Shuck and Jive

Friday, May 01, 2009

Christians: Thumbs Up on Torture

A poll by religion and public life reports that Christians are more likely to support torture than other people.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey.

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.

At least the stated clerk of the PCUSA is against torture.

As one increasingly-embarrassed-to-call-myself-Christian church goer, I am against torture as well. If you are an embarrassed Christian or even a proud one, you still might want to sign the statement of conscience from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

Here is a wild thought. Do you think the sacralizing, worshiping, and relishing in the gory bloodbath of abominable atonement theories surrounding the torture of Jesus might have something to do with Christians cheering torture in our time?

Photo from Mel Gibson's Passion gorefest.


  1. I don't think any group came out looking good (perhaps if the survey was large enough to separate out Quakers or the other peace churches).

    My own guess is that torture isn't repugnant to some (not all by any means) Christians is not because of atonement theory (Jesus was innocent) but because they think the victims (obviously guilty otherwise they wouldn't be tortured by us) are going to be justifiably tortured for eternity anyway by their God.

    Another thing to consider is that the majority of active churchgoers are Republicans and as Republicans (not as churchgoers) may be trying to justify the actions of the recent Republican president.

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  3. You asked: Do you think the sacralizing, worshiping, and relishing in the gory bloodbath of abominable atonement theories surrounding the torture of Jesus might have something to do with Christians cheering torture in our time? In a word: Yes.

  4. I'm glad to be an anti torture atheist.

  5. Something complex is going on here all right. Just got back from the bookstore and stumbled upon The Family by Jeff Sharlet.

    So I bought it.

    Check his blog.

  6. Interesting book and blog. I'll look into it.

    Yes, I feel certain that at best, the ultra-right has taken advantage of the fairly recent (i.e. decade or so) development of massive Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy that is the American love affair with the Crucifixion. At worst, they have fomented it. Either way, it is an unsavory development.

  7. Over a million Americans were tortured to death last year, John.

    They were stabbed through the brain, torn apart limb from limb, vaccuumed out the womb and left to slowly and painfully die on a cold surgical table. Talk about torture and injustice?

    You don't believe me? Then don't visit and don't view the very graphic video of an abortion, unless you really are seriously against torture...

  8. Stushie - Some of us are anti-abortion and anti-torture. Why do we have to get all muddled up in multiple issues?

    I have been hangin' with my more conservative friends the last few weeks. What I have observed is a blind alligiance to the government (under Bush and Co. not so much Obama). "Suspected terrorists" being held in Gitmo or prisons in Iraq, are too far removed from their world. I'm not sure I agree with your theory.

  9. Stushie,

    (OK, here I go. You pushed my button)

    You are right that human beings are killed before they are born with regularity. But that is because in our culture, in our >>right wing culture<<, we teach that moral principles are not universal.

    We say it is not OK to torture law abiding citizens, but it is OK to torture terrorists, especially if they know something.

    We say it is not OK to oppress blacks and women, because they are not sinners for being so, but it is OK to oppress gays and other sinners.

    (not that I believe gays to be special sinners, but why does it matter? it used to be OK to oppress blacks and women too)

    We say it is not OK to commit mass murder, but it is OK to let innocent civilians die horrible deaths as collateral damage in a war. Correction, "them" civilians, not "us" civilians.

    (even Jews that opposed the white phosphorous bombing of Gaza civilians are labeled anti Semites)

    We say all people should be free, but we gather millions of people whom we label criminals or simply non-citizens into concentration camps, not to help them become better people, but to punish or simply isolate them. Them.

    I'm sorry, we call it prisons, or refugee camps, not concentration camps. But what is the difference really? Human beings, thrown behind barbed wire, sometimes even for multiple generations.

    We say it is not OK to kill new born babies, but it is OK to kill them 4 months before they get born.

    Right wing morality sets that up!

    Twenty Five years ago nobody in America except your most extreme shotgun-in-the-rear-window-of-the-pickup rednecks would have said torture was ever OK in America under any circumstances.

    Nuremberg made that clear!

    But the pendulum of morality has now swung the other way. We are back to lynching mobs. Heck, the only reason we have a black president is because blacks have become part of "us", in most of America, not because it is moral to let "them" be in the White House.

    Just ask the folks in states that still do not consider blacks as part of "us".

    The people who claim to be followers of Jesus yet say it is OK to torture other human beings are the same that say it is OK to oppress other people so long as they are "unrepentant sinners".

    But there is no vocabulary in the Gospel that makes room for such behavior and such thinking. They are not absolved for opposing abortion or gay marriage. Jesus is not a right winger, and he does not favor Republicans. In Christ there is no Greek or Jew, no master or slave, no male or female. We are all one and the same. Jew and Muslim and Hindu and Christian and right winger and left winger and gay and straight and in between, born and unborn, black and white...

    I should not have to preach this point to a preacher: In Christ there cannot be one morality for "us" and one morality for "them". Ever.

    This has to stop.

  10. I agree Jodie, but let's be consistent. Abortion is torture and what the innocent babies go through is horrendous compared to waterboarding. So let's also petition Congress to put a stop to this.

  11. Stushie,

    I don't think you want to make the case against abortion on the basis that it is torture. After all too many conservative Christians already say that torture is OK, and that some forms of painful treatment are not torture. They might decide the definition of torture does not extend to people who don't know what is happening to them or who won't remember afterwards.

