Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Grand Old (Torture) Party

Politically conservative Mormons and Evangelical Christians are divided by serious disputes over doctrine, but presidential aspirant Mitt Romney has found a way to bridge that chasm: He stands “foursquare behind the president” regarding his supposed authority to order summary imprisonment and torture of anybody upon whom he chooses to visit such treatment.

“The people we are facing are individuals who have no interest in the Geneva Convention,” insisted Romney during a swing through South Carolina to court the Evangelical vote. “They slit the throats of our servicemen. They target civilian populations for terror and destruction.”

The crimes committed by Jihadists are manifold and mortifying, of course, but given that tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in various ways – including decapitation – as a result of the illegal war waged by Washington, there's a moats-vs.--beams issue here that true Christians should recognize.

But “Theo-Cons” of the sort Romney is seeking to seduce would regard such sayings of Jesus as seditious talk – “moral equivalence” that would lead to “appeasement” of our “Islamo-Fascist” enemy.

Come to think of it, wasn't it the Theo-Con faction of Jesus' era who connived in his illegal arrest, detention, torture, trial before a Kangaroo Court, and execution? As I recall, their rallying cry was essentially identical to chief tenet of Bush-era American conservatism: “We have no king but Caesar.”

Jesus was neither a terrorist nor an insurgent, of course, unlike many others who had been imprisoned, tortured, and crucified by Rome. He was just One among many innocent people who got fed into the brutal but necessary machinery of imperial “justice.” The Empire had enemies, of course, and as Pilate understood, sometimes it's tragically necessary for innocent people to suffer in order for civilization to endure.

But I digress ... sort of.

During his most recent visit to South Carolina, Romney's embrace of the totalitarian concept of President-as-torturer-in-chief won the admiring support of the Theo-Cons.
“From his outspoken defense of President Bush on interrogating terrorism suspects to an appeal to Christian conservatives here Friday, Gov. Mitt Romney is increasingly trying to position himself as the leading conservative alternative to Sen. John S. McCain, R-Ariz., in the 2008 presidential race,” reported the Boston Globe.

“He's maximized his window of opportunity very well in South Carolina," observed Scott Malyerck, executive director of South Carolina's state Republican Party. ``He's hitting those conservative buttons that folks are concerned about."

Granted, Romney's positions on abortion and homosexuality have, as they say, evolved since his senate candidacy in 1994, during which he attempted to flank Ted Kennedy to the left. He was elected Governor of Massachusetts as one of those dreaded “moderate” Republicans, and more than a few local critics believe that his enlistment as a conservative footsoldier in the kulturkampf was inspired by simple opportunism.

But Romney put such concerns to rest, as far as South Carolina's Republican leadership is concerned, by publicly pledging his support for the Imperial Executive (a gesture serious Christians also refer to as “bending the kneel to Baal”).

John McCain has made similar efforts to court the Theo-Cons, and he probably would have earned their unqualified support were it not for the fact that he seemed to cavil over the question of torture. This would be understandable, since, as an “illegal combatant” in the war against Vietnam (the causus belli was fraudulent, and war was not declared by Congress – two reasons invoked by the bestial Vietnamese Communists to justify their horrific treatment of our POWs), McCain was subject to many of the same forms of “coercive interrogation” the Theo-Cons consider just and proper.

McCain's opposition as part of a dialectical charade, of course, but even pantomimed opposition to the Divine Leader is considered a severe heresy by the Theo-Cons. It is possible that McCain will find forgiveness before the primaries begin, and if he gets the nomination I could see Romney ending up at the bottom of the ticket.

In any event, Romney's presidential aspirations will inevitably provoke detailed media scrutiny of his religious background, including some elements of Mormon history, doctrine, and practice that will make for lurid copy.

For this reason, while in South Carolina Romney was confronted by Cindy Mosteller, a supporter of John McCain, who has concerns about how the historic Mormon practice of polygamy and the church's teachings about people of African and American ancestry would play with the voting public.

Another brief digression is necessary here.

The practice of polygamy was officially disavowed in 1890, although it continued sub rosa until the early decades of the 20th Century, and remains enshrined in Mormon scriptures as a godly ideal (and, in a theoretical sense, it is still practiced by Mormon men who are “sealed” to both a living wife and a deceased spouse; Mormon Apostle Russell M. Nelson, the LDS Church's point man of the defense of traditional marriage, meets that description).

For nearly 150 years, Mormon doctrine prohibited the ordination of black men to the church's lay priesthood and depicted black skin as the mark of a divine curse.
That policy was changed when LDS President Spencer W. Kimball announced a revelation in June 1978 lifting the ban on ordination. However, that announcement was coupled with a statement from the Mormon hierarchy reiterating its opposition to intermarriage between white and black people.

Exogamy had previously been treated as a problem because it would transmit the “curse” supposedly inherited by black people. Yet once the “curse” was lifted, the official opposition to “race-mixing” remained.

(Furthermore, according to Mormon teachings, dark-skinned people of American Indian ancestry, Latinos, and Polynesians also display in their complexion the mark of divine disfavor; God, as defined in Mormonism, is oddly preoccupied with melanin content as a form of color-coding for righteousness.)

Also likely to be of some concern to the voting public would be the largely ignored, but still authoritative, Mormon teaching that the Constitutional Republic created by America's Founders was merely a precursor to the advent of a Mormon theocracy. Shortly before being murdered in June 1844, Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith organized a secretive group called the Council of Fifty that was intended to be the foundation for a Mormon theocracy.

