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Sin Crouching at Our Nation’s Doorstep


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By Ernesto Tinajero

Sin, a word forgotten today and, when remembered, tends to be used to to beat up the church or limited to a set of sexual individual acts. We are modern, so we think we are above such Dark Age thinking. We live in the New Age after all.

Yet, when the report on torture recently came out, the contemplation of our national sin dominated my thinking. National sin is the particular sin that even the most conservative church forgets to preach, despite that this form of sin is the one most prominent in the Bible. The sins of Israel and its enemies dominate the Tanakh and the sins of Rome and the powerful dominate the New Testament. In the Tanakh, the corporate or national sin plays more of an important role than does personal sin, which is why the prophets rail against the nations more than any form of personal sin. The sins of Israel, Assyria and Egypt are the major narrative thread in the Tanakh and Torah.  In the New Testament, Jesus as the son of God really lies in tension between the other son of God during those days, Caesar. Caesar was the earthly symbol of national power and sin. As a nation, we can learn about how to repent from our sins from the Bible and learn to first face our national sin.

Since the report has come out, many have looked in line with our national idol of individualism, to blame particular people for America’s practice of torture. Torture truly is a national sin if there ever was one. The most depressing item in the whole sad affair with our national sin of torture has been the defenses mounted in defense of that which we cannot defend on moral grounds. Sam Harris, whose brand of atheism rose to prominence in the wake of Sept. 11, was typical in using a scenario out of Hollywood to defend the acts of revenge prettied up in fine silk arguments of getting information to save American lives. The movie myth was created to hide the real reason for the torture, a base desire for revenge. Any talk of saving lives and getting valuable intelligence makes the most destructive of emotions sound noble. People were tortured long after any useful intelligence could be gathered, and there are better methods of interrogation to begin with. Torture is an act intrinsic to itself and done for the pleasure of the act of inflicting pain on our enemies. Any justification is the Satan’s lie to makes feel better. We tortured for revenge. Our movies make us want to believe that we had more noble reasons, but they exists to make us feel better.

The reality remains. As we teach our kids, movie and TV are not real life, we must remember movies are our fantasies not realities projected. Jack Bauer in 24 hours beating the reluctant terrorist makes for good make believe, but rotten policy that costs us lives, dignity and our souls. Sam Harris’ work looked to dehumanize the other, in this case Muslims, as crazed irrational other, and it worked. Not one person was saved by torture, no matter the fantasies we tell ourselves. Our films and TV have made us Manichean, rejecting the Christian insights in human anthropology, and dividing the world into good guys and bad guys. The Christian understanding that we all posses a dark side has been rejected for a black hat/white hat worldview in which the only thing to do with black hats is to eliminate them. Torture has no defense. Waterboarding when done by the Japanese in WWII to our soldiers was properly recognized as such. The Greatest Generation understood this, while we deny it and this reveals the depths of sin we share as a nation.

Until we can admit to ourselves that torture was more about revenge than about gathering intelligence, we will remain unrepentant over our sin. We will run it through a similar process of other our national sins of slavery and native american genocide. It will effect us negatively and make us betray our founding principles. The Christian process of repentance offers the way out the human horrors. We start by joining Peter in recognizing the sin we practice. We must confess that these are sins to master the sin or the sin master us. Without confession their can be no repentance. Without repentance, there sin will run us.  Let us confess to the real reason of torture and stop with the glorifying of our clear sin. Only then can we begin to master the sin.


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Ernesto Tinajero
Ernesto Tinajero
Art, says Ernesto Tinajero, comes from the border of what has come before and what is coming next. Tinajero uses his experience studying poetry and theology to write about the intersecting borders of art, poetry and religion.

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Liv Larson Andrews
Liv Larson Andrews
9 years ago

Such a hard subject, Ernesto. Well handled here. Thanks.
Not long after the torture report came out, a “friend” on Facebook posted a meme with an image of a person falling out of the two towers in NYC on 9/11, with text that read “Yeah, water boarding really is too cruel.”
The rhetoric was potent and chilling. We cannot define who we are by what has been done to us, ie., we will torture because we have been hurt and risk further hurt. We must define ourselves by what we value. I think that debate, what we value, is where the deep divides live. Do we value might? Or do we value freedom?

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