Donald Trump and Torture (Sunday Homily)


Readings for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: 2 MC 7: 1-12, 9-14; PS 17:1, 5-6, 3, 15; 2 THES 2:11-3:5; LK 20: 27-38.

One of the wonderful aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition is how so much of it reflects the consciousness of the poor and oppressed, while at the same time giving expression to a “preferential option for the poor.” That’s a gift for us in a culture that generally despises poor people, oppresses the world’s impoverished majority, and spins the news in ways that ignore the poor and reflect a decided “preferential option for the rich.”

This morning’s first reading is especially valuable for us who live in a system where a candidate for president, Donald Trump, advocates torturing poor people who rebel against American imperialism. He has promised, to bring back water boarding.  He’s said, “I would bring back water boarding, And I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than water boarding.”

Before Abu Grahib, a statement like that would have been unthinkable. Torture is against international law. It contradicts Article 5 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights which identified the right not to be tortured as a fundamental human right. At least since the end of World War II, torture has been considered one of those intrinsic evils about which there simply could be no debate.

However, ever since Abu Ghraib gave the lie to George W. Bush’s famous prevarication, “The United States doesn’t do torture” – ever since our government redefined the word to exclude even waterboarding – it has become apparent that Bush (and so many others of our “thought-leaders”) was lying. So today, it’s possible for a presidential candidate to propose measures worse than water boarding – perhaps cutting out of tongues and removal of limbs – as measures Americans admire and advocate..

But what do tortured terrorists actually think about while having limbs removed and tongues cut out? Read today’s selection about the Maccabee brothers and find out.

The Maccabees were members of a heroic family of guerrilla fighters who in the mid- 2nd century BCE terrorized the invading Greek forces of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. (Actually, “Maccabee” wasn’t the family’s name; it was more a nom de guerre for an entire resistance movement. The word meant “Hammer” – the Hammer Gang – so-called because of its delight in pounding to mincemeat the invaders of their beloved homeland. The term “Maccabee” was similar to “al Qaeda,” when it simply meant “the list” – a reference to the Rolodex of assets the CIA used when it employed al Qaeda back when they were “freedom fighters” against the Russians in Afghanistan.)

For his part, the Seleucid king, Antiochus, was fiercely anti-Semitic. He considered the Jews historically and culturally backward. For him and his empire’s advancement, Jews had to be brought into the 2nd century BCE even if it meant their kicking and screaming the whole way.

Today we might understand Antiochus’ project as “modernizing” the Jews – as Hellenizing them for purposes of imperial control. Evidently the Seleucid king subscribed to the position that if empire can persuade conquered peoples to adopt its patterns of thinking and especially of imagining God, the task of imperial administrators is made that much easier.

Many Jews agreed with the program of Antiochus. After all, the Greeks’ empire seemed invincible. If the empire couldn’t be beat, it was better to join it willingly. So these “Hellenized Jews” stopped circumcising their sons, and changed their diets even to include eating pork. They became more Greek than the Greeks.

They also became the targets of Maccabee “terrorist” attacks. In today’s terms, such Hellenized Jews would be the targets blown up by Maccabee suicide bombers in marketplaces located in Jewish but Greek-loving neighborhoods. (Even if the Maccabee targeting may have been more selective than that, it is certain that Hellenized Jews were as much the objects of Maccabee terror as were the Seleucid forces themselves.)

In countering such extremism, Antiochus IV proscribed the Jewish religion as itself criminal and illegitimate. This was very similar to the way many “Americans” consider Islam. So Greek troops burnt and otherwise desecrated copies of the Torah in much the same way as our “Christian” troops are frequently caught burning or urinating on the Holy Koran and on corpses of Muslim resistance fighters.

Though the Greeks considered the Maccabean forces to be terrorist, faithful Jews admired them as national heroes and servants of God. They understood that the Maccabees were fighting a Holy War against the much more powerful Seleucids. It was David against Goliath all over again.

