Sarah Palin can’t tell a sacrament from a war crime. If I were a Christian, I’d be pretty damned angry.

“Waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”

St. Joan of the Tundra

Now, I’m not a Christian. So if Sarah Palin wants to associate a war crime with a Christian sacrament, it’s really no skin off my nose.

But if I were a Christian, I’d be pretty damned angry about this. It will be interesting to see whether any of the praying-aloud-in-the-marketplace-so-as-to-be-seen-of-men crowd has any problem with it.

Update I’m happy to see that one politically conservative Lutheran agrees with me.

Second update Rod Dreher is on the same page. I said “blasphemy;” he says “sacrilege.” Maybe it’s both; if not, I’m happy to defer to the expert.

Like Charles Krauthammer on the Bundy affair, Dreher is really hot under the collar:

Man, the 12 minute speech Sarah Palin gave to the NRA convention is awful. It’s just witless, red-meat blathering, delivered in that nasal whine of hers that makes it sound like she’s chewing wads of tinfoil. For people who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they like.

I recall that the Terri Schiavo affair peeled some reality-based conservative and libertarian folks off the GOP bandwagon: not because the issue was so important in itself, but because the unreason and contempt for law the right-to-lifers displayed woke some people up to the fundamental bogisity of Karl Rove Republicanism. (If John Ellis Bush does run for President, I hope we will hear a lot about his role in that comedy of cruelty.)  

At some point, you say, “Wait a minute! If that’s what the people I’m with are saying, what am I doing with them?” (The day Lyndon Johnson, my political hero, said that voting for Gene McCarthy was unpatriotic because it would make the leadership in Hanoi happy was the day I started wearing a McCarthy button.)

It would be too much to hope that the combination of the Bundy debacle and Palin’s rant might similarly awaken any substantial number of the remaining GOP faithful, but this stuff has to hurt anyone with any intellectual self-respect who’s trying to hang on to both that self-respect and his Red Team membership. And the howls from the NRA crowd just make it that much worse.  

Third update Patrick Brennan at National Review says ” barbarism,” and offers a full-throated denunciation of torture from a Catholic perspective. Looks as if Gov. Half-Term isn’t entirely useless after all; she seems to have the capacity to focus some conservative minds.

I can’t say how happy it makes me to find myself on the same side as some Red Team thinkers on this question. Now if there were only a single GOP politician prepared to annoy the Palinites …


Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

17 thoughts on “Blasphemy”

  1. Mollie Hemingway seems to agree with you about the blasphemy part but, frankly, she seems a little wobbly on the torture is evil part. Her objection is entirely that joking about her sacred ritual is sacrilegious. I didn't really expect anything along the lines of "I was not a Muslim so I did not object…" but, even so, it's a bit disappointing that she couldn't muster even a pro forma condemnation of people being tortured in the name of her god.

    As a non-Christian, I may not have the standing to say this but I think Mollie Hemingway's focus on the sacrilegious nature of joking about baptism rather than on the evil of torture is emblematic of the banishment by contemporary American Christianity of the idea that a moral life involves obligations to one's fellow man beyond "bringing them to Christ" and haranguing women about ungodly sexy-time.

    1. Well said.

      Hemingway is upset about blasphemy, but not about torture.

      Like you, I'm not a Christian, but I too find the relative emphasis disturbing.

      1. My reading of Ms Hemingway's objections is similar. If the quote had been, "Water-boarding is how we show the terrorists we mean business," I have no reason to believe that she would have objected in the least. Her ox was gored, so she bellowed.

  2. FWIW, I would agree that Mark's initial "blasphemy" is a better characterization than "sacrilege", which is abuse of a sacred object: a chalice, a crucifix, a Torah scroll, a Koran. Whatever, Palin is disgusting.

  3. I'm not going near this.

    However. You reminded me of something else that's been bugging me. Apparently, someone in this admin thinks it's a good idea to try to argue that a cross isn't a religious symbol (if you put it near a military cemetary).

    Um…. what??? Excuse me??

    1. I don’t know whether that’s the position of the Obama administration but Justice Antonin Scalia has several times expressed the absurd proposition that the cross is not a symbol of Christianity, including several times during oral arguments in Salazar v. Buono.

