Monday, May 4, 2009

Who would Jesus torture?

The other day, some disturbing information came to my attention. The Pew Forum, an organization that studies the relationship between religion and public policy, conducted a study that examined individuals' comfort level with torture vs. the regularity with which they attend church, and the type of church they attend. While not particularly surprising, the results are unsettling, to say the least:

What this poll makes clear to me is that evangelical Protestants, who are the most likely group to believe that torture can sometimes or often be justified, are not as Bible-savvy as they might think. I cannot for the life of me, however, figure out why 19% of Catholics think that torture "can often be justified." Here is a religion that, for all its flaws, prides itself on education (both spiritual and otherwise). We were never taught anything in Catholic school that would lead us to believe that torture was ever OK. I'd imagine the kids in Sunday school were taught similar things. Where, then, does this rationale come from? I can only conclude that this whole thing has more to do with party alliance than religion (though the two are inextricably and disturbingly linked).

This is not the way we are supposed to treat one another. There is nothing in the New Testament that justifies torture of anyone. In fact, Jesus speaks pretty plainly about the ways we should behave not just to our friends, but to our enemies, in his sermon on the mount.

Matthew 5:38-39 says:

You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Matthew 5:43-48 says:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
We are called, not just as Christians, but as human beings, to treat each other in a dignified and loving way. It's not always easy, and it doesn't always happen, but it's very important for us to try. And as for torture, it should be a no-brainer. A "Christian Nation", as the crazies like to call it, would not engage in such an act. I think it's pretty clear WTF Jesus would do.

UPDATE: My friend Dave made me this:

It's a priest waterboarding a prisoner! Yay!


Hannah said...

What the fuck!?!?!?
There are obviously a lot of things that go into determining a person's stance on torture, more than just religion but...what?!? Does anyone else remember that part of the story was Jesus was scourged and then executed? It wasn't pretty. I don't remember the part where He said, "that sucked - why don't you do that to your enemies and/or innocent people you pick up in the desert."

Alexah said...

Not surprising in the least, unfortunately..although us non-religious folks didn't do much better, either.

Jocelyn said...

Perhaps the fact that the non-religious folks didn't do so hot either will shut up some of those holier-than-thou atheists who blame religion for all the world's problems.

...Probably not, though, as religious people seem to suck more, in this particular case. Although, I would argue this likely has more to do with education level than faith.

Alexah said...

To me, torture seems more like an ethical issue. To say that a person's faith affects their individual opinion on the subject is to say that religious folks are morally bankrupt in a larger percentage than those that are not religious.

I'm not sure what more there is to be educated about other than: do you feel it's okay to torture people (what methods) for any reason (what reason[s])?

Jocelyn said...

I do think torture is a moral as well as an ethical issue. That said, I don't think we can judge the moral bankruptcy of a population based on one issue. Also, I think morality is (to a point) subjective. It just strikes me as strange and offensive that those who most vehemently claim allegiance to Jesus Christ would endorse something so antithetical to His core message, you know?

I stand by my idea that it is an education issue. One of the most valuable byproducts of a good education is the ability to think critically - to not believe everything you are told, but to examine evidence and develop an informed opinion. I think that a lot of people in the United States miss out on that kind of education, with catastrophic effects. If people do not know how to think critically, they don't know how to accept diversity, to question their faith, or even how to look at things in an objective way.

The powers that were told us that we were in danger, that these people were our enemies, and that we had to use extreme methods to get the information that would keep our country safe. If a person cannot think critically, and is surrounded by others in the same boat, he will believe what he is told. He will not apply the teachings of Jesus Christ, but will instead believe that this is a holy war. He will not remember that the liberty for which this country stands should apply to everyone, and will instead resort to jingoism.

In short, people who are uneducated are blind followers. I think that is a big, big problem.

Alexah said...

Ah - you meant education in general. I thought you meant education regarding torture only.

I agree that you can't determine the moral fibre of a population based on one matter. It's insensible to assume that a single subject can define and sum up a person's princples that way (though with the gay marriage debate, that seems to be what has happened).

And it's not just that they're UNeducated, it's that they're educated about the wrong things, or in the wrong way. For exmple: instead of being taught about Christ's compassion and love for all people of all flavors, it's preached that God hates fags, figs, and immigrants.

