Why Sarah Palin is Right About Baptism by Waterboarding — #AmericanBaptism

Why Sarah Palin is Right About Baptism by Waterboarding — #AmericanBaptism April 28, 2014
Creative Commons Copyright DonkeyHotey (flickr)

Sarah Palin is right about baptism and waterboarding.

In a speech now heard round the Christian world, Sarah Palin said at an NRA rally that “waterboarding is how we’d baptize terrorists” if she were president.

Christians were up in arms about the apparent blasphemy of the statement, shocked that she would sacrilegiously connect waterboarding with the Christian sacrament of baptism. It taps into a long, shameful legacy of Christianity that forced baptism on people of other faiths under threat of violence, and it contorts the Christian faith with nationalism in ways that make my own stomach churn.

But as Christians we seemed less outraged that Palin would consider waterboarding a viable method of interrogation rather than as a method of torture, as fellow priest the Rev. Daniel Brereton pointed out.

In fact, we seemed more upset about the imagined abuse of a religious ritual than the actual abuse of a human.

But, in truth, Palin is right.

Waterboarding — along with other torture and human rights abuses like drone warfare and indefinite detention — was how the United States baptized the world into its new creation — the war on terror.

It was simply an American baptism instead of a Christian one.

We baptized “combatants” with waterboarding.

They became new creations that raised to life through outrage and injustice new enemies and violence.

We baptized the innocent with indefinite and dehumanizing detention without trial or recourse.

And we raised to life new creations of our own making, creating enemies in our own image.

We baptized the innocent in the indiscriminate and remote violence of drone warfare.

And we raised to life new creations, marked by unjust violence.

We baptized prisoners at Abu Ghraib with brutality, humiliation, and torture.

And we were surprised when we raised to life new hatred, horror and disgust.

We baptized the world into this new creation of unending and indefinite war, where our military violence has near-unfettered permission to strike with missiles and drones.

And it is a new creation that lives on.

We baptized ourselves, too.

And we died to the old self — the one that at least appeared to value due process, international justice, and respect for human dignity. And in the process, we became new creations that valued security at all costs, even our own humanity.

We were all baptized in the waters of torture, and we were complicit in the human rights abuses of our nation through our silence or apathetic statements of protest.

Even though our current president Barack Obama banned waterboarding and other torture practices in 2009, we are still marked by them. And, we are still waging dubious war through dubious methods of drone warfare.

We are still baptizing the world with American violence.


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  • Eric Thurman

    Spot on, though I have one minor quibble:

    “In fact, we seemed more upset about the imagined abuse of a religious ritual than the actual abuse of a human.”

    Perhaps you’ve heard or read something I haven’t, but I would think people are upset precisely because actual humans have been abused and so to link that abuse to a religious ritual is to justify that abuse, as well as desecrate the ritual. Indeed, the desecration wouldn’t be an issue if the abuse of people was not an issue first. But again, the rest is a truthful indictment of the religious elements of American ideology.

    • Let me try to rephrase that and see if it helps get at what I am trying to say.

      I don’t think people would be nearly as upset or outraged if Sarah Palin had simply said that she supported waterboarding. But because she linked to baptism, then people become extremely I’m just upset. My reading of that, and perhaps cynical, is that what’s that people off was the connection to baptism not the waterboarding in and of itself.

      People lead with the charges of blasphemy and sacrilege, not torture and abuse of human rights.

      • Eric Thurman

        I do take your point that many of the same people who are upset with the link to baptism are not upset at the support of waterboarding per se. I guess I was trying to suggest that even the sacrilege charge is based on an awareness, at some level, that waterboarding is immoral. Then again, maybe that’s too charitable. Maybe the charge is based just on gut-level “offense” at “misuse” of Christian ritual or symbols, which is about any metaphorical or ironic use at all in their minds.

      • Don Berghuis

        I am a baptized and confessing Christian. I am offended by Palin equating torture with one of the sacraments of Christianity and I am offended that the country I love and am proud to be a citizen of would stoop to such methods of interrogation as waterboarding. It is worth noting that most of the offenses Ms Palin and the author of this diatribe defending her decry were instituted , done, or began under the Bush administration.

      • Bob West

        Eric and David – Excellent points. Thanks for the civil discourse that brings out the nuance of this great piece of writing.