    Some life saving modern medical treatments already take advantage of this implicit definition.

    The case against abortion lies in overturning the legalistic differences between being of the species "human" and being a "person" and extending "person" rights to all "humans".

    The US constitution states that we hold as self evident truth that all men are created equal with a right to life and freedom, but it has it origins in the Massachusetts constitution that all men are "born" equal and free.

    The concepts came from the enlightenment period and were considered quite liberal at the time. And they hand strong roots in the Church.

    With time we extended the term "men" to mean "person" and to include women and people of all races, still on the basis of liberal enlightenment, scientific data, and Gospel values.

    Following that liberal precedence to its logical conclusion, the best way to overturn abortion rights is to extend person rights to all humans. Then, still in that line of reason, to recognize as self evident that all humans are conceived equal, and with the help of science to show that a fertilized human egg is unequivocally a human being, that all the DNA for what they are going to be from conception to when they learn to reason and speak and love and sing, and turn gray and go bald and age and die is already there, and that there are no legal boundaries in the life cycle of a human being.

    The legal definition of "personhood" needs only be extended to all human beings from the moment of conception.

    No person or State has the right to torture or take away the freedom or life of another person.

    (Should I add the fine print "without due process"?)

    As with the early days of the Constitution, the Church should lead the way. It should should be ubiquitous in never giving any human being any fewer rights than any other human being.

    OK, I'm done preaching. Really, I am.

  12. Stushie -

    As we move (hopefully) toward an enlightened society, we have to figure out how to allow women autonomy over their own bodies. Anything less is relegating half the population to second class citizenship.

    The debate about whether fetuses register pain is a big one, with current research suggesting that pain is not registered before the 20th week of gestation (although others place it at 26 weeks or later, and others yet say that "pain" is experiential, and thus may not be an argument at all). Regardless, when compared to what the rest of the natural world does to rid a mother of its unwanted offspring, abortion is not extraordinary, only artificial. (Of course, one can argue that, as humans we are different than the animal world, and should do better by its progeny - and we often do. But we also need to revert back to the argument that if women are autonomous, equal citizens, they must have autonomy over their bodies. If we can't agree on that, the whole discussion is moot, I'm afraid).

    Torture, on the other hand, counts on pain as a factor in its use. If it didn't cause pain (physical or psychological) it would not be torture, now would it? Torture, according to the United Nations Convention Against Torture, is: "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions." Since those who undergo abortions and those who perform abortions do not do so with the intent of causing pain and suffering to the individual, it isn't torture.

    Therefore, we still have two completely different arguments, both of which, however, can come back to a central question: are we [now or even moving toward becoming] an enlightened society? If so, torture has no place in it. If not, we can't really move toward becoming one until we take torture out of the handbook.

    As an aside, I am reading Amy and David Goodman's latest book, "Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times". In one segment, they write:

    "a group of World War II interrogators who gathered for a reunion in October 2007 recalled interrogations that did work. 'We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture.' said Henry Kolm, 90, an MIT physicist who ahd been assigned to play chess in Germany with Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess.

    "'During the many interrogations, I never laid hands on anyone,' said George Frenkel, 87, of Maryland. 'We extracted information in a battle of the wits. I'm proud to say I never compromised my humanity.'"

  13. Abortion is torture.

    All I am saying is that if you are abhorred, quite rightly, about torture being used upon political prisoners, then you have to apply the same standard to babies in the womb.

    Watch the graphic video at and tell me honestly that it isn't torturous to the baby being torn apart.

  14. Stushie,

    These are two different issues.

    The ethical questions surrounding reproduction and terminating a pregnancy are important.

    Aborting a fetus is not torture. Torture is an interrogation technique designed to cause pain to gather information. Whatever abortion is, it is not that.

    I think Snad's link is very helpful regarding not only the immorality of torture as an interrogation technique, but also its ineffectiveness.

  15. Stushie,

    See what I mean? You are trying to make a case against abortion, and instead you end up in a legalistic pissing contest over the definition of torture (no offense to Snad or John, I'm just making a point)

    There are non painful non traumatic ways of ending a pregnancy, or killing an unborn human being.

    There are humane ways of killing human beings of all ages. And there are ethical arguments for doing so at any age. Arguments for and arguments against.

    And I recognize my own humanity in the arguments. I may state in theory that I think killing another human being is evil and wrong, but I also know that I am not immune to murderous thoughts and rage. Given the right circumstances I support an execution, and I might even kill another man myself. My own personal morality is not as high as I can conceive of it in theory.

    But while we are talking about the rights of people, the topic of the rights a woman has over her own body, vs the rights a human being living inside that body is a delicate one. The only reason society is willing to give priority to the woman is that she is a full fledged person, while the human being living inside of her is not.

    That definition is ultimately impeachable, and I believe it will eventually be overturned.

    At what point will women be required to always incubate any living human being inside of them depends on several factors. One of them being the eventual development of an alternative. Another is making sure they never carry one without first making the choice to do so. Science can help with both.

    In the mean time, we need to develop a universal morality that does not give exceptions to "us" at the expense of "them".

    Without it the issue is moot.

  16. Stushie tries to play a gotcha regarding abortion and torture. The problem here is that the study that John cites shows that so-called conservatives, in general, have no problem with torture.

    If he's concerned about inconsistencies, I assume that every time one of his buddies writes a blog post about abortion he also plays these gotcha games by asking them about torture?

    I guess I've missed that if he has.