The Pro-Torture Palin Populists
— Ed Dryden (@EdDryden) April 28, 2014
Lots of tweets like that complaining about my criticism of Sarah Palin’s defense of torture, in which she compared it to baptism. From a sociological point of view, what’s so interesting about them is that they are fixated on who is a “real” conservative and who isn’t. The whole RINO thing is not new on the right, of course, but it is a remarkable statement of insecurity on the part of people who allow their thinking, if that’s what you call it, reduced to identifying heretics and calling them out as frauds. What kind of movement cannot answer a criticism, even from within, except by freaking out about ideological purity, and defaulting to resentment? It doesn’t really bother me as much as it fascinates me. These are people who want to distinguish themselves by who they hate more than what they love. Again, not new, but you wonder what kind of people will be drawn to a movement that rejects as frauds and heretics Christians (and others) who find comparing torture to baptism and cheering for that repulsive.
Look at the tweet Ed Dryden was in part responding to:
— Todd Kincannon (@Todd__Kincannon) April 28, 2014
Well, I’m not Catholic, but I’m honored by the Hon. Kincannon’s mistake, given that the Catholic Church has stood up strongly against torture. Now, let’s be clear about this: Kincannon doesn’t represent Southern Baptists, either in his anti-Catholic bigotry or his support for torture. My Southern Baptist friend Joe Carter is a Marine Corps veteran and a political and religious conservative, but he was quick to criticize Palin’s remarks on the Gospel Coalition site. So readers, don’t use this Kincannon tweet to slam Southern Baptists. What’s interesting here, and unsettling, is that a professing Christian is so eager to defend a Christian who endorses torture (and compares it to baptism!) that he publicly indulged in anti-Catholic bigotry, presumably because the Catholic Church opposes torture.
Like I said, I’m not Catholic, but I’ll proudly stand with Catholics and any other Christians who believe that human dignity and the Holy Name is more important than maintaining solidarity with barbarism and its proponents. How can it make you proud that the more an American goes to church, the more likely he is to support torture? What is perplexing is the increasing self-marginalization of the populist right. Do they imagine that most Americans take pleasure in hearing a conservative leader promote torture in a gleeful tone, and a crowd cheer for her in doing so?
Look, I hate Islamic terrorists; I saw the south tower of the WTC fall with my own eyes, and stumbled back home that morning covered with its dust. Like everybody else in New York City in those days, I smelled the sweet aroma of burning human flesh, all over our city. I went into a church in Brooklyn to pray on 9/12, and saw the smoke from Ground Zero gathering in the light-filled dome, and knew that human remains were in that smoke. I went to New York firefighters’ funerals, more than one. Like so many other New Yorkers, I took food and donations to firehouses for widows and fatherless families. I hated those terrorists so profoundly for what they did I struggled to sleep at night.
Torture is still wrong.
If you associate conservatism in the public’s mind with torture advocacy, that’s too bad, but it’s not the worst thing in the world; conservatism never saved anyone’s soul. But to yoke with delight the cause of the crucified Christ with torturing another human being? Is that really the kind of Christian you want to be?
If it is, I invite you to read this interview that the late Father George Calciu, a Romanian Orthodox priest, gave about Constantine Oprisan, a young Christian man who, like Fr. George, was imprisoned and tortured by the Securitate as an enemy of the state, because of their faith. Excerpt:
I was very fortunate because I was among the sixteen people that the Securitate took to Jilava prison, where my [spiritual] healing began. In Jilava they built a special cell in a half-cylindrical shape. It was like a cylinder cut in two. We were underground; Jilava is built underground. Above the cell were seven meters of earth. You cannot see Jilava-the whole prison is underground. In this cylinder they built four cells with no windows, only a door. We had an electric bulb, day and night. They put four of us in each cell. In each cell there would be either a very sick man or a mad man. In my cell, I had a man -Constantine Oprisan- whose lungs were completely emaciated
by tuberculosis. Twice a day he had to cough up fluid from his lungs. We would help him by giving him a hat or something, and he would cough and bring up all the discharge from his lungs-blood and everything. It was horrible to see him. On the first day I entered this cell, with me were Constantine Oprisan, my friend who saved me from suicide, and another student younger than us. Constantine began to cough up the fluid in his lungs. I was leaning against the door – surprised because I had never seen anything like that. The man was suffocating. Perhaps a whole liter of phlegm and blood came up, and my stomach became upset. I was ready to vomit. Constantine Oprisan noticed this and said to me, “Forgive me.” I was so ashamed! Since I was a student in medicine, I decided then to take care of him.So I decided to take care of him and told the others that I would take care of Constantine Oprisan. He was not able to move, and I did everything for him. I put him on the bucket to urinate. I washed his body. I fed him. We had a bowl for food. I took this bowl and put it in front of his mouth.
