A Water Board used by Khmer Rouge

A Water Board used by Khmer Rouge Wikimedia Commons

Far be it from me to defend Sarah Palin’s NRA laugh line: “Waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.” It summons up an image of forced baptism, something my forebears were sometimes made to undergo.

That said, I think it’s a distraction from the obscenity of waterboarding to focus one’s outrage, as Rod Dreher and Mollie Hemingway do, on Palin’s abuse of the Christian practice of baptism. In Hemingway’s words, “Joking about baptism in the context of this aggressive action suggests that we don’t think baptism is as life-giving or important as it is.”

Really? English is filled with locutions that derive from Christianity but which have become, at most, mild metaphors. As in:

Should Sarah Palin be crucified for her ugly joke? She’s a relic of the last decade, a confirmed  culture warrior who needs to have her demons exorcised. Of course, if she goes ahead and confesses the error of her ways, we’ll give her short shrift.

For that matter, who thinks it’s disrespectful to real baptism when someone speaks of a stressful initiation as a baptism by fire (cf. Matthew 3:11)?

Hemingway considers Palin’s remark “a perfect example not just of civil religion but also how civil religion harms the church.” Notwithstanding Sean Hannity’s claim that torturing bad guys “is the way America rolls,” I’d have to disagree.

Sure, you could interpret Palin as construing waterboarding as a kind of civil sacrament, by which “we” render our enemies innocuous. But that doesn’t make it the same as “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. American civil religion may have its shortcomings, but it cannot be blamed every time some religious language is used to defend the indefensible.

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Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.

6 Comments

  1. WARNING: Graphic descriptions ahead – you may wish to avoid reading this post.

    Any bleeding heart libs/lefties/metrosexuals/muslims/others better tuffen up … squeamish Americans would have been USELESS on Omaha Beach, June 6th 1944

    We are fighting people who BEHEAD CHRISTIAN BABIES (Syria) and who DISMEMBER TEENAGE CHRISTIAN GIRLS while STILL ALIVE (Syria) and who CHOW DOWN on newly ripped out ENEMY HEARTS (Syria)

    (thanks to Obama’s **moderate AL Qaeda allies **)

    If your children or grandchildren were in danger of having their HEADS BLOWN OFF by these terrorist MURDERING B*STARDS then a POTUS Palin would have water dripped on their faces to TRY AND SAVE THEIR AMERICAN LIVES (and the villains know it too …. which is a HUGE DETERRENT… IOW, this Rhetoric is VITAL)

    WISE UP … Big Mama Grizzly would FIGHT LIKE HE!! FOR YOUR CUBS, and not let being PC stop her!

    consider this also:

    (common-sense response by Disqus ID = ccb11, to those who are critical of Sarah Palin’s use of the word *baptism*)

    Big Deal !! Maybe you should all be more worried about getting your head or your childrens chopped off by a terrorist instead of what Sarah Palin Said. She should be the least of your worries. Soldiers in our service to this country are being treated terribly if they are a Christian in our armed forces. Check that story out.

    Go after Harry Reid for calling many times, people on the right,”Domestic Terrorists.” Obama has done nothing to bring home Christians in Muslim countries that are jailed just because they are Christians. I am all for forgiving but at the same time I want my Children and Grand Children safe from these anti crazy Christian terrorists. Maybe if they all heard they were going to baptized a Christian by us they would stop their killing.

    Sarah Palin would be the first person to defend your rights as a Christian. The left fears Sarah because she is not politically correct. I hate people that beat around the bush to make a point . I want to know the truth.

    Some one made the comment about Sarah being a useful idiot. The only useful idiot is you if you let the loony left define and convince you that she is one.

    If the left has you in a tizzy over Sarah then you have fallen for their masterful game of deceit and distraction from the important issues that they are losing on.

    • Nanabedokw'môlsem

      Gee, presume somebody guilty, and then torture him/her to obtain a confession. Presume guilty because of some connection to Islam, and then as we all know all Muslims are exactly alike and all behave exactly the same way, and all want to blow things up like Timothy McVeigh. Maybe he was a closet Muslim? Are all Americans just like Timothy McVeigh?
      And all left libs are exactly alike and none are ready to do what’s necessary for America, least of all be ready to storm Normandy 6-6-44.
      This left lib turned out to be OK to serve in Viet Nam, it turned out, 91A10 to 91B40, combat medic, suitable ribbons, including 2 of those purple things. And grateful grunts, until Mr Charles performed on me what the Doc with a sense of humor described as a ‘traumatic appendectomy’. One each ticket home.
      And what I believed I was serving was among other things affording due process to everyone, torturing no one, presuming no one guilty of what you did not see him/her do right in front of you.
      Not all Muslims are alike, any more than all Vietnamese being alike, or all Americans being alike, or all Christians being alike, or all Jews being alike, or all of any classification of humans being all alike. Justice requires a presumption of innocence. Some American soldiers, like I, were drafted. Some Muslims also get the equivalent of drafted. Some are offered the alternatives of joining up or dying. We must treat captive Muslims with care and open ears, open ears not to swallow enemy views, but open ears to hear who it is we are right then and there dealing with: an Osama, or a ‘draftee’ who does not believe.
      And we never, ever resort to torture, indeed, if for no other reason than to avoid telling the enemies we do have, that they may torture us when they get us.

  2. Edward Borges-Silva

    While in sympathy with the above remarks (sigh), I just wish Sarah Palin had a little more tact, and a measured sort of commentary. As a politician she would then be taken seriously. I personally believe she has sacrificed principle for the filthy lucre of the lecture circuit.

    • Anyone looking to make light of torture has already sacrificed principle.

      One should be honest about torture. Its something which cannot be morally justified, ever. Its use represents a moral and legal crime in exchange for what may be real world necessity. Whatever practical justifications one has for using torture have no bearing in anything resembling morals. One of the worst things the previous administration tried to do was to make torture acceptable to the public as something beneficial and good. It is an evil act. Period.

      Palin’s callousness on the subject and her willingness to mix the religious into it, is shameful. No wonder she was not considered fit for elected service.

  3. Sarah Palin is beyond the pale…..her remarks should disqualify her from public oce for her lifetime. And as for her…defenders….why aren’t you even more loudly protesting the abduction of close to 200 Nigerian schoolgirls and, as it seems, their SALE as wives to jihadists? If you really CARED about people….you would be demanding the rescue of these innocent young women, not the torture of those who are already prisoners….(especially when investigation has shown that no significant information was obtained that way therefore the practice of water boarding mainly satisfies sadists….but otherwise accomplishes nothing except to get our country hated and disrespected throughout the ‘civilized’ world.

  4. Outrageous comment from Palin. Clearly certain wings of evangelical Christianity are too far in bed with politics. What a complete misuse of a parallel to baptism which should offend any Christian. We can and must do better and hold her responsible for her words.

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