      • WS

        I think you’re right- they are upset because it’s connected to their religion because baptism is a sacrament & holy thing. Just like people got upset when she called the pope a liberal. But when she says something racially charged & not connected to religion she pretty much gets a free pass as when referring to Sandusky, “Hang him from the highest tree. I’ll bring the rope” and other comments like “shuck & jive”, etc. No one bats an eye I suppose because she’ll never top this – the audience yelling “Kill him Kill him” while holding Obama monkey dolls and Palin smiling approvingly.

    • Nicole

      I agree. The fact that Palin supports torture is not new news. It’s something that we’ve all been horrified about for quite a while. The fact that she is now trying to associate it with Jesus, that is what brings on this new wave of outrage. The outrage, sorrow and discust at the himan rights violations has been and will continue to be present.

      • vanpastorman

        I have a different take on this. We know that radical islamists force people by the sword to convert to islam. Young Christian children in Africa are forced to either die for their faith or convert. This is the way that islamists force people to do things they don’t want to do. Now, you have a radical islamist in your custody. You ask him if he knows any information about future attacks,where islamists train, where the money comes from, and they don’t want to say anything about these matters. So you force them by waterboarding to give up the information. In a sense you are baptizing them, ie forcing them to do something they don’t want to do. I think this is what Palin was really saying. She wasn’t making fun of baptism or demeaning the Christian faith. If she were then I’d be the first to be upset since I am a pastor.

      • JohnnyX

        Regardless of Palin’s statements, the bigger issue and the Truth that is being ignored by many conservatives is that Jesus, if His teachings are to be believed and followed, would NEVER under any circumstances, whatsoever, justify, condone, practice or turn the other cheek to torture. Torture is not God’s way. If you don’t believe she was demeaning to Christianity, that’s fine, but the more dangerous message she sends is that torture is okay and God is okay with it. That’s simply not true. As a pastor you should recognize this.

      • Eric Boersma

        Young Christian children in Africa are forced to either die for their faith or convert.

        Young Muslim children in Africa are forced to die for their faith or convert as well; violence in many African countries crosses sectarian lines in ways that are only tangentially related to the larger organized religions that the people perpetuating that violence claim to be a part of. There have been scores of people murdered in Africa in the name of Christianity, just as there have been scores of people murdered in Africa in the name of Islam.

        This is the way that islamists force people to do things they don’t want to do.

        This seems like an odd thing to argue. Threatening violence is the way that everyone who forces people to do things they don’t want to do forces actually does that. That’s what the word force means. Using the threat of violence in order to force someone to do something they don’t want to do is entirely non-sectarian.

        Now, you have a radical islamist in your custody.

        Well no, you probably don’t, actually. In many instances the people that we’ve brought in as related to anti-American efforts in the middle east have zero actual relation to organizations seeking to do Americans harm.

        You ask him if he knows any information about future attacks,where islamists train, where the money comes from, and they don’t want to say anything about these matters.

        It doesn’t matter whether they want to provide information about those things — they can’t. Ignoring the fact that the person in question is probably not related to the group you’re attempting to combat at all, low level members of terrorist cells do not have connections to the information you’re seeking to have them divulge. Their organizations are deliberately designed to make sure that the capture of any one individual is not catastrophic to the group. These people aren’t morons.

        So you force them by waterboarding to give up the information

        Well no, you don’t force them to give up the information, you force them to give up bad information. Western society has known for a long, long time (hundreds of years) that torture does not provide an effective means of gathering useful intelligence to use against an enemy. When someone being tortured has refused to divulge information and does so after being tortured, there is no indication that the gathered intelligence is useful, meaning that the torture must continue and the person is likely to continue to spew out information, much of it conflicting with what was originally told. This is why torture as a means of intelligence gathering is unreliable. It’s also horribly unethical.

        So you force them by waterboarding to give up the information. In a sense you are baptizing them, ie forcing them to do something they don’t want to do.

        That’s…not even close to the definition of baptism. Baptism is a sacred Christian rite — the word comes from the root greek word baptizo, which means literally “I wash”. Baptism symbolizes the cleaning of our spirits through the sacrifice of Jesus/the working of the holy spirit. Baptism has nothing to do with forcing someone to do something they wouldn’t otherwise do. Baptism in the bible is always something someone chooses of their own free will.

        If she were then I’d be the first to be upset since I am a pastor.

        You have an exceptionally troubling view of baptism for someone who is ostensibly trained in theological matters.

