A new Pew survey reveals something not-all-that-shocking: people who attend church at least once a week are more likely to say torture is "often" or "sometimes" justifiable. And those who identify as evangelicals are even more likely than mainline Protestants or other denominations.
Considering that evangelicals supported President Bush the Iraq war more than any other demographic, this is hardly a surprise. The popular notion that Christianity is a feel-good pacifist religion that would never support war or torture is obviously silly, but the Christian right's almost cheerleaderish embrace of national violence seems a bit hard to explain. (To be fair, a good 44% of weekly churchgoers say torture is rarely or ever justified, so this is by no means everyone.) Percentages aside, why are Christians always a healthy margin ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to waging war or brutally interrogating prisoners?
Two half-baked but possible explanations:
- Christianity has just as much emphasis – if not more – on justice as mercy, and its personal commands to be merficul do not necessarily apply to states and governments. Thus, churchgoers tend to have more binary understandings of good and evil, and are less squeamish about what they perceive to be justice.
- A high percentage of evangelicals live in the South and other rural regions where popular sentiment is more antagonistic toward nations and ethnicities believed to be "anti-American." War and torture is much more compatible with their general support for strong national defense.
We haven't really had the Christianity and torture debate here, and I suppose it could be a rather vicious one. But what I mostly want to know is this: Christians, as documented by the numbers and overwhelming anecdotal/cultural corroboration, do not tend to be bothered by war or violence. Why? Is there a simple factual, regional, or demographic explanation? Is it a well-considered support, or an outgrowth of fear, racism, or bloodlust?
[via Marc Ambinder]
David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol. He covers religion for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and is a graduate student in the Draper Program for Humanities and Social Thought at New York University. He can be reached at hdavidsessions at gmail dot com.
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