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.


  •' Jim Reed says:


  •' apotropoxy says:

    Religion’s only acid test is this- Do you believe in our deity or not? The believers then exclude from discussion those who have opted for the latter and begin a parsing of their scripture and tradition among themselves.
    The focus for the moment is within the Abrahamic tradition. A casual look at both scripture and long standing practice by the children of Abraham reveals justification for both mercy and mayhem. It was religious tradition that led the fight against the now widely accepted notions of individual dignity and equality and, if you look carefully at powerful elements of today’s Republican Party, you’ll see many leaders who would place their god’s law above that of man’s (the Constitution).

  •' Steve Ruis says:

    It is worse. The Bush administration had it’s core support from evangelical Christians (remember the “Office of Faith-Based Whatever” and the Bible verses plastered all over Iraq battle plans?). So, from an administration that painted itself “religious” in large capital letters, we get this behavior. These same evangelicals are the ones who constantly ask “how can we have morality without God?” Apparently they could not even with God.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I guess that was back when Bush was calling it a Crusade.

  •' Deist1737 says:

    You can’t expect Christians or anyone in the Abrahamic “revealed”/hearsay religions to have a problem with torture. Christianity teaches that if you don’t believe Jesus is the son of God and died for your sins you will suffer the wrath of God and be tortured in hell for eternity (John 3:36). If you’re a Muslim you believe non-believers will also be burned and tortured in hell for eternity by God (Surah 2:39). If you’re a Jew and believe in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament you believe any Gentile nation that does not serve Israel shall perish and be utterly wasted (Isaiah 60:12).

    As the Deist Thomas Paine pointed out in The Age of Reason, The Complete Edition, “Belief in a cruel god makes a cruel man.”

    Progress! Bob Johnson

  •' phatkhat says:

    “None of this should be too terribly surprising. After all, Priebus said last year that the Republican Party is a religion:

    If you’re looking at the evidence, what you will see is a party that embraces life, a party that embraces marriage and a chairman that understands that there’s only one sovereign God and that we ultimately aren’t dependent on what happens in politics.
    What ultimately matters in our lives is that we’re salt and light in the world and that we’re honoring God in the things that we do every day. I get that. I think our party gets that and there’s never been a movement away from that.”

    Everyone should read this. It explains a lot and it’s scarier than the Xtian hell. I follow the Xtian right almost obsessively, and even I didn’t know everything that was in the essay. The GOP may as well change it to the GOD Party. They are theocrats, pure and simple. Has nothing to do with Jesus and everything to do with power.

  •' Jon Spangler says:

    There are so many parallels between the CIA’s torture of detainees and our domestic abuse of women and people of color I do not know where to start. The greed-induced and increasing wealth concentration gap is yet another form of abuse, as is the GOP’s relentless persecution of children, the disabled, the poor, and the sick. We need to get out of our pews and bring about the justice for which the Creator has called for thousands of years. “Let justice roll down like waters…”

  •' Judith Maxfield says:

    Are all ethnic groups in America welfare cheats and drunks? There is a problem here. Please stop generalizing. Are all ethnic Americans welfare cheats, thieves and drunkards? This is what you are doing to the three religions. Put ten of “us” in a room with a question and you’ll have those ten come up with twenty different and opposing answers. BTW: Why do you claim (I guess) being Deist? It doesn’t seem to fit your response on RD.

  •' Deist1737 says:

    What does an ethnic group in America have to do with dogma from the “revealed”/hearsay religions?

    I claim to be a Deist because I’m a Deist. Why, what generalization about Deists do you hold that you don’t think I fit in with?

    Progress! Bob Johnson

  •' Judith Maxfield says:

    With generalization I meant sweeping generalizations about putting one religion into one basket of belief. Looked up Deism online, but that’s not I was mainly interested in for your remarks.

  •' Deist1737 says:

    Don’t the “revealed”/hearsay religions put themselves in their own baskets by having such things in their “sacred” scriptures? They’re the ones who make these ungodly claims.

    I don’t understand your remark about Deism.

    Progress! Bob Johnson

  •' Judith Maxfield says:

    If you wish, can we stay on a bit about remarks re. religion? I’de like to hear more about your remarks. My church does not teach or believe in what you have said below on Jesus and Hell. Mine is the Episcopal Church in the U.S. which is directly related in its roots to the original historical church beginning. What you state below is true of some American conservative denominations, unfortunately. Taking the scriptures literally is ignorance and of course harmful. If poetry was better taught in schools along with how to read it, maybe people would better understand their language. If I use the axiom “the sky is falling, or its raining cats and dogs”, could you possibly not to take it literally? There is a Truth in John 3:36, but its not a scientific statement, (for God’s sake). I bet there are people in prison who believe they are living in Hell for the rest of their lives, which will seem like eternity. That is a human truth. Besides, John was talking to the early Christian community who were already believers, not to the general public. John is probably the most misquoted of the four Gospels. Please don’t pick up a reading that is almost 2000 years old and expect to read it in 21th century prose style or through what the sciences might say. We are talking about human behavior, and I say there is a living Hell. I’ve been there. Also, putting italics around “revealed” / hearsay seem to confirm how you interpret and question revelation. May I say that the history of human progress is revelation and evolution of a better human treatment of humanity – Thanks be to whomever your God is.