Jocelyn said...

Going with your example... at my school, we were taught that homosexuality is a sin, but we were also taught about evolution and science, literature and literary criticism, math, music, art and art criticism, philosophy, etc. Because of the breadth of our education, those of us who felt so inclined had the tools we needed to decide for ourselves how we feel about homosexuality.

So, I think you can be taught the wrong things while retaining the ability to reject that knowledge if it doesn't make sense. What I speculate a big part of the problem here is, is that so many public schools in the U.S. teach to standardized tests. That is to say, they shove facts, dates, numbers, and definitions down kids' throats without giving them any context or reason. This method of teaching (as most teachers will tell you) is detrimental to real education and makes critical thinking very difficult and unnatural-feeling for kids. It's basically prepping kids to be brainwashed by the first bullshit theory that comes along.

I know we've totally gotten of subject here, but I do want to say that I think a lot of what the militant atheists blame on religion can actually be blamed on bad education. Someone who knows how to think can choose their faith (or lack thereof) and understand their morality without needing to be told what is right and what is wrong. But then, this is all just a theory.

Pseudonym said...

This story has been doing the rounds of the religious/atheist blogosphere. In every such discussion, someone has to point out the obligatory statistics-nerding. Allow me to be it here.

These results are not statistically significant. The sample sizes are tiny, and there is no indication of how they avoided sample bias, which suggests that they didn't.

Jocelyn said...

The sample sizes did seem small to me, but I am not a statistician, so I can't really credit or discredit any of it. I do remember, vaguely, being told in some math class or another that you could get relatively accurate statistics from a pretty small sample. But, again, I really have no idea what I'm talking about.

That said, I think these results more or less make sense, though I'd like to think that more Americans in general think torture is "never justified". Oh well.

Alexah said...

I too thought the numbers were a little small, but what do I know about proper statistic calculations anyways?

Retaining the ability to reject insensible knowledge by our own means, regardless of how many times we're told it's true, is a very valuable human trait. I understand what you're saying about lack of education breeding ignorance; if only everybody had the education you described, eh?

Jocelyn said...

Well, I'm not saying the world would be perfect, but in places like Sweden and Denmark where education is good and available, this kind of shit doesn't seem to happen so much.

Of course, I hear they're all atheists over there, so it could be that too. :)

Hannah said...

I also noticed that the numbers were insignificant. That means that 23 Catholics (19%) they talked to think that torture can OFTEN be justified - 111 people out of the total population. However, I think it's sick that 111 Americans think that torture is justified at all.

As for education, I think it depends on what you do with it. George W. Bush has degrees from both Yale and Harvard and he's still a megalomaniac douchebag.

Jocelyn said...

Ha. True, but then he did get to be president. Twice. For no reason. That's pretty impressive.

Alexah said...

Yeah, clearly not because he was smart, though..

Or maybe I just misunderestimated him?

Jocelyn said...

The jury's still out on that, I think. He knew enough to build a team of good (evil) strategists who could accomplish whatever it was he wanted.

That whole "born-again" Billy Graham thing was nothing short of brilliant, to be honest. His whole family are mainline protestants but he labels himself a Southern Baptist or whatever and suddenly he's a crusader for Christ. Nobody's hijacked Christianity that effectively since Constantine.

Anonymous said...

When I was at church the other day, I asked our deacon why we supported the soldiers that were killing other people, but fighting women who were getting abortions.

He didn't have an answer for me... and it's because if he says, "All death is equal" he is just as in the wrong as he thinks I am.

Hannah said...

He was born again after he sobered up. Alcoholics do weird shit when they get sober.

Excellent question, Anonymous.

Jocelyn said...

Anonymous- What Pope Nazipants has said about the current disparity between the Catholic Church's attitude toward abortion, and its attitude toward the death penalty (which I think extends to killing people in a war), is that abortion is, in fact, the worst kind of murder - the murder of an innocent (maybe they think original sin doesn't apply until birth?), whereas the death penalty is a political issue, thus the Church won't get involved.

Which, of course, is total bullshit. I'd imagine the bullshitery of that answer is why your deacon chose not to respond.

I agree, though, it is an excellent question. We should all keep asking it.

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