‘If I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptise terrorists.’
This is not the first time I have been baffled by Sarah Palin nor is it the first time that I have been offended by her. But it is the first time I can honestly say that I am scared of her and of where her rhetoric will lead.
Credit where credit is due, it’s a clever bit of wordplay. She (or her speechwriter) knows her audience. It’s a nifty trick but it is not new.
The Church used it during the Crusades:
The favorite and most frequently cited text during the crusades was the following synoptic piece, around which the holy war was understood to revolve:
"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Mt 16:24/Mk 8:34/Lk 9:23)
"Taking up the cross" amounted to having a cloth in the shape of a cross sewn into one's clothes. As one then donned the sword, the following became relevant:
"I have come not to bring peace, but a sword." (Mt 10:34-36; cf. Lk 12:51-53)
Finally, Jesus could be seen as alleviating fears about leaving behind one's family, taking on fiscal hardships, and facing likely death:
"Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life." (Mt 19:29/Mk 10:29-30/Lk 18:29-30)
Hitler used the image of Jesus clearing the temple to sow seeds for the holocaust in Mein Kampf:
"Of course, [Jesus] made no secret of his attitude toward Jewish people, and when necessary he even took to the whip to drive from the temple of the Lord this adversary of all humanity, who then as always saw in religion nothing but an instrument for his business existence. In return, Christ was nailed to the cross, while our present-day party Christians debase themselves to begging for Jewish votes at elections and later try to arrange political swindles with atheistic Jewish parties – and this against their own nation."
Oliver Cromwell used the story of Joshua taking Jericho to justify the conquest and genocide of the Irish people.
In turn, Padraig Pearse, the Irish revolutionary who played a crucial role in the Easter Rising in 1916, said that ‘One man can free a people, as one man redeemed the world.’
Political leaders who co-opt religious language for their own purposes need one of two things in order to succeed:
1. Their people to be so ignorant of Christian Scripture and tradition that their manipulation is not noticed.
2. Their people to be so enamoured with the leader that they ignore it.
What scares me about Palin is that the predominantly Christian crowd who are listening do not respond with stunned and offended silence but rather with whooping, clapping and cheering.
She has gone beyond using the sacrament of baptism to justify torture … She has used the sacrament to celebrate it.
It is the equivalent of saying that:
‘Just as Jesus took the bread and broke it, we shall break our enemies.'
It’s like saying:
‘In the same way that we drink the blood of Jesus at communion, we shall drink the blood of our enemies.’
My dear Republican brothers and sisters in Christ, you have a candidate who considers you one of two things. She thinks you are either so biblically illiterate that you will not notice what she has done to the concept of baptism or so in love with her (instead of Jesus) that you won’t care.
It’s no surprise that Democrats are offended. What shocks me is that passionate, Christian Republicans are not more outraged that she could turn the public confession of their faith into a justification for torture.
That way madness lies, as history has shown.
America under Palin would be a Christian nation in the same way that Hitler's Germany was. With one line, she has undermined any claim the Republican party has to being the 'Christian party' if they elect her ... a claim that many would argue is tenuous as best.
(To save any potential confusion, I'm not a Republican. I'm not a Democrat either. I'm Irish so I don't understand a two party system and often find myself disagreeing with both as an interested, external observer. The only reason I write about it is because of my connection to friends and students in the US.)