Last week, video footage of four U.S. Marines urinating on the bodies of three dead Taliban fighters went viral. With the exception of a handful of morally dead ideologues on the right, the reaction to the video was one of revulsion at home and fury abroad.
As Americans, we were reminded that just because we choose not to pay attention to the war in Afghanistan, we share moral complicity for wars fought in our name. The callousness of the four Marines wasn't unprecedented. Relative to the toll on civilian lives in three countries because of American drone attacks, public urination on enemy corpses pales in comparison as a war crime.
In a widely read essay in The Washington Post, war correspondent Sebastian Junger astutely pointed out that a "19-year-old Marine has a very hard time reconciling the fact that it's OK to waterboard a live Taliban fighter but not OK to urinate on a dead one."
Mr. Junger and others point out that these young Marines grew up hearing the contentious policy debates about "enhanced interrogation" and the rationalizations for torture laid out by the Bush administration after 9/11. The warriors Mr. Junger has written about "are very clear about the fact that society trains them to kill, orders them to kill and then balks at anything that suggests they have dehumanized the enemy they have killed."
As much as we refuse to condone what they did, members of the military have a visceral reaction to our hypocrisy, too. So, where does a nation turn for a sense of moral clarity and enlightenment during these troubled times? Should it be left to journalists like Mr. Junger to tease out the moral implications of wetting down enemy corpses with splashes of uric acid? Where are our religious leaders, trained as many of them are supposed to be, in the subtleties of god-craft and moral reasoning?
Instead of leading a national discussion about how war deadens the spirit along with any capacity for simple, human empathy, 150 conservative "Christian" leaders met in Texas over the weekend to throw their support behind GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a man who said he'd launch a pre-emptive war with Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons.
Gary Bauer, the president of American Values, a conservative "Christian" advocacy group, summed up the evangelical cabal's thinking this way: "Our main argument," Mr. Bauer said, "was that Rick [Santorum] has been willing to defend our values in the public arena and in meetings on the Hill for years."
On Monday, Mr. Santorum showed the "Christian" values that characterize his sponsors. "On occasion, scientists working on the nuclear program in Iran turn up dead," Mr. Santorum said, referring to the recent wave of assassinations of Iranian scientists by unknown assailants widely suspected of being Israeli agents. "I think that's a wonderful thing."
It is a sign of how decadent much of American Christianity has become: A candidate who enthusiastically condones assassination is the same man who 150 "Christian" leaders have decided best exemplifies the Christian values they want to see at work in the White House. Where does Jesus Christ fit in this scenario?
Blessed are the peacemakers? No, blessed are those who are willing to strike first and destroy an entire country if necessary because everyone knows Jesus hates 4,000-year-old civilizations almost as much as he hates Muslims.
On its best day, politics is an ungodly business in this country. It is a profession full of liars, thieves and corporate whores. Our politics elevates hypocrisy, rewards ruthlessness and settles for flawed men more skilled at Christian rhetoric than Christian charity.
Men like Mr. Santorum and the 150 religious leaders who back him love to rhapsodize about the unborn and take offense at anyone who questions whether life begins at conception. They also believe that life begins at "incorporation" and that the assumptions of capitalism don't have to be questioned. They're cool with the dominance of corporate speech devoid of any sense of morality. They're even more comfortable with war. "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword," Jesus once said. That's as much of the Gospel as these men care about.