One of the More Grotesque Moments in our Hastily Forgotten History

One of the More Grotesque Moments in our Hastily Forgotten History August 1, 2013

…was when Bush/Cheney shill Marc Theissen actually had the temerity to say that waterboarding was a healing and liberating experience for the victims, relieving them of a sense of guilt since they were no longer morally responsible for confessing under torture.

In short, a *Catholic*, if you please, offered waterboarding as a sort of secular parody of baptism, taking away the sense of sins from its victims.  It was a sort of crowning climax in the disgusting multi-year effort by self-professed Faithful Conservative Catholics (in larger percentages than the general American population) to demonstrate their willingness to spit on the Church’s moral teaching with all the vigor of “Catholics for a Free Choice”.

I think of that exquisitely horrible moment of Thiessen’s embarrassing dump of a wheelbarrow load of incense on the altar to Divus Caesar as somebody sends me this.

And it will, make no mistake, all be back the moment the GOP returns to power, because they have not learned one thing nor expresseed the slightest regrets.  Indeed, torture is a subject of fun at CPAC:

“Oh brother, Shea. It was just a joke. Lighten up!”

Okay. Let’s make it funnier.

“If offered a choice between 70 speeches and watching my daughter be raped, I’d have to think about it.”
“If offered a choice between 70 speeches and being gassed at Auschwitz and my fillings ripped out, I’d have to think about it.”
“If offered a choice between 70 speeches and having to perform an abortion on my wife, I’d have to think about it.”

Thigh slappers, right?

Here’s the thing. In all social groups there is what is known as a “universe of discourse“. Things that are socially acceptable to think about and joke about and things that aren’t. Because conservatives acknowledge that abortion is a grave sin, they don’t joke about it. Because many abortion zealots not only support abortion, but hate God, it is within the universe of discourse for abortion zealots to chant “Hail Satan” as what they regard as a joke (and repelling everybody, including actual Satanists.

In exactly the same way, what a highly popular speaker at CPAC considers to be an in-joke speaks volumes about what your average conservative considers to be just fine and dandy. The loud and clear message is that torture is absolutely fine in the year of our Lord 2013 and the moment conversatives have the power to inflict it again they will. And Catholics like Thiessen will be right there to defend it again. The current period in history is simply a lull. And once torture is thoroughly kneaded into our consciousness as a way of “defending freedom” from external enemies, it will then be proposed as a way of dealing with internal ones (including citizens) as well.

And when the day comes that it is unleashed by post-Christian Caesar on Catholics who fought to defend it, I wonder if they will feel surprised or shame?

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  • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

    Amen. The first thing I found wrong with Obama was when, far from punishing the torturers as he had practically promised in his campaign, he covered up for them and kept some of them in his administration. Supporting the crimes of your opponents is NOT uniting.

  • Ronin Catholic

    I write not to argue the basic premise of your piece. Just to share an observation. When compared to the very loud applause at his introduction, the laughter after the water boarding joke seemed (to this auditor) at least to be more subdued. Maybe there is hope for the Thing Formally Known as Conservatism. Maybe.

  • Kenneth

    “And when the day comes that it is unleashed by post-Christian Caesar on Catholics who fought to defend it, I wonder if they will feel surprised or shame?”

    ……………No. No, they won’t. They’ll believe with all of their corrupt little hearts they could have avoided their dilemma if only they had tortured MORE when they had the chance.

  • vox borealis

    I don’t question the premise of this post—entirely—but it should be noted that two of the three analogous jokes that Mark Shea posits are not really analogous: “performing an abortion on my wife” and “watching my daughter be raped.”
    The basic premise of Jindal’s joke (which was in poor taste) is that one would have to think hard between doing something laborious and painful (or even torturous) for oneself and listening to a lot of speeches. In other words, listening to speeches is equivalent to torture…it is painful for me the speaker. This does not really match with “listening to speeches is like observation pain and humiliation (rape) directed at another person (though this is also painful for me)”, nor with “doing something murderous (performing an abortion) on someone else.”

    Now, let’s drill deeper into this joke. Had Jindal simply quipped, “I’d rather be tortured than listen to speeches”, he could have gotten away with it, right? Or even if he was more specific: “if I had to choose between listening to speeches and being put on the rack/drawn and quartered/put in the iron maiden”, it would not have been offensive, I think. That is because within context (a joke) the exaggeration is expected, even necessary, and such forms of medieval torture do not really carry any current emotional or political baggage. No one, I hope, would really think that Jindal or his audience believes that the rack or the iron maiden are socially acceptable, or that they approve of torture.

    But what about Shea’s hypothetical joke involving gassing at Auschwitz? This actually makes sense as an analogous joke (simplified: I’d rather be tortured [have my fillings removed] and killed [gassed] than listen to speeches). So why is this offensive? Because it taps into a specific *historical* incident that is so heinous and painful, we as a society have generally decided not to joke about it. But what if Jindal had joked “I’d rather have my teeth pulled out than…”? I don’t think that is offensive, because one would not necessarily make the connection to the specific historical context. Heck, he could have joked about having his teeth drilled, and some might have made the connection to Marathon Man but not made the further connection to the Holocaust.

    Which brings me back to the joke about water boarding. It is not offensive inherently because water boarding is torture. Rather, it is offensive because of the specific historical/political/emotional context of water boarding in particular having been used as a technique of “enhanced interrogation” by US agents. And while the joke was certainly in poor taste, I am not convinced that it reflects a general sentiment that torture (or even, more specifically, water boarding) is ok. In fact, the joke—offensive or not—only makes sense if water boarding is understood as not OK, as something painful and horrible…that is, torture.

    So, in an odd, ironic way, Jindal’s joke is based on a premise or assumption that agrees with Mark Shea’s and others’ argument that water boarding is torture.

  • Dan C

    I think these folks like Thiessen try out ideas and words and this constititutes a form of propagandizing in the name of the “True and Holy Side of the Culture Wars.” Here was something he probably did not believe when he first started talking about it (on the phone, in the car, in emails) and then began to believe the PR he began.

    I think it is all just a bit of propaganda the speaker began to believe, in order not to cede any ground in these culture wars.

  • Pofarmer

    Well, heck, I mean it’s not like the Catholic Church has any history with torture, or, say, enslavement for money(a la the Magdalene laundries).