Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Evangelicals and the Use of Torture

Okay, so you've probably heard by now: The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has released the findings of a survey that began with this statement:

The use of torture against suspected terrorists . . .

Turns out, white evangelical Protestants are most likely to say that torture can often (18%) or sometimes (44%) be justified. They're also the least likely to say that torture can never (16%) be justified.

On the other hand, the religiously unaffiliated are some of the most likely to say that torture can never (26%) be justified. The only group with a higher percentage of this response are white mainline Protestants (31%)--that is, most Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, etc.

For what it's worth, the Pew Forum people say that because the responses from other religious groupings were too few for statistical significance, the responses of only white religious groupings were reported.

At any rate, ever since the report was published news outlets have cited the statistics and offered analysis. A CNN story, for example, begins by saying that the more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists. The story goes on to specifically point out that white evangelical Protestants are the group most likely to say that torture is often or sometimes justifiable (62%).

The sorts of blog posts and comments that I've seen so far are more less united; people both inside and outside of the evangelical camp are denouncing the group for their hypocrisy, an apparent allegiance to Republicanism rather than to the ethics of the Kingdom of Christ.

My questions: Is this a fair criticism? Can anything reconcile the avowed Christian faith of evangelicals with their greater support for torture under some circumstances?

What do you think?


Wade Tannehill said...

There are many things to be considered before jumping to CNN's ridiculous conclusion that the more Americans go to church the more likely they are to support torture. This is a sensationalized headline obviously calculated to make evangelicals look bad, which is a very pc thing to do these days even among the religious who have bought in to a lot of the leftist rhetoric.

I would have several questions and observations. First, in any survey I would want to consider the source. Who is the Pew Forum and what has their agenda historically been? You can say about anything you want with statistics.

Second, this was not an exhaustive survey. It was less than a thousand people.

Third, we can not read the minds of respondents. What were they thinking in terms of defining words like "torture," "justified," and "important information."

Would it be justifiable for authorities to "rough a guy up a bit" to extract information that would prevent another 9-11?

In case anyone has forgotten, there is a war going on. We're not talking about police brutality. We're talking about people who hate us and want to destroy our nation. We're talking about terrorists, not kids who've stayed out past curfew.

And if Evangelicals were more prone to justify putting the hurt on some terrorists, perhaps it's because they see their own religious freedom at stake considering that the terrorists are Islamic extremists who would love to have an Islamic world order.

CNN and other media have way oversimplified and sensationalized the survey, as we can expect. But too many of us have bought into the propaganda.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Wade, thanks for the feedback.

I appreciate what you've said. My own suspicion is that the same sorts of things that make someone more likely to adhere to evangelical-type faith today also makes that person more likely to be culturally right-of-center and, therefore, more trusting of traditional authority and institutions. I don't think that said correlation is necessarily a bad thing.

I suspect that this is a carry-over of what Dean Kelley identified in his now-dated book "Why Conservative Churches are Growing." For a description of the same phenomenon from the opposite direction, I'd point to Tex Sample, "U.S. Lifestyles and Mainline Churches."