Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Dominionism and Torture

The following post was written by Sarah Leslie, as an addendum to her booklet "Dominionism and the Rise of Christian Imperialism," posted at the Discernment Ministries website:

Historically, dominionism, when it has come to full fruition, has given rise to excesses, abuses, extreme intolerances, persecution and torture.

A significant factor in the modern rise of dominionism is the careful cultivation of zealous patriotism among the evangelicals. In the political world (a world of which I was once a part) one searches for convenient bedfellows -- someone with whom one can share an agenda and work together towards a goal. The lure to participate in such an adulterous affair is often quite laudatory -- a good cause, a troubling issue, the need for justice.

Thus, the evangelicals become comfortably bedded down with the goals and ambitions of the neoconservatives of the Republican Right. The evangelicals so intermeshed with the neoconservatives are apt to lose their biblical perspective in the maze of convincing arguments, political compromises, financial entanglements and ethical corruptions. The incessant media barrage (dare we say "propaganda"?) from both Conservative and Religious Right political organizations further muddles the mess.

The overwhelming desire to do good can blind good faith Christians to the nastier side of the entire relationship. In fact, outsiders analyzing the evangelical mindset have recognized how easily we can be manipulated by our sincere desire to work for a good cause. Thus, the pragmatic mantra we hear so much these days: "the ends justify the means" and "whatever it takes."

"Whatever it takes" now takes on a more sinister meaning as the neoconservative radio talk show hosts have launched a media blitzkrieg this past month to drum up support for the use of torture. We need torture, they say, because otherwise we will all be killed by terrorists. Simple logic, simple solution. But is it right from a biblical/moral perspective?

There is a new "dominionism" ethics forming.

How has it come to this in America that a so-called "Christian" nation is now gathering a storm of public support for torture? This same question was raised by Alexandr I. Solzhenitzyn in The Gulag Archipelago, his 7-volume history of the concentration camp system in the U.S.S.R. Solzhenitzyn posed this question in the context of Russian history, in a chapter that is aptly titled "The Interrogation" (Vol. 1, Chapter 3, Harper & Row, 1973). His introduction to this chapter is difficult to read, but is very relevant:

"If the intellectuals in the plays of Chekhov who spent all their time guessing what would happen in twenty, thirty, or forty years had been told that in forty years interrogation by torture would be practiced in Russia; that prisoners would have their skulls squeezed within iron rings; that a human being would be lowered into an acid bath; that they would be trussed up naked to be bitten by ants and bedbugs; that a ramrod heated over a primus stove would be thrust up their anal canal (the 'secret brand'); that a man's genitals would be slowly crushed beneath the toe of a jackboot; and that, in the luckiest possible circumstances, prisoners would be tortured by being kept from sleeping for a week, by thirst, and by being beaten to a bloody pulp, not one of Chekhov's plays would have gotten to its end because all the heroes would have gone off to insane assylums.

"Yes, not only Chekhov's heroes, but what normal Russian at the beginning of the century, including any member of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party, could have believed, would have tolerated, such a slander against the bright future? What had been acceptable under Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich in the seventeenth century, what had already been regarded as barbarism under Peter the Great, what might have been used against ten or twenty people in all during the time of Biron in the mid-eighteenth century, what had already become totally impossible under Catherine the Great, was all being practiced during the flowering of the glorious twentieth century -- in a society based on socialist principles, and at a time when airplanes were flying and the radio and talking films had already appeared -- not by one scoundrel alone in one secret place only, but by tens of thousands of specially trained human beasts standing over millions of defenseless victims.

"Was it only that explosion of atavism which is now evasively called 'the cult of personality' that was so horrible? Or was it even more horrible that during those same years, in 1937 itself, we celebrated Pushkin's centennial? And that we shamelessly continued to stage those self-same Chekhov plays, even though the answers to them had already come in? Is it not still more dreadful that we are now being told, thirty years later, 'Don't talk about it'? If we start to recall the sufferings of millions, we are told it will distort the historical perspective! If we doggedly seek out the essence of our morality, we are told it will darken our material progress! Let's think rather about the blast furnaces, the rolling mills that were built, the canals that were dug… no, better not talk about the canals…. Then maybe about the gold of Kolyma? No, maybe we ought not to talk about that either…. [These last two were done by Russian camp labor, ed.] Well, we can talk about anything, so long as we do it adroitly, so long as we glorify it….


"It is really hard to see why we condemn the Inquisition. Wasn't it true that beside the autos-da-fe, magnificent services were offered the Almighty? It is hard to see why we are so down on serfdom. After all, no one forbade the peasants to work every day. And they could sing carols at Christmas too. And for Trinity Day the girls wove wreaths…." (pp. 93-94)

This chapter is must-reading for anybody who thinks that torture might be "okay" in certain circumstances.

It is a subtle twist of the knife of dominionism theology to endorse torture. Paul Shirk in his landmark book Come Out of Her My People (2002, available from Discernment Ministries) explains the history and theology of dominionism:

"It is upon the basis of Old Testament national policy that religious persecution of dissenting sects has been advanced by 'Christian' nations, under the guise of 'putting evil away from among you.' The Church defines the heresy and the state punishes it. (p. 73)

"…Those who dissented from the established church were not only heretics but also seditious and enemies of the state." (p. 80)

But the current media campaign to energize evangelical Christians to lobby Washington for torture isn't a matter of forcible conversions to Christianity. (Even though this media drumbeat takes on the aura of a "holy war" in itself by dehumanizing the terrorists.). No, this time the rationale for torture takes the very same route that the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer warned about so many times: "personal peace and affluence."

Schaeffer predicted that "personal peace and affluence" would become the new ethics, the new guiding values of a degenerate Christianity. He wrote in his 1976 book How Should We Then Live? (Crossway) that:

"Overwhelming pressures are being brought to bear on people who have no absolutes, but only have the impoverished values of personal peace and prosperity. The pressures are progressively preparing modern people to accept a manipulative, authoritarian government.… (p. 245)

"The chaos of violence -- especially random or political violence and indiscriminate terrorism, in an individual nation or in the world. Both in individual nations and in the overall world the widespread use of political terrorism has become one of the phenomena of the age. Random and indiscriminate terrorism is even more frightening. Similarly alarming are the indications that terrorist organizations from all over the world have in some way coordinated their efforts. We have already seen indications of how people give up liberties when they are faced with the threat of terrorism.…" (p. 247)

"…Without the base for right and wrong, but only a concept of synthesis, pragmatism, and utilitarianism, what will not be given up, both inside of nations or in foreign affairs, for the sake of immediate peace and affluence? The weak humanistic ideals are not and will not be enough in our own generation or for the future.… (p. 250)

Dominionism entanglements with a ruling state, especially a cause that lobbies for the torture of other human beings, may backfire on the Christian believer! Dr. Schaeffer concluded his book with a sober warning:

"…If we as Christians do not speak out as authoritarian governments grow from within or come from outside, eventually we or our children will be the enemy of society and the state. No truly authoritarian government can tolerate those who have a real absolute by which to judge its arbitrary absolutes and who speak out and act upon that absolute. This was the issue with the early church in regard to the Roman Empire, and though the specific issue will in all probability take a different form than Caesar-worship, the basic issue of having an absolute by which to judge the state and society will be the same." (p. 254-255)

The Truth:

"Mercy and truth are met together." (Psalm 85:10a)

"Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart;" (Proverbs 3:3)