In any case, according to today’s selection from Second Maccabees, seven brothers of the gang’s leadership were finally arrested (along with their mother) by the Greek invaders. (This would have been reported to Greeks “back home” as a great triumph – “Senior Leaders” captured making “our troops” and “our world” much safer.)

Then the torture and the screaming start.

According to today’s reading, all eight are beaten with whips and instruments designed to tear open their flesh. Then following standard operating procedures still practiced today, other enhanced interrogation techniques were used to torture the brothers one after the other in the presence of their blood-drenched mother, herself near death. The purpose here, of course, was to induce the woman to divulge names, places, and plans that she was privy to as the wife of the one who started the Jewish resistance to the Seleucids.

But what does she do? And what about her sons?

In a word, they are all – mother as well as her sons – completely defiant.

“What do you expect to achieve by questioning us” one of the brothers shouts? “We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”

Even at the point of death he spits out the words: “You accursed fiend” (I wonder what expletive he really used!), “you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying.”

Another of the brothers sees that his torturers are actually enjoying their work. (The text refers to cutting out his tongue and amputating his hands as “cruel sport.” Does that remind you of Abu Ghraib?) So he sticks out his tongue and stretches out his hands inviting them to do their work. “It was from Heaven that I received these,” he says. “I’d rather lose them than offend Yahweh” (read Allah).

“Even the king and his attendants marveled at the young man’s courage,” the text says. Far from being intimidated, the freedom-fighter “regarded his suffering as nothing.”

Just before dying, another of the tortured brothers undergoing the very same cruelties says: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.” As indicated by those words, conviction of a happy eternity moved these guerrilla fighters to embrace death willingly. (Seventy-two virgins, anyone?)

So what goes on in the heads of the tortured? Disdain for their torturers. Defiance. Show of courage. Love for the motherland. Hope.

And what is the response from the people they die for? Admiration. Elevation of martyrs and the tortured to sainthood. Motivation to follow their example.

And ultimately victory for the tortured and assassinated. . .  I mean, against all odds, the Jewish resistance – the Hammer Terrorists – did succeed in evicting the Greeks from their homeland.

As I was saying, this reading should cause us to reevaluate our attitude towards terrorism, terrorists, and the scandal of debating the pros and cons of torture. It should cause us to reevaluate any thoughts of voting next Tuesday for the would-be torturer-in-chief, Donald Trump.

Published by

Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

6 thoughts on “Donald Trump and Torture (Sunday Homily)”

  1. Excellent, timely. Mike. Like reading today’s newspaper or watching CNN. Your careful attention to historical, cultural and political background of the Middle East in particular allows one to make valid comparisons to the pervasive evil that our nation commits through its foreign policy and its aiding and abetting other nations through our escalating military presence and our tax dollars. All this is done in the name of the American people who, in turn, are lied to to every step of the way by a venal media that is controlled by puppeteers, PACs, notably AIPAC in present Zionist Israel, that determine our foreign policy.
    All of this ultimately makes it possible for our nation to illegally enforce our presence in other nations as a first step in neo-colonialism – ‘nation building’ and eventual hegemony.

    In the meantime, our legislative ‘leadership’, at all levels of government, ignores our nation’s most pressing needs resulting in escalating racial violence; emergence of an illegal militaristic police state and uncontrolled murder of innocent civilians (mostly Black-Americans and Latinos; permanent environmental damage and climate warming fast approaching the point of no return or any hope of reclamation; infrastructure that is eroding and collapsing every day; loss of American jobs through outsourcing — with more on the way if the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is approved by Congress. This subversive deal has been in a formative process for two years, has been already approved by the involved Asian countries and is now awaiting U.S. congressional approval. It was not until earlier this year that most Americans became fully aware that our president, paid lobbyists and congressional leadership were in the process of once again making another sneaky dirty deal that would directly adversely affect our nation’s and our workforce welfare.

