Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

Think at your own risk.
Sunday, May 03, 2009
Pew survey finds Christians back lions in torture debate
The Pew survey so many people are talking and blogging about, which found that the more a person goes to church in America, the more likely they are to support the use of torture. Jack Cafferty dealt with it in his CNN segment last week:



The survey has produced mass consternation, mostly from people outside the world of evangelical Christianity. Actual Christians, have mostly reacted with sort of sad disbelief, or by deflecting the issue, when they've reacted at all. I suppose many Christians worry that the survey will provide yet another excuse to bash their faith as witless and primitive. Of course, it will, and many on the left, including atheists, will take their shots. But as a Christian myself, if a fairly tortured one (no pun intended,) I do wonder why frequent church-goers would favor the tactics of Caesar over the teachings of Jesus... I can think of three reasons right off the bat:

1) Partisanship. White, evangelical Christians are both the majority of torture proponents, and the most likely to be cultural conservatives who vote Republican, and to have supported George W. Bush. Had a Democratic president used torture, I suspect the poll would have shown fewer evangelicals supporting it.

2) Fundamentalism. All religions, Christianity, Judaism, Islam -- all have their fundamentalist elements, and the further you go along that trajectory, the more violent the tendencies become. Think Jewish settlers on the West Bank, Islamist jihadis and Christian extremists like the Ku Klux Klan, violent anti-abortion activists like Randall Terry, and the like. What they all have in common is a belief that everyone other than them is going to hell. When you believe that, sympathy for the devil-bound is probably hard to come by.

3) Religious xenophobia. The Pew survey specifically asks about the use of torture against "suspected terrorists," who probably everyone taking the survey presumed to be Muslims, given the times we live in. And many Christians of the right wing variety have a strong, shall we say, intolerance, for alternative faiths, and probably consider practitioners of Islam (who they likely presume are the people being subjected to torture) to be inherently evil -- "the enemy" -- and whatever might be done to them to "protect America and our way of life" is justified.

There is a fourth: and it is the possibility that while they love to "call on his name," many Christians, like the Calvinists before them, think Jesus is fine to revere, but they don't really buy into his "new age" philosophy. They prefer the hardness and certainty of the Old Testament to the lovestruck view of the New. There is an element of fundamentalism that won't even accept change when it happened 2000 years ago, and that in a sick way, is drawn to violence as a way to achieve religious "victory" over the evils of modernity, something that's true of extremist Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. There is a certain violence inherent in all fundamentalism, and I suspect that's why so many evangelicals were drawn to "The Passion of the Christ," with al its violent imagery. [Still from the movie shown at left]

Ironically, Jesus wouldn't have fit in with the crowd that claims him most passionately in America. Compared to them, he would have seemed an absolute hippie, with all that "blessed are the meek" stuff. (Indeed, in Jesus' time, he was rejected by his own people because he wasn't violent enough against the Romans...)

That said, I think evangelicals need to take a good hard look at themselves, and ask whether one can be both "pro life," and, as many other commenters have said, pro gun, pro torture and pro death penalty, or whether perhaps some Christians have a little too much in common with the Pharisees. In the end, the bargain of "torture for (alleged) safety" is no bargain at all. As this very smart guy says:
A nation that turns its bravest and best into torturers instead of warriors has dishonored itself. There are worse things than losing a war and that is one of them.
Amen.

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posted by JReid @ 11:07 PM  
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"I am for enhanced interrogation. I don't believe waterboarding is torture... I'll do it. I'll do it for charity." -- Sean Hannity
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