It’s generally a waste of space to reference Sarah Palin, which is why she so rarely appears here.
She long ago devolved into a cartoon, and her clout (such as it was) continues to wane. She’s like the incoherently choleric aunt you see once a year at Thanksgiving. She’s like the real-life version of Kristin Wiig’s brain-addled Aunt Linda.
(You knew there’d be a But.)
But every great once in a while, John McCain’s Hail Mary gift to America says something so scintillating that we’d be remiss to ignore it. Her remark earlier this week about the religious virtues of waterboarding – served up to rapturous applause at a National Rifle Association confab (natch) – is one such classic, because this time she even managed to infuriate her followers on the Christian right.
She wanted everyone to know that if she were President Palin, those Al Qaeda prisoners would truly have someone to fear: “They obviously have information on plots to carry out Jihad. Oh, but you can’t offend them, can’t make them feel uncomfortable, not even a smidgeon. Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”
The fun part was not her fantasy about being president (on that score, I have a better chance of morphing into Taylor Swift). No, the fun part was her comingling of Jesus and torture, her declaration that “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”
At first I had dismissed her remark as typically provocative Palin pap. Turns out, I had no idea how offensive it was. So I will now cede this space to the ticked-off Christians, who can explain it better than I.
Conservative commentator Mollie Hemingway, normally a Palin defender, is now assailing Palin for her “sacrilegious” comment, and “how blasphemous it sounds to the ears of Christians.” Quoting the Lutheran catechism, she describes the affirmative purpose of the baptism ritual: “It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.”
In other words, says Hemingway, baptism is supposed to be “life-giving.” By contrast, “waterboarding is the opposite of traditional Christian baptism. It does not work forgiveness of sins. It does not give eternal life in Christ. It is not voluntary.” Therefore, it is blasphemously wrong “to joke about (baptism) in the context of waterboarding.”
Meanwhile, here’s Rod Dreher, senior editor at The American Conservative: “For us Christians, baptism is the entry into new life. Palin invoked it to celebrate torture. Even if you don’t believe that waterboarding is torture, surely you agree that it should not be compared to baptism, and that such a comparison should be laughed at. What does it say about the character of a person that (she) could make that joking comparison, and that so many people would cheer for it. Nothing good – and nothing that does honor to the cause of Jesus Christ. If I thought that kind of hateful declaration and abuse of the Christian religion was what conservatism stood for, I wouldn’t be able to call myself a conservative.”
Here’s religious writer Mary Moerbe: “Sarah Palin’s brash words portray herself to be a great and powerful baptizer, not bringing faith or the forgiveness of Jesus – or even the sympathy implicit in secular uses of ‘baptism by fire,’ but crossing the line into government aggression, specifically against those already subdued and captive. She merged government with religion in one of the worst possible ways.”
Here’s divinity grad student Elizabeth Stoker, who writes regularly about Christianity. She says that Palin “sprinkled a little Christianity on top of a political framework,” used Christianity “as a kind of window dressing,” and attempted “to substitute the aesthetics of Christianity – its telltale words and images – for genuine Christian ethical thinking.”
And here’s Faithful America, an online social-action Christian network that launched an anti-Palin petition and racked up 15,000 signatures within a day: “This is what we’ve come to in America. A former candidate for vice president can squate torture and Holy Baptism…portraying Christianity as a religion of hatred and violence….For Christians, torture is not a joke or a political punchline.”
The petition also advises: “No media outlet should cover her remarks without reporting on how sincere Christians of all theological and political persuasions are appalled.”
Consider it reported. Glad to be of service.
Or as Frederick the mural painter lamented, in the Oscar-winning film Hannah and Her Sisters, “If Jesus came back, and saw what’s going on in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.”
Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1