  • Carol Čizauskas

    Possibly the best essay/opinion I’ve read on this topic, one which expresses my thoughts and feelings exactly. It breaks my heart. This evil in our nation I saw coming on Sept. 12, 2001. Although I always knew this was possible, I weep and am horrified to actually see it happening.

    • jack

      On 9/12/2001 my first thought was the recollection of Nietzche’s aphorism;
      “Beware when you joust with monters, lest you yourself become a monster”. Mr. Bush has the singular opportunity to become the greatest leader in the history of this nation. Instead, he followed accepted the bait of revenge and became a very unexpected monster.

      • Guest


  • csalafia

    I’m not sure people were less outraged that she’d endorse waterboarding… sadly, I think her full-throated praise of torture was, well, expected. Her new thing, equating torture with baptism, has crossed a line that even conservative Christians say “well, now that’s too far”, yet still cautiously worded (See TGC’s response).

    As a sidenote… today is the 10 year anniversary of when the photos of Abu Gharib hit the public.

    • Exactly. The condemnation comes because she misappropriate baptism, not because she endorses torture.

      And, well, how tasteless that this is the anniversary of the revelation

      • Don Berghuis

        She ought to be slammed for both—the endorsement of torture and the blasphemy of baptism.

  • Chad Hill

    “And we died to the old self …”:

    No, there was never any “old self” that died. We have to stop telling such comforting lies about ourselves as Americans. We had no virtue to lose, and did not become “new creations” in the War on Terror’s wake. Instead, that ignominious episode in our history, once again, merely laid bare our grotesque hypocrisy as a people, and exposed the rot at the heart of American Christianity for all the world to see.

    • I agree here, which is why I said “old self, which *appeared* to value due process, etc”

      The RadioLab link goes into detail on how the War on Terror has changed all that, from a basic legal standpoint.

    • Don Berghuis

      The “old self” that died is in actuality a reference to our sin dying with Christ on the cross.

  • Great post! Thanks also for the link to the Radio Lab broadcast “60 Words.” One quote from the broadcast came from a prayer at the 9/11 memorial service: “Let us also pray for divine wisdom that as we act, we not become that evil we deplore.” The problem is that the USA is an empire, and as such we will always act as Empire. The pain for followers of Christ is that our Empire co-opts religion to serve it’s purposes, which now seems to be a constant state of war. That is how Evangelicals come to hate so easily and churches are so reluctant to speak prophetically. We appear to be at the same crossroads as the early church where to choose Christ is to reject Empire. Sadly, we have become that evil which we once deplored.

    • Those last two sentences are exactly so. The RadioLab show was really stunning to listen to last week. Kind of knocked me over emotionally.

    • Y. A. Warren

      The question is, “Who is the christ that Christians follow?” It seems that the religions are not following Jesus.

      • Karl Bivens

        Jesus dosen’t go to Church in the USA, because He’s not a hypocrite nor does He desire to hang out with a bunch of fake people…lol

  • Very well said. I seem to recall reading a similar point being made somewhere before…

    Oh, that’s right: the apostle Peter:

    “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9 NIV)

  • Dave Dixon

    Back in the 1970s I believe the Ayatollah Khomeini called America “The Great Satin”. At the time I was appalled at that statement. But as the years have passed we seem to be pushing closer to that statement.

    Excellent article, thanks.

    • rogerrabbit

      More a great silk..

  • annettek

    Jesus wept.

  • glennisw

    Waterboarding is torture, and torture is an illegal War Crime. Palin is not only an apologist for war crimes, she is enthusiastically endorsing them. She is a disgusting an vile, morally bankrupt monster.

  • WS

    What is it with this sicko woman and her hateful violent speech. This is right up there with what she said on Sandusky: ‘Hang Him From The Highest Tree And I’ll Bring The Rope’ and how she “observes” Martin Luther King day by trying to race-bait President Obama. Palin is pathetic, anti-American and un-christian but hey what else can one expect from a secessionist at heart?

    • Don Berghuis

      Why do we give this sick woman the time of day, and any newsprint space? She is one of those folks that I truly see as a waste of skin.