  •' RexTIII says:

    The essential issue, Torture – justification of the use of torture during the Bush Administration, is not exclusive to the Bush Administration. Where we are today (or were in 2001-2009) we arrived at following many decades from the 1950’s and a Cold War background. As of right now, the option of heading down this very same road continues to exist, the ‘loophole’ remains open. The debate on Torture was a long time ago, Torture lost – it’s wrong. Religious debate is irrelevant – and if those who’ve chosen a religious path in life feel morally bound to support Torture, they’ve chosen to abuse Humanity and violate Global Human Rights Law. We are a Secular Nation and ‘God’ is not a requirement as a guiding tool of morality in life. As far as I’m concerned, it is the insistence of those within any given multitude of religious organizations who continue to muddy the morality waters which causes harm to Humanity. But that’s just me.

  •' Blast_Dorrough777 says:

    Upon inception (350 years after death of Jesus) the Catholic Church was the embodiment of evil as affirmed by Carl Sagan in his great-read The Demon-Haunted World/Science As A Candle In The Dark. Deist-President3 Thomas Jefferson made the following report in his Notes on the State of Virginia at Query XVII:: “The poor Quakers were flying from persecution in England. They cast their eyes on these new countries as asylums of civil and religious freedom; but they found them free only for the reigning [Christian] sect. Several acts of the Virginia assembly of 1659, 1662, and 1693, had made it penal in parents to refuse to have their children baptized, had made it penal for any master of a vessel to bring a Quaker into the state; had ordered those already here, and such as should come thereafter, to be imprisoned till they should abjure the country; provided a milder punishment for their first and second return, but death for their third…Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.” To say that the Christian Church invented torture is to say the least since Christians made the most evil use of it, as history as shown.

  •' Deist1737 says:

    Blast, thanks for your input. That’s a great quote by the Deist Thomas Jefferson. Here’s a link to a page Thomas Jefferson v. Pat Robertson ( ).

    Progress! Bob Johnson

  •' Blast_Dorrough777 says:

    Glad to hear from you, Bob. Many Christians are under evil influence by their blind “belief&faith” in the man-contrived cruel god of the Bible.

  •' Blast_Dorrough777 says:

    If you truly believe the nonsense of the Bible is the Word of God then why is it so poorly written and obviously man-contrived religion-craft of the ignorant.

  •' Judith Maxfield says:

    This is a huge question. First, may I refer you to and the article, “The Atheist Delusion”, also the recent piece on RD James Carroll book “Actually Jesus (or Christ, can’t recall just now on correct title)
    I became a believer and wanted to investigate why to your question. I must say though, I had already decided to give the Episcopal Church a chance, because a.) seeing a poster saying Jesus does not want you to check your brains at the door b.) I new if I tried Christianity it would have to be going back to the original roots because I already believed we have screwed up religion terribly. Also, I was open to try religion to get me out of a black hole in my life. I am a university grad of U.C.S.C. in Fine Arts with philosophy courses to boot, and was not going to take a lot of B.S. in this venture into faith.
    Here’s what I’ve learned to more answer your question: If you understand and appreciate particularly poetry, you know its written in a different way than most prose/essay/ etc. Scientific language is written mostly in factual statements that are to work as evidence to prove a physical truth. (see the Salon piece).
    Poetic language, and in fact all the arts, uses metaphor to point to a different level of experience, thinking, etc. For instance, I could describe my grandchild’s birth in medical terms. I can also describe my experience at being present to an event that was beyond prosaic descriptions. Metaphor could have been that I experienced the entire world before me in a flash, the beginning of creation, the humanity of love being there, of her traveling through time and space to be with us. That is a Truth of mothers, fathers and community who rejoice at a birth. Metaphors help us to see another meaning to experience. So, try reading the Bible as poetry or literature. Its voices talking about life and what it might mean.
    There are several points that are more brief here:
    1. You can’t read the Bible in 21century terms and get it. We have lapsed in our understanding of language due to cultural changes in the western world, technological changes that have changed communication. Words seem to be heard in very exact terms of position taking and “fact”.
    2. The Bible, and more so the New Testament at least from Jesus’s words, parables, etc. are actually meant to confuse you, slow you down and turn your cultural world upside down. His agricultural audiences were mostly poor, oppressed by the Romans, and lived on the fringes of polite society. So here, its good to check into the history of the Roman world in the Middle East. On a difficult example of this is the Jesus saying ‘you will hate your mother and father’. What is this about? I hear it as a challenge that you just leave the child of yourself, grow up, and make your own decisions. Leave the tribe and become the real you. However, you must not cherry pick. In light of the entire four Gospels, what is the best choice for the answer?
    3. Lastly, its better to grapple with the truth that the N.T. was written by human efforts and were affected by the built-in problems of interpretations over time, and finally the fact that religions do no good as dogma, and must be relevant to current societies and problems. I’ve found the core of the N.T. does address the “why” of human life better than our cultural dependence on technology and science. Those endeavors improve our lives but eventually we must come to our own truth with the questions of death, does life matter, and on what terms? And frankly, the N.T. as a 2000 year old source of wisdom was part of an evolutionary “enlightenment” that was happening around the world.
    If this helps, let me know. No question is dumb or challenging.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *