Saturday, February 5, 2011 Login

Religion & Torture

There are a lot of different versions of this story floating around out there today.

Here’s the version I liked best:

—– Church-Goers Like Torture More (Chris Good/Washington With Marc AmbinerThe Atlantic; April 30)

They were told not to damage the grass of the earth or any green growth or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to torture them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torture was like the torture of a scorpion when it stings someone. -Revelation 9:4,5, NRSVOpen Link in New Window

According to a new study from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, those who attend church at least weekly are more prone to say that torture is justifiable. Suffice it to say that, in the eyes of those who support the use of torture, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and Abu Zubaydah do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.

A combined 54 percent of at-least-weekly church-goers say torture is either often or sometimes justifiable; for those who attend monthly or a few times a year, that figure is 51 percent; for those who do not attend, it is 42 percent.

Evangelicals, according to the survey, are more prone to saying torture is justifiable than members of the nation’s other two main Christian groups: so-called “mainline” Protestants and white, non-Hispanic Catholics. Unaffiliateds – a conglomerated group of atheists, agnostics, and those who say their religion is “nothing in particular” – support torture the least: 40 percent say it’s justifiable often or sometimes.

How could this be? What happened to forgiveness and the other cheek? The Lamb of God’s teachings stop at the walls of Guantanamo?

Let us not forget that the main storyline of the New Testament is one of torture: Jesus comes into the world and dies an excruciating death to redeem the sins of man. Perhaps those closest to the story are most comfortable with suffering when there’s a purpose behind it – here, that purpose would be to obtain information. The eschatological bent of some Evangelicals might account for some Revelation-style views on punishment, too.

Let’s also keep in mind that the Bible, from start to end, has a lot of violence in it. The Old Testament, in particular, is filled with the slaughter of villages, and I’d be interested to hear how Jews respond to the torture question – unfortunately, Pew only broke down the Christian groups above. Israel’s long experience with the threat of terrorism might shape Jewish views on the matter as well.

And, obviously, President Bush, whose administration started the practice of enhanced interrogation, courted religious conservatives in two elections as a significant faction of his base….

Here are a few of the comments that have been posted in response to the Dallas Morning News’s version of all this:

“Finally a poll I can believe in and very proud to say I’m represented. I attend church at least twice and I’m 100% supportive of ‘torture’ of terrorists. And no I don’t believe any of the ‘forced interogation’ methods that were used against muslim extremists during the Bush presidency are real ‘torture’.” - DEC1960

“People who go to church are more likely to take seriously the problem of evil. Many evangelical Christians will hold an anthropology founded upon the fallen depravity of all people. Those who take evil seriously will also take seriously the need for protection against and abatement of evil. From Romans 12-13Open Link in New Window, I would reserve the function of combatting evil strictly to the state and would preclude it from the churches or any individual not acting as a duly authorized magistrate.

“On the other hand, those who do not go to church are much more likely to conceive of people as being basically good. If people are basically good, then things like torture (which apparently includes solitary confinement according to an article that I read today, and Barry Manilow albums according to a conversation I had last night) are the cause of evil rather than the means of combatting it.

“History pretty clearly demonstrates the past naïveté of the latter position, although if one is a progressivist, one can assert that the past does not necessarily tell us the story of the future (for ‘every day and in every way we’re getting better and better!’). Not holding progressivist premises, I find myself, in this solitary field of discourse, holding somewhat of a Darwinian perspective. Those who believe in the inherent virtue of humanity will not withstand natural selection. ;-)” - Bart Barber


“what sort of ‘gospel’ are people hearing at those ‘churches’?

“what sort of ‘christians’ can believe in a ‘god’ who supports torture…

“and, YES!!, DEC, even the cia and international law says that those means are TORTURE, despite your denials!!


“i imagine these are the same ‘religious’ traditions that violently opposed human rights for ‘coloreds’ and even today foam, rail and rant hatred at women, gays, and anyone ‘different’

“folks wonder why ‘christians’ take a beating in the polls — especially among the young??!!??


“do you see jesus looking back at ya?” - ted

“The Bible says an eye for an eye. In the grand scheme of things, waterboarding does not come close to the torture the victims of 9/11 endured. Yes, I am a Christian and I don’t think we should be more concerned about the torture of these evil people and I am certainly not concerned about their rights. Has everyone forgotten what evil deeds they carried out?” - gayle

“Yes, Gayle. Exodus 21:24Open Link in New Window says, ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.’

“But Jesus said: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’ Matthew 5:44Open Link in New Window


“‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.’ John 8:7Open Link in New Window

“I’m just sayin.’” - Imnop

It would seem that what we have here is a difference of opinion.

What’s yours?

(NOTE: I’ve often examined the way that Christian followers of the “Prince of Peace” have tended to justify and engage in war and violence. At least two entries have discussed poll data from 2003 and 2006 showing that Christian Americans, for example, are more likely to support the war in Iraq than are atheist Americans. The poll that’s the focus of this entry seems to confirm and extend these earlier findings. To learn much more about those earlier findings, see the entry I posted on Feb 8, 2008 as well as the many links it contains. Those working towards a PhD in Religion & Torture Studies might also want to check out the entry I posted on Oct 23, 2007.)

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