At the time, Smith was campaigning for the U.S. Presidency , an office to which he considered himself entitled by divine appointment. After the Council of Fifty was created, Smith was anointed “Prophet, Priest and King over Israel on Earth,” which meant (in the words of his loyal disciple Heber C. Kimball) that Smith was “the president pro tem of the world.”

This is a very interesting topic I will have to explore at greater length on another occasion. But back to Mitt Romney and the GOP Theo-Cons....

Cindy Mosteller, a devout Evangelical Christian aware of at least some of these issues, says that she's concerned about their political impact on the Republican Party should Romney become the front-runner.

According to an account in The State, Mosteller “had planned to ask the questions in an open committee session, but Romney nixed that idea by ending his short address with a final `thank you.' The governor then proceeded to meet with the media for about 15 minutes.

Enter Mosteller.

Sensing trouble, Romney aides hurriedly ushered reporters out the door.
Afterward, Mosteller said the governor did not answer any of her questions. She described the meeting as `very tense.'”

“This makes me sick,” complained Republican activist Cindi Costa, who had “pleaded with Mosteller not to confront Romney.” “Your personal faith is not game in politics. It’s a private matter.... [confronting Romney] besmirches her character. It makes her look hateful. This is not what we’re about. The party does not give religious tests.”
Mosteller's action was “awful,” complained said Spartanburg GOP chairman Rick Beltram. “She acted in bad taste,” insisted Katon Dawson, the state GOP chairman.

So here's where we stand: “Coercive interrogation” of prisoners, employing methods similar to those employed by the KGB, is a moral and proper policy with which no patriotic Christian can take issue, and asking polite – albeit – forceful questions about the religious convictions of a man auditioning for the most powerful office in human history is “in bad taste.”

If Mitt Romney were exactly the same candidate – the same vaguely Ted Dansoneque looks, the same privileged upbringing, spewing the same Osterized rhetoric – but was a Muslim rather than a Mormon, the Theo-Cons would hardly be as eager to denounce the use of “religious tests.”

The doctrinal differences that separate Mormon beliefs from mainline Christianity are as numerous and as significant as those dividing Dar al-Islam from the Christian world. In some ways Mormonism is closer kindred to Islam than it is to conventional Christianity.(.pdf)

Indeed, during the 19th century – particularly in the aftermath of the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, the original September 11 terrorist attack – the desert-dwelling, polygamist Mormon theocracy under Brigham Young was often described in terms quite similar to those used in excoriating “Islamo-Fascists” today.

It's also worth pointing out that Mormons were on the receiving end of some of the most abominable abuses of government power in our nation's history, including an “extermination order” issued by Governor Lilburn Boggs of Missouri in 1838. A lot of this follows the familiar and tragic script of innocent people getting the worst of fights their leaders had picked on their behalf, but be that as it may, one would expect that Mormons, of all people, would be reflexively suspicious of unaccountable government power.

Just as we would expect that Christians, who worship as God Incarnate an innocent Man who was treated to every form of torment the perverse ingenuity of professional torturers could devise before giving His Life on our behalf, would have moral compunctions against authorizing any government to engage in torture.

Tomorrow: How a key fundraiser for the Grand Old (Torture) Party profited from illegally imprisoning and brainwashing American youth.


Captain Kirk said...

My Dad taught me when I was a child to never stoop to the level of my enemy or lower my standards of conduct in dealing with my enemy. Dad taught me to go the extra mile with my enemy and "kill him with kindness". As a young man, I came to the realization that Dad was simply teaching me what he had learned from his father, my grandfather, who was a preacher. I guess Bush the Yonger never learned this lesson from Bush the Elder. I fear that we, as a people, are going to get bit in the behind on account of this lesson-never-learned.

William N. Grigg said...

Cap'n -- Your father was both kind and wise. And I agree with you that we're likely to take it in the "six" because of what our government is brewing right now. As the top JAG officers and many other active duty military leaders point out, our troops are likely to catch hell as a result of the Wee Decider's decision to play cutesy with Geneva.

Rick, what really hurts about the scourging of our Lord, what makes me weep as I think or write about it, is to know that I'm the one who's responsible.

R J Browne III *Chip said...

You seem to be observing a problem of "blind obedience" that is portrayed as righteousness by the "Theo-Cons". This submission to civic authority actually has its counterpart in the submission to ecclesiastical authority. Have you heard your leaders (like I have heard) boast this unspoken Mormon doctrine? "Do what your priesthood leader (especially those in the highest positions) tells you to do - right or wrong, you will be blessed for your obedience" This type of obedience was originally frowned upon by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, but now it is a badge of righteousness flaunted by both leader and follower alike. How and when did this conviction of irresponsibility develop among the leaders and followers? Is it an echo of the same irresponsibility documented in centuries of human existence? Is it not the same decision of many in our pre-existent state? Let me suggest that it may be a direct outcome of one's interpretation of Joseph Smith's Article of Faith #8 where "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, ..."? Directly from that doctrine comes the familiar belief on how to support an illegal war morally - the accountability of the murder of a man in wartime will be held by the magistrate who required your subscription albeit "against your will." (We are willfully supporting the war, are we not?) Is not this test of our souls the test of knowing and perceiving God and goodness in this life? Is not this the test of who we are and whom we serve - God or mammon? Remembering the adage "many are called, but few are chosen," do we truly number ourselves among the "chosen" if we blindly follow those who shall be numbered among those who are not "chosen"?