It predictably offended me–or perhaps just annoyed and exasperated me–that the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee said this to the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association over the weekend:

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) defended the controversial enhanced interrogation technique of waterboarding this weekend, and implied that the practice would still be commonplace “if I were in charge.”

“They obviously have information on plots to carry out Jihad,” she said at the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting on Saturday evening, referring to prisoners. “Oh, but you can’t offend them, can’t make them feel uncomfortable, not even a smidgen. Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”

Interesting, eh? This one-time heroine of conservative evangelicals not only implicitly mocked religious concerns about torture, but compared (however “humorously”) torture to one of the two rituals almost universally regarded by Christians as a sacrament (the other being the Eucharist). It certainly ranks down there with the old paramilitary slogan, “Kill ‘Em All and Let God Sort Them Out” attitude towards “collateral damage” in combat. And Easter Week, a period during which baptisms are often conducted, was a particularly bad time for Palin to make this remark.

Lo and behold, one of the fieriest conservative writers in Christendom, Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist, actually called out Palin for her nasty little bon mot. Indeed, she seems to think La Pasionaria of the Permafrost meant exactly what she said:

Is waterboarding how we baptize terrorists? However powerful waterboarding might be (and whether or not it is defensible, a good idea or achieves the goals of those who advocate its use), it doesn’t hold a candle to the power of the Christian baptism, as historically understood. Does it deliver those who are subjected to it from the devil, as Christian baptism does? Does it give them eternal life, as Christian baptism does? Is it voluntary, as Christian baptism is? It is none of these things.

Joking about baptism in the context of this aggressive action suggests that we don’t think baptism is as life-giving or important as it is.

Hemingway even speculates that Palin’s cavalier attitude towards baptism reflects the pentecostal brand of Protestantism with which she is loosely identified, in which baptism is a “sign” rather than an active agent of salvation.

Now personally, I’d have to guess the “baptism for terrorists” riff reflects an extreme form of moral desensitization rather than any theological hypothesis. But it’s nice to see someone who takes Palin seriously taking her to task for once.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.