I’ve let this sink in for a few days now… or rather, I ignored it for a few days before posting on it. And after reviewing the matter, my reaction is to be just as appalled as I was when I first read it. A recent Pew survey showed 48% of the general public in the US believes torture is sometimes or often justified in order to obtain information from suspected terrorists, which is alarmingly high. I suppose that this implies that a very slight majority would say that torture is never or rarely justified. Once you remove whatever percentage of undecideds, the country is probably fairly evenly split. Factor the “rarely” group in with the other varieties of affirmative, and you’ve got a minority of Americans who would say that torture is always wrong. I have to say that’s somewhat alarming, though I guess not particularly surprising given events of the past few years relating to the American “war on terror.”
But that’s not the most alarming part, which comes shortly after the thought that it would be better if the general populace had a stronger evangelical influence. The same study found that 57% of white Southern evangelicals believe that torture is sometimes (37%) or often (20%) justified in order to obtain information from suspected terrorists. Just to review on the off-chance you didn’t catch that, white evangelical Christians in the Southern USA are more likely to support torture as an information-extraction technique than is the general populace. 9% more. 38% said torture is rarely or never justified, which suggests 5% don’t know. Boil all that down, and a shocking minority of white Southern evangelicals will offer a quick response that torture is wrong.
Pardon me if I assume you will agree with me that torture is always wrong, period. Perhaps you’re not as appalled by all this as I am and are the other side of the statistics I’m looking at. My apologies. But I have to wonder about how that group comes up with their conclusions… maybe if they don’t listen to Amnesty International, they’ll listen to Jesus on the issue?
Well, the survey has an answer for that as well: 44% of white Southern evangelicals “rely on life experiences and common sense” to determine their views about torture. 28% rely on Christian teachings or beliefs. I have to say I’ve got a hard time responding to the argument, “Of course torture is justified, it’s just common sense!” I don’t quite know where to start with that, as my retort of, “How can anyone support torture? It’s contrary to common sense!” will probably not hit the mark in a convincing manner.
And what happens when the religious torture-supporters are reminded of the “Golden Rule” in an attempt to get them to align their pro-torture stance with the Bible? 14% of them reconsider, and 52% say the US government shouldn’t use methods against enemies that they wouldn’t want used on American soldiers.
“This is a spiritual crisis, I suggest, that should alarm all Christian leaders regardless of what we think about torture,” said Tyler Wigg Stevenson, a Baptist minister and human-rights activist from Nashville, Tenn., at a press conference announcing the survey’s results. “This bad news for the church is a plus for any special interest who wants to take advantage of us.”
However, he added, “The good news this poll reminds us of is that, as with any issue when Christians remember that our calling is to follow Jesus, he changes everything.”
Sure, maybe anything can be done with statistics, and I guess one can dig deep to find a positive way to spin it. I still tend to see the ones that aren’t persuaded by the “golden rule” and would apparently attempt to give an answer to the question, “Who would Jesus torture?” If my math is correct, more than 40% of white Southern evangelicals would reply, “Why, terrorists, of course.”
One conclusion that might be drawn from all this is that the propaganda supporting the “war on terror” may be gradually claiming a casualty of its own… evangelicalism’s grasp on the teachings of Jesus.