My Advent Playlist Day 19: In His Name, All [Torture] Shall Cease

So last year I blogged through the entire month of December to celebrate Advent season, and all in all it was a pretty successful venture! I felt very much plugged into the spirit of the season, and learned a thing or two about myself along the way. On the other hand, it almost killed me, so this year I embark on the same quest with no small amount of trepidation. I figured I could mitigate some stress, though, by messing with the formula a little. So this year I'm using Christmas carols as thematic springboards for my Advent blog posts. Each day I will pick a line from a Christmas carol and reflect on its meaning in the context of my/our experience with Christmas this year.

In His Name All Oppression Shall Cease

Is it time to be outraged yet? Are we allowed to be up in arms now?

'Cause I'm mad. I'm damn man.

Granted, directionless internet rage is not the catalyst for change my generation seems to think it is. Still, there's something to be said for speaking out, for making use of one's sphere of influence to at least raise awareness and shed light on issues that aren't getting the attention they deserve.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease, as they say.

And while my sphere of influence, at least as far as this blog is concerned, is thirty or so people, I find it worthwhile still to shout my hopefully-prophetic calls into the void.

You may say I'm a dreamer. But, ya know...

So here's the deal: The cherry on top of this awful, pitiful year, of senseless killings, international unrest and racial tension, is this torture thing, this Senate report verifying our military's use of torture techniques to acquire enemy intelligence throughout our war efforts in the Middle East. 

And by and large people are being... pretty chill about it. Or at least compared to how I feel.

I don't know about you, but I hear a lot of people say the U.S. is, or should be, a Christian nation. Founding fathers, national heritage, yada yada yada. You'd think by the sound of it our nation was founded by the Apostle Paul and Saint Augustine.

Now ignoring the fact that our actual founding fathers were largely more agnostic and Unitarian than explicitly Christian, the truth of the matter is our nation is only "Christian" insofar as it represents and embodies (as much as a nation can) the ethic of Jesus Christ, the command to feed and clothe the poor and hungry, to love our enemies, to walk humbly with our God. 

But this is not the case with us, not now and maybe not ever. No, instead of the counter-cultural, counter-intuitive ethic of love and sacrifice modeled by Jesus, we have the American Dream. This uniquely American narrative teaches what matters most is security, safety, and comfort. Anything or anyone that threatens these pillars of our national faith is fair game. No action is too extreme, no retribution too ruthless to maintain our own comfort and safety.

What American Christianity adds to our historical and Biblical understandings of the Way of Christ is an odd, unequal marriage between these two (antithetical) ideas: sacrifice out of love and comfort enforced by fear. Indeed, these two are oil and water. They cannot both remain top priority in our minds and hearts. Either we love our enemies or we snuff them out. We cannot do both.

So when I hear of the graphic, unconscionable actions taken against our national "enemies" in the name of securing our own safety, I first cringe and then scoff again at the notion that we are a Christian nation. We cannot even hope to be, not when we treat God's beloved children worse than dogs.

Please hear and believe I am not condoning the actions of terrorists. All those guilty of war and civil crimes ought to be brought to justice, subject to trial and punishment. I only ask they be offered due process and not be robbed of their dignity.

You see, that's the different between a tyranny and a free, democratic society. We, in a democracy, ought to be the ones who offer even our enemies respect.

I wish I could believe this to be true about my country, that we represent a commitment to human worth and dignity, but given the information in the Senate's report, we simply do not. We are compromised. We are stooping to the level of those we criticize for their barbarism.

Some have claimed the lack of civility and respect for humankind exhibited by our enemies warrants a like response on our part. I disagree.

They say we must fight fire with fire, which is funny, because it has always seemed apparent to me that the better way to fight fire is with water.

There is no ends-justify-the-means argument to be made for torture. We cannot repay evil with evil in this way and hope to retain any sort of moral high ground on the other side. Only good can defeat evil. In the words of Dr. King, "hate cannot run out hate; only love can do that."

Also, on a pragmatic level, torture does not produce reliable information. Victims will say anything and everything in order to survive, rendering information collected under duress virtually useless. And don't take my word for it. Listen to someone who would know.

So what now? What do we do this information?

I'm afraid at the moment I have only a few musings. Not a bad start, but certainly not enough.

As irrelevant as it seems at the moment, my commitment this month is to look at contemporary issues through the lens of Advent, the incarnation, and the Christmas season. As I considered which carol to reflect on while discussing these themes, I decided to bust out one of the big guns (apologies for the inelegant metaphor).

The old Christmas hymn "O Holy Night" possesses some of the most poignant, affecting lyrics I've ever heard, but the line I wanted to zero in on tonight is the promise that "in [Jesus'] name, all oppression shall cease."

All oppression shall cease.

Imagine the weight of these words to those in Jesus' time. Those who had been passed between one oppressor and another for hundreds of years. Those who had forgotten freedom and, to some degree, given up on God.

In His name, all oppression shall cease.

Indeed, this is a comfort to those oppressed. It is good news. But to the oppressors, it is decidedly bad news.

And in our case, given our nation's choice to combat terrorism by torture, we have become the oppressor. No matter our enemies' crimes, our use of dignity-robbing, life-stealing torture denies us our claim to virtue.

In God's name even America will be called upon to lay down our oppressive ways. Even America. This may be stark news to some, to those who have celebrated the marriage of church and empire, of the Christian Way and the American Dream, but to those oppressed by such systems it is real cause to be glad.

I think back to Mary, as I do from time to time during Christmas season. I think on a song she composed and sang in response to her diving calling. It's called the Magnificat.

My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him throughout all generations.
He hath shewed strength with his arm he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.

God scatters the proud, puts down the mighty, while exalting the humble and filling the hungry. What a subversive thing to come from Mary, a young woman, of humble station, further marginalized by her pre-marital pregnancy. Mary knew, as we could stand to be reminded, that God's purpose has always been to lift up the low and bring justice in the midst of oppression.

So may we not be the oppressors. That is really all I ask. May we actually put the words of Christ to action instead of posturing and blustering while our hands commit atrocities. May God humble us, and strip us of our power, that we may not use it to oppress and subjugate.

There is no Christian case for torture.

Neither is there a human case for torture, by the way. Even those without explicit belief in God can see the hypocrisy and injustice at work in our systems and policies. Perhaps they especially can, because they are not blinded by the fallacious notion that our atrocities are sanctioned by God and His providence.

But ultimately, friends, I am calling on those who profess Christ to embody the Spirit of God by standing against torture. Even if it's our tribe doing the torturing. Especially then.

Lord have mercy. Lord bring justice.


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