Friday, May 1, 2009

Churchgoers More Likely to Support Torture

CNN reports that, according to a Pew Research Center survey, "The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists."

More than half of people who attend services at least once a week -- 54 percent -- said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified. Only 42 percent of people who "seldom or never" go to services agreed, according to the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified -- more than six in 10 supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were least likely to back it. Only four in 10 of them did.

The analysis is based on a Pew Research Center survey of 742 American adults conducted April 14-21. It did not include analysis of groups other than white evangelicals, white non-Hispanic Catholics, white mainline Protestants and the religiously unaffiliated, because the sample size was too small.

The survey asked: "Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?"

Roughly half of all respondents -- 49 percent -- said it is often or sometimes justified. A quarter said it never is.

The religious group most likely to say torture is never justified was Protestant denominations -- such as Episcopalians, Lutherans and Presbyterians -- categorized as "mainline" Protestants, in contrast to evangelicals. Just over three in 10 of them said torture is never justified.

Perhaps this sheds some light on why many of the unchurched think Christians are hypocritical and that the Church is irrelevant and/or espouses unacceptable values.


plsdeacon said...

Again, this simply is attributed to the bad formation done in our congregations. There is almost no ethical teaching and nothing is declared "wrong" except obvious things like racism.

Torture is wrong and evil. There may be times it is the lesser evil (the classic ticking bomb) but it is still evil.

Phil Snyder

Bryan Owen said...

Yes, indeed, Phil, torture is wrong and evil.

Part of what catches my attention about this survey is that evangelicals - Christians who, on the whole, have a much higher view of the authority of scripture than most mainliners - are more likely to support the use of torture. How can such a Christian possibly find support for this position in the pages of the New Testament? In the teachings and example of our Lord?

This suggests the possibility that, for many American evangelicals, "henotheism" has replaced loyalty to Jesus Christ. And by "henotheism," I mean a form of faith in which "some social unit (family, nation, church, civilization, or even humanity) fulfills the function of god by conveying value to and requiring service of its members" [Lonnie Kliever, H. Richard Niebuhr (Hendrickson Publishers, 1977), p. 88].

Bryan Owen said...

I should also add that we "mainliners" suffer from our own forms of "henotheism," too!

BillyD said...

I'm not so sure about the problem being henotheism, Father. Personally, I suspect that part of the problem is different ideas about what God is like, or which image of God you privilege. If you highlight the image of a God who "does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men," your approach to torture might be different from someone who emphasizes the idea of a God who makes "vessels of wrath fitted to destruction."

Bryan Owen said...

You could very well be right, BillyD. But perhaps that, too, could be a manifestation of the problem of henotheism - construing God in ways that, while true to parts of scripture, are not faithful to the whole of scripture, and that furthermore end up expressing and elevating as the center of value more the ideology and values of a particular culture and a particular socio-economic group than the values of the New Testament.

plsdeacon said...


Actually, I think there is a lot of "henotheism" in America. After all, we tend to worship the God we perceive.

The problem is that too many clergy (all across the spectrum) are only interested in teaching the God that they perceive (e.g. the God of Inclusive Love or the God of Justice). This is why clergy formation is so critical and why it is imperative that clergy understand what the Church teaches rather than what they understand.

Our teaching should conform, not to how we understand God, but to what the Church has said about God. It is a very small leap from "X is an attribute of God" to "X is the main attribute of God" to "X is God."

I believe (and shudder at this) that clergy will be held responsible (at least in part) for the faith of those under their charge. We are like Ezekiel's watchman. If we don't teach The Faith and people turn to idolatry (in whatever form) then it is (at least partially) the clergy's fault.

Phil Snyder

Bryan Owen said...

Yes, there can be a great difference between the Faith of the Church on the one hand, and the individual's faith on the other. Sometimes we substitute the latter for the former.