    You didn’t mention ‘rendition,’ but perhaps that is not comparably germane to today’s post. It is obvious, Mike, that you enjoy and excel at exegesis as a way of making Scripture understandable and applicable to those who may have very little background in the reading and research of the subject for us millennia later.

    Our 2016 national electioneering interminable circus has been the shoddiest, most disruptive, degrading and procedurally illegal mess that I have ever witnessed. I am 83 y.o. so I have voted in many elections. When the Supreme Court re-elected the hapless puppet George W. Bush to his second term I thought I had seen everything. But nothing, no Hollywood script or Science fiction writer, could ever create the disgusting display that we have witnessed and suffered through these many months.

    I believe that Donald Trump is dangerous in addition to being incredibly stupid and ignorant, particularly in the cruel way that he singles out minority groups, Muslims, immigrants, etal, whom he obviously considers less than human. His difficult-to-conceal misogynist attitude toward women, his belief that, because of his wealthy celebrity status, he is automatically entitled to make unwanted sexual advances to them whenever and wherever he chooses is more than just pornographic in nature. It is evidence of a deep psychological problem.

    Hillary Rodham Clinton is a very special case – negative in every respect. I believe that the woman is pure evil in the true, generally accepted meaning of that word. She is a pathological liar, a venomous, vengeful, vindictive, amoral person, as is her husband whose name I cannot bring myself to utter. The two of them together are ‘a force of darkness’ in our nation, and in the world. If elected, she will continue the actions and philosophy of the Bush and Obama administrations in their lust for wealth and power and will surround herself with incompetent, unknowledgeable toadies who will do her bidding — or else they will exit through the swinging door of the White House’s Oval office and West Wing..

    For me, there is no choice. Our New York State ballot lists other party candidates. I will have to choose one of them. I am sadly aware that in so doing so my vote will be ‘wasted.’ So be it. I cannot in conscience do otherwise – as one who loves my country and who tries to follow my Christian precepts and values.
    In the meantime, I will remain in prayer for our country, its citizens, and for the
    suffering people of the world, many victims of mass genocide, and millions more — entire displaced families who are being forced from their generational homes, wandering the world, seeking sanctuary and a place to try to rebuild what remains of their lives.

    And — like the prophets of old, I will petition the Lord God, Christ of the Universe, to have mercy on our misguided nation, to speak to our hearts and souls and show us – once again – what we must do. In our souls, we know what that is. But, like children, we need to be reminded — frequently!

    I will say to Him: Maranatha! Maranatha! (Come, Lord Jesus.)


  2. Let’s remember that Trump does not have blood on his hands. Hillary does, a lot of it. He has not been in a position to order people tortured, she has. Trump has not signed off on provoking war with Russia, which could involve the painful death of millions, she has. A vote for Hillary is a vote for her proven record.


  3. We do not live in a democracy. Most Americans believe that we do. This is a sign of their brain washed ignorance. The elections are theater to fool the people, produced and controlled by the real rulers of America. To vote is to endorse the system of your enslavement. A revolution that throws out our corrupt government is our only hope. This will never be accomplished by voting.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well said, Mike K

    As Mother Jones (Mary Harris) said in her 80s:
    “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”
    I’m ready and willing. At 83 don’t know how able I am but it sure is worth a try.
    They can only kill us once and then we will live in love and peace for all eternity.
    It makes the Gaelic blood in my veins rush just thinking about it.

    He showed us the way. We have His promises to keep us focused. He paid the price. He gives us the courage to deal with injustice and with hypocrites.


  5. Today I came across some written thoughts which you might find interesting as a religious studies professor, Mike R-S (and the other Mikes here, also).

    The title deals with one of the latest political commotions (Wikileaks on Podesta and “Spirit Cooking”). Before you yawn, the writing goes far beyond that, dealing with propaganda manipulation and yes, even torture.

    If you have a minute to read it, Newslogue Debate: “Why Black Magic Matters”


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