      Salazar v. Buono was a 5-4 decision and Justice Kennedy wrote for the court’s religious conservative. He impliedly held that a cross is not necessarily a religious symbol and therefore can be displayed in public spaces without constituting an enforcement of Christianity:

      “A Latin cross is not merely a reaffirmation of Christian beliefs,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in a plurality opinion joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. “It evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies would be compounded if the fallen are forgotten.”

      In keeping with the theme of Mark post, I quote an actual Christian who is critical of the decision. The Rev. Barry W. Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said:

      “I’m very disappointed. The court majority was clearly determined to find any bogus reason to keep this religious symbol in a public park.”
      Added Lynn, “It’s alarming that the high court continues to undermine the separation of church and state. Nothing good can come from this trend.”

      “This decision lets Congress bypass the Constitution and devise a convoluted scheme to keep a cross on display in a federal park. That’s bad law and bad public policy. The court majority seems to think the cross is not always a Christian symbol. I think all Americans know better than that.” (Emphasis added)

      It is as transparently false a line of reasoning as I've ever seen in a USSC case. But the man to see if it bothers you is Scalia, not Obama.

      1. Justice Kennedy seems to be unaware of actual recent war cemeteries. Since WWI at least for the British Empire, the graves of fallen soldiers have been marked with the appropriate symbol for their presumed faith. The tombstones, designed by Lutyens with this in mind, are plain slabs, the same for all. Here’s the grave of a American Sikh at Arlington, following the same practice.

        1. I suspect that they all know the truth of what you are saying but just don’t care. Because they don’t have to care—the niceties of the law mean nothing to these people. It’s all about power. They’ve got, it’s baked into the structure of the Constitution and there’s nothing that can be done about it as long as they're willing to do whatever it takes to get power and keep it by using the anti-democratic aspects of the Constitution as a stranglehold around the necks of Democrats. Period. If somebody wanted to put up a shrine to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I have very little doubt that the white, conservative and Christian majority of the Court would have no difficulty whatsoever in finding a violation of the establishment clause.

          I think the abuse of these structural weakness in the Constitution are part and parcel of what’s been going on for years. When this country was founded a number of profoundly anti-democratic measures were built into its structure partly to guard against abuses of power by the majority but mainly to protect “the peculiar institution”. Other layers of anti-democratic “safeguards” such as the filibuster were added but largely on the assumption that these “safeguards” would never be abused. What we’ve been seeing is that the Republican Party has systematically exploited the political choke points to keep a firm grip on power even though it represents little more than a neo-Confederate rump.

          That's the problem in a nutshell. The question is what are we going to do about it?

          Which is basically a long-winded way of saying that the conservative justices don't feel constrained by anything when they make their decisions and certainly not by something as trivial as logical consistency or even precedent. They're just going through the motions to reach a preordained conclusion. As always, conservatives follow the only principle that matters to them: Special rules for special people.

  4. Now if there were only a single GOP politician prepared to annoy the Palinites …

    I'm tempted to make some sort of snarky remark about believing that as equivalent to the White Queen's dictum on believing six impossible things before breakfast, but I won't.

    Instead, I'll note that such a Grand Old Politician would merit a new chapter in Profiles in Courage, and also receive whatever the GOP equivalent of a drumhead court martial might be.

  5. I fear there are only a few hundred thousand who are clinging to this party that can be peeled off. The rest are dug in, like a tick.

  6. The Oxford English Dictionary defines blasphemy as " Profane speaking of God or sacred things; impious irreverence" and sacrilege as "The crime or sin of stealing or misappropriating what is consecrated to God's service. In ecclesiastical use, extended to include any kind of outrage on consecrated persons or things, and the violation of any obligation having a sacramental character, or recognized as under the special protection of the Church. Also, an instance of this offence." I would describe half Gov. Palin's statement as impious irreverence and hence support the original designation "Blasphemy."

    1. You're missing the point. Yes, it's probably blasphemous. Yes, some people care about blasphemy, and it's unkind to offend those people, especially with no greater point to be made. Yes, it's curious that many avowedly devout Christians are untroubled by this instance of blasphemy.

      But far more important than any of that is that it was intended to be a humorous response to state torture, a minimization of the seriousness of waterboarding and implicitly permission to waterboard detainees. That should matter more than the blasphemy question, and should matter to everyone.

  7. Just for the record. It's not that I agree with X horrible statement, it's that for reasons of time management, there is a long list of nutjobs to whom I no longer pay attention. I am glad Mark calls them out — it's a public service that he bothers with some people — but I don't have the energy most of the time.

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