Do you ever get that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach when you witness or read something violent? I’ve had many visceral waves of nausea in reaction to violence which is why I can’t watch violent movies or incredibly violent shows like Game of Thrones. Even if the violence is “fake,” it’s still violence and it still hurts my soul.
I recently read the book A Sliver of Light: Three Americans Imprisoned in Iran about the three American hikers captured in 2009 on the Iranian/Iraqi border and accused of being spies. Each were held in solitary confinement for certain periods of time over the course of the years that followed and the aftereffects were intense. From PTSD to fits of anger and depression to the inability to recognize body language cues in others to the fear of freedom, Sarah, Josh, and Shane still profoundly feel the scars of this psychological torture.
And this after “only” a year or so in solitary. In the U.S., we leave people to mentally, emotionally, and psychologically rot in our prisons in solitary confinement for years and even decades. It may not be a violence you can see but it is every bit as torturous as waterboarding and beating. The slow psychological torture of stripping away a human being’s very soul should make us sick and disturbed to our cores.
At a recent NRA rally, the ever delightful Sarah Palin made this horrific statement: “Waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.” Nevermind the fact that she is comparing a sacrament of faith to torture, Palin’s battle cry should disturb us deeply for it reveals just how depraved we have become in thinking that torture is our divine right as Americans.
We have become so insulated and terrified of our fellow human beings that we will seemingly stop at nothing to protect our own liberty. We attempt to pass laws (like Georgia recently did) allowing guns in nearly every public and private space so we can kill at a moment’s notice, we inject death row inmates (like Clayton Lockett) with untested cocktails of execution drugs so we can get rid of them as quickly as possible, we send drones to kill innocent civilians (like Pakistanis and other Middle Easterners) so our own hands remain clean.
Fear has generated this reaction: shoot them, bomb them, torture them, lock them up, take away their very humanity, strip them down to nothing but, by God, don’t take away my freedom to “defend’ myself from what I don’t understand. Fear creates irrationality generates lies breeds hate builds walls incorporates violence creates fear.
But love, love creates empathy generates honesty breeds hope builds community incorporates peace creates love. It allows us to embody the pain around us, to gasp for breath with the accused in the death chamber, to claw for freedom with the prisoner in solitary, to clutch our chest in agony with the innocent teenager shot out of fear, to bleed with the bleeding, mourn with the mourning, and rage with those raging in righteous anger. In essence, it allows us to feel what God feels and see what God sees.
I’ve had many visceral waves of nausea in reaction to violence and I pray that they never subside because if I lose that feeling I lose my humanity and then I truly have something to fear.