Let me say that Scott W., linked just below, has a fine web log, is not a clergyman as far as I know (not that there’s anything wrong with being a clergyman), and he does not deserve to be the target of my bile; for all I know he’s a retired paratrooper with a sliver star, and God bless him. I’d rather link to someone I dislike, but his post is handy as an illustrative link. I’m sorry, but not sorry enough to keep quiet. Imagine that Noam Chomsky condemned water-boarding and I’m talking about him.
So is waterboarding wrong? Sure. Water-boarding is wrong. Okay? Then why do arguments against it gain so little traction with me? Partly because I’m human and a sinner; partly because I’m squeamish, believe it or not; partly because many faithful Christians, especially clergy, seem to underestimate the gravity of sins of omission, and this colors what I think of them and their arguments, especially today.
Those sins of omission are their own, naturally. They see the beam in the eye of virtually anyone trying to take an active role in the world – and the beam is there, sure enough – but they inevitably miss the speck in their own eye. This speck contributes to, for example, the people of North Korea living under miserable brutal repression for fifty years. Peace Now! Ban the Bomb! No Sanctions! No blood for, well, anything apparently.
Maybe they don’t really want the thankless task of being the conscience of everyone, and would rather be on the field of battle non-metaphorically. They long to take up arms – tangible ones, with 30-round magazines – and set free the captive, but that’s not their calling, darn it. Their calling, I guess, is to adjure those who have taken up arms not to shoot.
Again, water-boarding is wrong. So is leaving the people of North Korea under the heel of their oppressors. And no doubt those who so loudly and often condemn water-boarding would condemn the Dear Leader’s oppression too, but rather abstractly and notionally. That is, they’d condemn the oppression, and call for the captives to be set free (they’re great at calling for things, loudly and often) but if any man set out to free those captives in any way likely to actually work, they’d oppose it, and damn him for a warmonger.
But water-boarding is either wrong or it isn’t (and it is). Why does North Korea or the peace movement have anything to do with it? Logically it doesn’t, beyond rubbing me the wrong way. These people are communicators – writers and talkers. They have a high moral standard for any action, and any number of cogent reasons for more negotiation – until it all goes wrong, and they run to the embassy, expecting the American military they contemn to protect them with deadly force until they can be evacuated to pen a stinging op-ed about US policy and that wicked vile School of the Americas.
Their sins, I think, are mostly sins of omission. Those of the average soldier are more likely sins of commission. The ironically named “activists,” like me and everyone else, see others’ sins and overlook their own. No doubt the dimming of perception acts both ways, with soldiers looking more lightly on their own debauchery down in Columbus than on the hypocrisy of the preacher. This leads to writers and talkers and clergymen underestimating the gravity of sins of omission. Though the preachers’ arguments are correct as far as I can see – yet again, water-boarding is wrong – they leave a bad taste, apparently a bitter taste, in my mouth.
UPDATE 11 May 2011: linked Noam Chomsky.