greatest possible act of persecution — hence the rhetoric of Christians being the most oppressed minority in America. Torture advocates haven’t quite gotten to that point, but they also haven’t been around as long as the religious right.

Both torture advocates and the religious right share a deep structure, therefore. Both are absolutely convinced of their moral rectitude and their duty to shape society in the way they see fit, and both regard any questioning of their power as a tantamount to a crime against humanity. The rhetorical device is identical in both cases: You don’t think we should torture? Oh, then you must long for the day when New York City is wiped out by a nuclear blast! You don’t think we should use every means necessary to discourage open homosexuality? Oh, then you probably think we should ditch morality altogether and eat our own children for dinner!

Thus they both fit well into a party that, for example, defines bipartisanship as their own party getting their way 100% of the time and defines intolerance as pointing out that white men are sometimes intolerant. It’s the coalition of the wounded narcissists.

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April 23, 2009 - Posted by | politics, religion

5 Comments

  1. I might be behind, but I just caught Portia De Rossi’s PSA on Jimmy Kimmel Live. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZ9sBkgDRzY

    It’s along the lines of who exactly is being hurt by gay marriage.

    Comment by Marissa | April 23, 2009

  2. “Both torture advocates and the religious right share a deep structure, therefore. Both are absolutely convinced of their moral rectitude and their duty to shape society in the way they see fit, and both regard any questioning of their power as a tantamount to a crime against humanity.”

    Who doesn’t fit these criteria?

    Comment by Daniel Lindquist | April 23, 2009

  3. Are you serious?

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | April 23, 2009

  4. Daniel, I would say most people are somewhat to fairly convinced of their moral rectitude, not quite convinced of their duty to shape societies, and regard the questioning of their power with a critical spirit (if they in fact have any power to promote).

    Comment by Colin | April 24, 2009

  5. To the religious right, the world of politics is so corrupt and evil that once you have decided that you must participate in it for Godly reasons, there are no moral limitations on what you can do. Ideas like this emerged during the 17th century religious wars, and I think may be extractable from Augustine’s City of God.

    Comment by John Emerson | April 25, 2009


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