He was like a saint. It was the first time that I was in contact with such a man.
Can you tell us more about him? How he taught and strengthened you?
He did not talk much. He talked to us everyday for about one or two hours because he was not able to talk very much. But every word which came out of his month was a holy word-only about Christ, only about love, only about forgiveness. He said his prayers, and [what a deep impact it had on us] hearing him say those prayers, knowing how much he was suffering. It was not so easy. Out of his gentleness of soul -he wanted to protect us- not to cough too much to spread the germs in the atmosphere. He was like a saint in the cell with its. We felt the presence of the Holy Spirit around him; we felt it. Even during his last days when he was no longer able to talk, he never lost his kindness toward us. We could read in his eyes the spiritual light and the love. It was like a flood of love in his face.
Did he tell you stories about when he was head of “The Brotherhood of the Cross”?
Yes, he did. He told us about how he worked with the youth. I am sure he loved the youth and that he was loved by them. He was completely dedicated to man. He was a very clever man -amazingly clever. He was so kind with us. He did not talk much about himself. He talked about faith, about love, about prayer. He was praying all the time. It was not so easy to be in the cell all the time with the same people, you know. When there arose some conflict between us, he prayed. And his prayer was very effective. We were ashamed, just because he was praying, and we knew it. He was not praying in a loud voice, but his face was completely transformed. We understood that he was praying for us and we stopped [arguing].
He was in [such a terrible physical] condition because he had been tortured in Pitesti for three years. They had beaten him on his chest, on his back and had destroyed his lungs. But he prayed the whole day. He never said anything bad against his torturer, and he spoke to us about Jesus Christ. All the while, we did not realize how important Constantine Oprisan was for us. He was the justification of our life in this cell. Over the course of a year, he became weaker and weaker. We felt that he had finished his time here and would die.
Once a week we were obliged to shave. I would watch Constantine Oprisan, and my friends would shave. Afterwards, I began to shave and one of the others would watch Constantine Oprisan, because we watched him day and night. When anything happened, they would tell me to go to Constantine Oprisan, because I had told them that I should be the only one to take care of him, since I had hurt him that first day. I was sure that I had hurt him, and I felt very, very guilty. While I was shaving, Marcel, the student who was younger than us, saw that Constantine was ready to die. He said, “Go and see Constantine Oprisan; he is dying.” I looked at him. His face was completely emaciated. His eyes were open, but I saw that over his eyes there seemed to be a curtain of mist. His eyes turned inside himself. I was so scared, so afraid. I felt that he would die and I would be alone in his cell. I put my hand on his and said, “Constantine, don’t die; don’t die! Come back; come back!” I cried with a great voice! Immediately he came back. His eyes became clear. He looked at me. I was right in front of his eyes, you know, bent over him. I don’t know what happened in his soul, but I saw an immense terror in his face. His eyes were full of terror and he started to cry. I had the feeling that he had been ready to enter the spiritual world, and I had asked him to come back to the cell. This was a great terror, and so he started to cry. Tears were flowing out of his eyes. His face became the face of a child, a
newborn child. He was crying like a newborn child coming out of the womb of his mother. Constantine Oprisan cried because I forced him to come back. In a couple of minutes he died.
How long were you with him in that cell?
After he died, everyone of us felt that something in us had died. We understood that, sick as he was and in our care like a child, he had been the pillar of our life in the cell. Then we were alone without Constantine Oprisan.
We took a towel and washed his body to prepare it properly to be buried in the earth. Then we knocked at the door and told the guards that Constantine Oprisan had died. They came after three hours. We had never left that cell before – that cell which had neither light nor windows. The water, was seeping into the walls; the straw mattresses were putrid under our bodies. So, after two hours, for the first time, the guard commanded me and my friend to take the body of Constantine Oprisan and go outside.
Outside it was so beautiful. Flowers and trees and blue sky. As long as we were in the cell, we forgot about the beautiful world. When we went out, we saw that the world had not changed. This vegetation, these flowers-hurt us. It was like an insult to us, because we were suffering, dying… but the universe did not care about us! The sun was going down and there was a golden light. Everybody was shining like gold. We put Constantine Oprisan on the ground. He was completely naked because we had to give his prison clothes back. His body was completely emaciated. We could not believe that he was a human being. He was completely emaciated; only bones, only bones. And I think that the bile at the moment of death must have entered the bloodstream, because he was completely yellow. My friend took a flower and put it on his chest -a blue flower. The guard started to cry out to us and forced us to go back into the cell. Before we went into the cell, we turned around and looked at Constantine Oprisan -his yellow body and this blue flower. This is the image that I have kept in my memory -the body of Constantine Oprisan completely emaciated and the blue flower on his chest. He was nothing but bones and skin -no muscle. Nothing else… his body lying on the ground with a blue flower.