  • BrotherRog

    Interesting reflection! That said, her comment is despicable and most unchristian. True Christianity follows Jesus’ Way, teachings, and example of nonviolence and loving our enemies. There is no denying this and I pray for Ms. Palin to repent and
    to return to following the ways of our Lord. I encourage those who agree to sign this petition: – Roger Wolsey, author, Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity

  • JohnnyX

    This is my first visit to this site. I came here by way of the Sarah Palin story. The title of the article was quite provocative, so I read it with dread. My dread quickly drained and relief set in. Then sorrow at the truth spread out before me. I’m not a strong Christian, but I am a Christian, nonetheless. And though, I believe Jesus would weep at Palin’s words, I believe He would have smiled just for a moment knowing that there are still good and decent Christians among us. Thank you for this article. It soothed my frustration and gave me a little hope for humanity again.

  • So, the troubling trend is two fold:

    1) Conflation of patriotism and faith: nationalism
    2) Conflation of Christianity and violence: triumphalism.

    Thanks for speaking prophetically into both those points.

  • Garry Neeman

    From the article: “…in ways that make my own stomach church.”

    Oh yeah.

    • Gracious. That’s a bad typo, isn’t it! It should read stomach churn! I can’t believe you’re the first to point this out. Thank you!

  • JamieHaman

    Moderate Muslims must be wondering where the moderate Christians are over this. Personally, I didn’t see any rebuttal to her comments on my news page, only on Facebook. Says a lot to me.

    • That is frightening, isn’t it? And not the first time that Facebook and Twitter are the only places I see the outrage.

  • Y. A. Warren

    Sarah Palin is the perfect poster person for what we call “Christianity.” I am happy that she is putting a female face on the hypocrisy in our worship of idols and icons. The “Christian” religion spawned by the Roman Paul, and made a militaristic monarchy by the Roman Catholic Church and Constantine seems to follow someone other than Jesus as their christ. Until we become a Pentecost people, growing directly from the pure root of The Sacred (Holy) Spirit, nothing will change.

  • David, you are absolutely right.

  • jimrussell

    3 or 4 people holding down one and torturing them? Where I come
    from, the United States of America, we call that cowardly, unAmerican and
    by law a war crime. While the cowardly draft dodging torture Cheney
    should himself be in Gitmo as a war criminal, the want-a be coward Plain
    is just exhibiting the lack of thought process by a person with the
    mental acumen of lint. However, with the interest both of these
    scumbags show in harsh treatment why don’t we bring back public horse
    whippings for the pair?

  • Jack Washington

    I sense our (U.S.) responsibility in the wars of terror, however, humanity generally is complicit via the makeup of the natural man. All humanity has a share, including the 911 terrorists, who reacted from their inability to herald the world’s attention to their historical complaints. Unfortunately faith groups have too often been the culprits of oppression in the name of their respective faith to spread the ‘truth’.

  • Tim Howe

    I am troubled by the notion that there is something more inherently wrong with targeting drones than indiscriminate volleys of artillery or carpet bombing (remember that?). Or for that matter, a bullet to the head. Each kills. Most kill from a distance. Drones seem to me to reduce “collateral damage”, so how are they less “moral”? People keep telling me that their use is “dubious”, but I’ve yet to hear a cogent reason *why*.

    Other than that quibble, nice article.

    • At its most basic level, drone warfare has allowed the U.S. to expand, quite drastically, the geographic area in which it is waging war, and doing so without congressional approval. It is expanded in this way under 2001 (post 9/11 authorization for the use of force), which was never intended to be used in such a broad, unilateral way (I linked to a RadioLab show about this in the post).

  • Christianity has had 2,000 years to get past this sort of use for your theology.

    When is it going to happen? I think the patience of many of us is running thin with your church.

  • zamun zolim

    “Waterboarding — along with other torture and human rights abuses like
    drone warfare and indefinite detention — was how the United States
    baptized the world into its new creation — the war on terror” that is so errant on so many levels. Almost the same tripe as Palin’s statement. Wouldn’t expect anything less from the loopy “Piskie” church.

  • Dkb

    As “foot in mouth” as her comments were, keep in mind only three people were water boarded. Also, it is a technique used on our own service people in Survival training. I wouldn’t equate it with torture.

    • Tyro

      It has been a form of torture for a long time. The reason it is used in survival training is to prepare soldiers or the experience of being tortured by our enemies.

    • Drew

      Legally, it doesn’t matter what you equate it with, waterboarding is considered torture not only under international law, but under American law as well. Its used in SEAR training to prepare servicemen for situations they may experience if they are captured by the enemy.

