Religion in American

From 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.

The numbers seem high, I think.  (Added:  even for the non-religious, the numbers seem very high.  Perhaps it’s the reaction of frightened people, for which we have all too many people to thank.)

10 thoughts on “Religion in American

  1. Yes. One wonders what in the world the evangelicals are really about. One can understand opposing abortion as a religious view, horrid though I think it is. But supporting torture!!

    BTW, I meant to say that even the numbers for atheists seem high.

  2. Hm. Sample size was only 742, and at a quick glance, they don’t seem to have made calculating statistical significance a high priority… I’m not saying my first response wasn’t: oh my goodness, what ARE they saying in church?! But we should be skeptical, I think. No?

  3. Is it possible that this effect would disappear once you controlled for political affiliation? Does the study say whether or not they did so? After all, people who regularly go to church are more likely to be republicans than people who don’t, and republicans are more likely to support torture.

  4. “Good Christians” all…..whatever happened to “love thy neighbor as thyself”, and “do unto others as ye would have others do unto you” and all that other “Christian” stuff?

    Is going to church the beginning and end of being a proper “Christian”? No carry over into the way lives are lived and others are treated?

    Much evil has been done in the name of religion – all religions.

  5. Hey, I am a christian and I don’t support torture, there is hope.
    But then, I am not american.

  6. I agree with Heg — without a real statistical analysis and information about methodology (how did they pick the sample?), it’s impossible to evaluate these results. The Pew Research Center might as well have just completely made up these numbers.

  7. There’s quite a bit of info on the pew site. It is very respected and I really don’t think they’d be announcing conclusions without very firm backing. One or two cruddy poles and they will be severely hurt. In fact, I just checked both a very liberal and a very conservative blog and both quote pew as though it were part of their bible.

    In 2007 Pew did a survey on religion of 35,000 people in the US and they used that sample to do some calibration of their smaller sample. Since I’m not a statistician, I can’t really tell just what was being done, but I think it had to do with the representativeness of their method for generating phone calls. In any case, this is really bad news for the evangelicals and I expect they’ll have various firms checking on it….actually, when I think of it, maybe the envangelical leaders are pleased.

    One good thing is that, as far as I can see, it really is just Christians and non-believers. So there are a lot of religions let off. Not that there are enough to make Americans feel better, but at least Jews, Hindus, etc, don’t have to be ashamed for this one.

    J, I was thinking about your response when I realized that Christianity has a long tradition of not caring a fig for the infidels’ lives and of course, it also has a long history of torture. Perhaps we should be surprised that other countries aren’t as bad, and if we asked, we might find they can be pretty bad. Does anyone know what the surveys of other countries show?

    I think the question they asked was problematic. It was about approving torture in order to get some important information. That seems to me to suggest that torture will yield the information. Unless you really probe, the responses you get might actually draw on just the same intuitions as those one gets in response to “if there were five people on one trolley line and a worker on the other, would you throw the switch…” except here it is one terrorist for perhaps a million ‘innocent’ lives.

    There’s also the depressing stuff coming out of the situationist literature; John Doris have really brought this into philosophy, I think. One idea is that the display of moral behavior may depend much more on circumstances than we like to think.

  8. Okay, it appears that the CNN piece is based on these results, or results from the same report. And Pew — more responsible than CNN — does give some information on margins of error on the second page (though the link doesn’t tell you that’s where you can find this information). For the whole sample (742), the margin of error is plus-or-minus 4 percentage points. For significantly smaller subsamples — like, say, people who attend services at least once a week — we’re looking at margins of error closer to 10 percentage points. CNN’s `more than half’ could very well be `less than half’.

    But the Pew results do suggest that about a half of Americans think torture is often or sometimes justified. I don’t think fear is quite the right explanation here. If `scary swarthy man is going to blow you up!’ was still an effective rhetorical strategy, the GOP wouldn’t have gone down in flames last November. Maybe I’m just more optimistic about the moral views of my fellow citizens, but I suspect the split is driven largely by conflicting claims about the efficacy of torture in the public discourse. If you’re swayed at least sometimes by consequentialist arguments (you just have to do something horrible to this one person for five minutes…) and you hear the expert on the news say torture is at least sometimes effective, then you might conclude that torture is at least sometimes justified.

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