Afterwards, it was very difficult. I may have sinned because Constantine Oprisan, before he died, said, “I will die, but after death, I will pray to God for you. All my prayers will be for you, because I do not want you to die to this cell.” And I am sure he prayed for us, because all three of us succeeded in leaving this prison to go to Aiud [Prison]. I am sure that Constantine Oprisan was praying to God for us. The sin I committed was that all the time I was thinking and invoking the soul of Constantine Oprisan to come and give us light. He never came, though for months I asked him to come and give us light. I think this was a sin I committed, for perhaps it gave him some unrest. I am sure he was very grateful to me that I took care of him. I am sure he loved me very much. He loved everybody. But I think for me he had a special love because I had a special love for him.
Was he older than you?
Yes, he was about six or seven years older. And I never had a repulsion for him after that first time. I took care of him with love and respect. He was like a child in my hands. I had to put him on the toilet, to wash him -to do everything for him. I was thinking that for this love through which we were connected, he had to come to me to give us the light of God…When I took care of Constantine Oprisan in the cell, I was very happy. I way very happy because I felt his spirituality penetrating my soul. I learned from him to be good, to forgive, not to curse your torturer, not to consider anything of this world to be a treasure for you. In fact, he was living on another level. Only his body was with us – and his love. Can you imagine? We were in a cell without windows, without air, humid, filthy – yet we had moments of happiness that we never reached in freedom. I cannot explain it.
I would also direct Todd Kincannon to reflect on the testimony that the Lutheran pastor Richard Wurmbrand, another survivor of the Romanian communist gulag, gave about the torture of Christians there — including Roman Catholics. He gave this testimony to Congress after his liberation. You can watch a 9-minute video of Pastor Wurmbrand talking about what he and other inmates endured at the hands of their torturers. Here is an excerpt from his Congressional testimony, which I first excerpted here:
Everybody in prison was very badly treated. And I cannot be contradicted on this question, because I have been with physicians, I have much more broken bones than anybody, so either I broke my bones or somebody else broke them. And if I would not have been a clergyman but a murderer – it is a crime to torture a murderer, too. The Christian prisoners were tortured in a form which should mock their religion. I tell you again in the prison of Pitesti one scene I will describe you about torturing and mocking Christians, and believe me I would renounce to eternal life to paradise after which I long, if I tell you one word of exaggeration. God is here and knows that I do not say everything. It cannot be said. There are ladies here. There are other people hearing it.
One Sunday morning in the prison of Pitesti a young Christian was already the fourth day, day and night, tied to the cross. Twice a day the cross was put on the floor and 100 other cell inmates by beating, by tortures, were obliged to fulfill their necessities upon his face and upon his body. Then the cross was erected again and the Communists swearing and mocking “Look your Christ, look your Christ, how beautiful he is, adore him, kneel before him, how fine he smells, your Christ.” And then the Sunday morning came and a Catholic priest, an acquaintance of mine, has been put to the belt, in the dirt of a cell with 100 prisoners, a plate with excrements, and one with urine was given to him and he was obliged to say the holy mass upon these elements, and he did it. And I asked him afterward, “Father, but how could you make this?” He was half mad. He answered to me: “Brother, I have suffered more than Christ. Don’t reproach to me what I have done.” And the other prisoners beaten to take holy communion in this form, and the Communists around, “Look, your sacraments, look, your church, what a holy church you have, what fine is your church, what holy ordinance God has given you.”
I am very insignificant and a very little man. I have been in prison among the weak ones and the little ones, but I speak for a suffering country and for a suffering church and for the heroes and the saints of the 20th century; we have had such saints in our prison to which I did not dare to lift my eyes.
I am a Protestant, but we have had near us Catholic bishops and monks and nuns about whom we felt that the touching of their garments heals. We were not worthy to untie their shoelaces. Such men have been mocked and tortured in our country. And even if it would mean to go back to a Rumanian prison, to be kidnaped by the Communists and going back and tortured again, I cannot be quiet. I owe it to those who have suffered there.
This is not an occasion for cheap jokes or mindless political sniping, Palin, Dryden and Kincannon. If what you offer is what conservatism is, you can have it; I’ll stand with Christ — and, I am sure, with Wurmbrand, Calciu, and Oprisan. As hard as it is to contemplate, I hope I would have the courage to stand with the doctors at the Christian-run hospital in Kabul last week who operated on a Muslim gunman injured in an attack in which he killed three of their colleagues.
Think, people, of the torture victim you and I call Lord.
UPDATE: I hadn’t heard of Todd Kincannon until I saw his tweet last night. Turns out he ran the South Carolina GOP for six years, until 2010. Turns out he’s also a piece of work.