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.
Sources / More Info:
PEW Forum on Religion & Public Life
Really nice question!
And you have to think about it to give a satisficing answer.
First of all, I think we’re talking about torture trying to get information from someone and not about sadistic torture or something else, right (I am talking about the former.)?
So, Jesus wouldn’t torture to get information, as he knows everything (smart answer, isn’t it? :) ).
But unfortunately, humans don’t know everything.
So does this difference between Jesus and us justify different behavior, for example torture?
Torture violates human rights. There is no question about it (I hope).
But if you know that if you don’t torture (to get information, and you are really sure that the tortured person has the information), someone else’s human rights are fundamentally violated, aren’t you allowed to torture?
Or do we have to stand this situation?
If so, we don’t have the right of selfe-defense either, right?
Pretty tricky, the question! Would like to read more comments.
The first thing that I thought about was – what if someone kidnaps your daughter, or wife – and you are certain that a given person has information. Would torture be an option for you?
bcn and Sonja – brought up another set of good points – what if other people suffer because of you not wanting to torture the guy with the 10 kilos of plutonium ?
CIA/FBI: Excuse sir. Where were you carrying this to?
Terrorist: “no where. some guy just asked me to hold the bag for him.”
CIO/FBI: Oh. OK. So you are not part of any major terrorist plan or something like that?
Terrorist: “no sir. I am a family man. someone just gave this bag and told me to hold it while they went to get their grandma.”
CIO/FBI: Oh, OK. Well, take care. you’re free to go.
I hear you Edgar … and it’s a very typical argument that you’re making.
However, there are many ways of being non-violent that do not involve just lying down and being a doormat. Certainly, someone who is standing around with a bag of 10 kilos of plutonium would not be allowed to go on his merry way. But, torturing him for information is not justified either … if one is a Christian.
You see that is the key to this argument. Christians … those who claim Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour … cannot justify torture under any circumstance because of all the scripture which would speak against it. The state on the other hand is not Christian. So there are two arguments happening here.
What is right and proper for the state to engage in.
What is right and proper for the Christian to engage in.
Then we get this: How do Christians support a government/state which engages in torture?
You’ve outlined classic cases of the ends justifying the means. If someone kidnaps my wife or daughter and I’m “certain” that a given person has information, I can’t say what I might do. Not only is it hypothetical, but it’s a hypothetical question about a scenario where I can be sure up front that I won’t be quite in my right mind — definitely not a good state to be making rational decisions about torture. Whatever I do in that state can hardly be raised up as a standard for normative conduct.
As for the hypothetical of someone else maybe being hurt because I decline to torture, it’s again a pretty obscure proposition. What if we incarcerate someone for drunk driving, and after he’s released he does it again and kills someone? Should we have resorted to capital punishment the first time? Oh, but what if, what if…..?
Of course not. The issue with your proposed dialogue is that there’s no due process. The individual in your example would be likely to be charged and prosecuted in a (hopefully) fair trial. As improbable as it sounds, maybe he was an innocent bystander… and that’s the reason for due process: to make a reasoned determination while preserving human rights and other rights granted accused persons by the state.
I agree, there is never a justification for violating a basic human right.
(Of course there is a “but”…)
Nevertheless, beside the legal aspects there are situations where you get in a moral conflict, and the human right of one or another individual is violated (actively or passively), independent from taking action or not. And if a human right is violated, I can try to influence, whose person’s rights are violated (e.g. the terrorist’s or the innocent child ones).
So, what would Jesus do, if an arrested kidnapper won’t tell, where the victim is?
[Regarding the issue of self-defense: It is the temporal aspect that matters. Self-defense is justified only at the very moment of attack. So, what is the moment of attack? If you proclaim the war against terrorism, and if you have all the time in the world to take prisoners and ‘defend’ yourself on a island in the middle of nowhere with some self-defense techniques others would call torture?]
Perhaps we have to omit the ‘chances’ of torture and prepare to take casualties, for the sake of civilization in order to stay cilvilized.
Let’s look at the Father. What did he do? What happened to Pharoah? What happened to all those in Pharoah’s kingdom? Was that torture? I realize the Father is not the Son, but both are God. What does this set of events say about the Father? What does it say about the Son if he condones the actions?
Brother, I am in very much agreement with you; we use ‘end-justify-the means’ all too often.
My only quibble, would be the reluctance in using the word ‘never’; simply because I cannot see into all and every future event.
I think as a public policy and as a guidance, torture should not be used, and due process should be followed (and as a tangent, as one who is not a Bush basher I am increasingly appalled at what Guantanamo Bay has turned into). Otherwise, to use the movie cliche (there is no difference between us and them).
All that being said, I can’t foresee that there might not be a personal occassion where I might feel the need to use torture – they might be extreme and incredibly unlikely – such as I have captured a terrorist who has planted a nuke and has the disarming codes but won’t give them to me….
The danger comes in when we take an extreme situation as above and then start slowly to moderate it – well what if I ‘think’ he planted a nuke or so just planted a truck bomb and so on.
I’m just careful of using absolute terms because it can get you into trouble. – for example: I might also be tempted to say that it is never ‘right’ to tell a lie. Yet, there may be situations where lying and deceit might be a lesser evil – such as those who hid Jews during the Nazi holocaust.
On the whole, thought I nitpick the absolute langauge – we are much more in danger of falling into situational ethics than absolute ones.
Brother, that’s just plain sickening. And it suggests evangelicals have seriously come adrift from the euangelion.