Torture Denial: U.S. Flunks the Religious Acid Test

The U.S. has been publicly, globally, shamed in consequence of the gut-wrenching disclosures in the Torture Report. And, oh my, how we dreaded this day of revelation, especially coming on the heels of ample further confirmation that Black lives matter hardly at all to a majority of American whites.

A big part of the executive branch anxiety and inter-branch wrangling that delayed the release of the Torture Report for years clearly reflected what can only be called a guilty conscience: lots of people worrying that there would be retaliation against the U.S. on account of these dark deeds.

Like a child who knows that he has done wrong, behaved shamefully, we expect to get a deserved spanking. We are particularly ashamed of how we ditched our morality during a period of panic. There’s much more going on here than mere embarrassment.

But there have been no major incidents of anti-U.S. violence anywhere in the world so far. And why? Perhaps because the rest of the world already knows things about us that we steadfastly refuse to acknowledge: That we are deeply violent; that we are, in relation to our military and economic interactions with the rest of the world, remarkably aggressive and avaricious; that we are careless of human rights and human dignity—especially so in regard to our brutal oppression of African Americans for centuries; and that we believe ourselves, ludicrously, to be morally better than other nations.

Note that “different” is the word that our politicians, Republican and Democrat, use to mean distinctly better than other peoples.

And what an amazing level of self-deception that is, say the world’s other peoples, shaking their heads over white America’s delusional self-love.

I believe that what most dismays international observers of today’s America—and I refer to people who want to admire our country more than they now do—is the absence of spiritual maturity in a country that claims to be close to God and where so many say religious belief is central in their lives.

Spiritual maturity allows individual persons and whole nations (Germany and South Africa, most notably) to pass through a necessary process of self-examination and repentance.

Repentance first and foremost requires acknowledgement of the realities of the misdeeds; it requires honest self-examination.

Today’s spate of denials, the “many misgivings” responses coming from the liberals, and the bitter attacks on the credibility of the Torture Report all tell us that white Americans (not just the blaring and bullying Saxby Chamblisses)—and white American Christians in particular—are nowhere close to acknowledging that our ethical behavior in the Land of the Free has fallen rather short of what our professed traditions require and expect.

Repentance, feeling the full weight of the wrong, is the only way forward. Asking forgiveness, not breathing denial and defiance, is the only way forward.

And it’s personal, not just political.

Yesterday morning I found myself having trouble at the opening of a public meeting in Los Angeles. I was distracted, and I didn’t see it coming. A diminutive, uniformed WWII vet stepped forward to lead us in the Pledge. He asked us to stand in a clear strong voice. I stood. I placed my hand on my heart. But I stumbled and my voice fell silent after “and to the Republic for which it stands.” It was just too painful to say the rest.

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