    • gimpi1

      I’m pretty-sure we regarded as torture when the Japanese inflicted it on our captured soldiers in WWII. In fact, I believe we convicted some Japanese POW camp officials of war-crimes for that.

  • C. Bauserman

    … The ultimate problem isn’t that our enemies are in our own image; it’s that our enemies have no specific image at all. We give them a term … “terrorist.” What is a terrorist even supposed to look like? It’s a scare word. It’s a faceless enemy, and by that, could be anyone, depending on how you define the word.
    The greatest fear is that which only has a name, which can be thought of in the abstract, but never completely realized, with no face to assign to it. We think we know what a terrorist looks like, but we constantly receive a challenge to that: someone’s nice, kind, next-door neighbors end up being terrorists. It ultimately betrays the love we should be demonstrating toward everything and everyone. To use a cliche term, it’s “fear-mongering,” plain and simple, by keeping the term “terrorist” active in our minds…

  • vanpastorman

    How exactly do you compare drone warfare to waterboarding? In the first, people die. In the second, people think they are dying, give up information that will save those you love and your allies.

    • Drew

      Torture has never been shown to be an effective means of retrieving information. In fact, the exact opposite has been proven.

    • Eric Thurman

      In the first, people die, including innocent people. In the second, people are dying, in a controlled manner, and they will say anything to make it stop.

  • yannaro

    He also describes Islam.

  • mrmiller

    wow…………just wow.

  • Beth/Oliver

    I am outraged of the fact that so many people already think of Christianity will distain because of so many idiots that happen to be of Christian religion, and now a political leader is taking it a step FURTHER and equating Christianity and baptism with threats of violence and torture!

  • Julia Bolling

    I was appalled by the comments in Ms. Palin’s speech but even more by the reaction of her audience. It is not necessary to engage in apologetics. God does not need our defense. It does appear that the country does need our protection. I am horrified to think that anyone who could have held the highest office in the land would support torture and the violation of human rights. She is sounding more like Hitler and others who have used torture than one who would vow to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies both foreign and domestic.

    • lel


  • You’re Dumbasses

    So, I’m a Christian, and well, as my name states, You’re Dumbasses. Would Jesus ‘baptize’ these bad people with Waterboarding? No. Would God ‘baptize’ these bad people with Waterboarding? No. My point is proven. G

  • Bob West

    Thank you, David. This is a great work of thought and writing.

  • welcometo1984

    Wow, you’re spinning like the prima ballerina at the Bolshoi. Damage is done pal.

  • Michael L. Guss

    Whether David’s extrapolations are valid, using Sarah Palin’s name in the affirmative is like saying, “Sure, we believe in the devil, because the devil is right. After all we do sin!”
    Palin promoting torture at a gun rally in America in 2014? Disgusting.

  • tony crane

    we know that baptism & communion are the 2 Christian ceremonies we observe as new testament Christians. She was not trying to make a religious statement in my opinion. Im tired of whiny americans looking for a reason to become offended. get over yourself and do something productive!

  • DrDon

    One first has to assume that America really is a Christian Nation, as the right constantly although incorrectly proclaims. Then you have to accept that Sarah Palin, who came within a few percentage points of being elected vice-president of the US, speaks for the values of that nation and in a forum where the true patriots are at their most visible, an NRA convention. Finally, you have to see that she intended to say waterboarding a person is the equivalent of providing spiritual cleansing and forgiveness in the name of the Higher Power. Frankly I can’t concede any of those points so I respectfully disagree with David’s views on this topic.

  • Guest

    Everybody knows it was a laugh line. Sarah Palin never referenced “Christian” baptism. The word “baptism” is not just reserved for a particular Christian rite. It comes from the Greek word of “baptisma” or “baptizein” which simply means washing, dip, immerse or plunge, like drawing water by dipping a cup in a bowl.

    Where were all the people (media) who are so ‘upset’ with the use of the word baptism by Sarah Palin in her one line quip when sportscasters or political pundits used the phrase “baptism by fire” when talking about someone new to the sporting or political arena?

    Anyway, the media always hold Sarah Palin to a different standard. Obama joked about predator Drones at The 2010 White House Correspondents Association Dinner. Where was the media outrage?

  • John F.

    The fact that she openly admitted condoning torture is what set my conscience swirling. The religious aspect of it just made me roll my eyes.

  • Guest

    You keep saying ‘we’.. There is no ‘we’. There is me,
    and then there’s you.