Mark Kleiman is right, the commentary on the Pew torture poll is producing a lot of faulty analysis. The religious demographic traits that align with torture also align with other factors, such as education, region, race, and political affiliation. After all, in the present time, White Evangelicals are much more Republican than the population as a whole, and Republican leaders are more supported of torture; therefore, it shouldn't be that surprising that White Evangelicals are more supportive of torture.
That said, it's worth pointing out that a certain subset of American Christianity has in the past had a similar ends-justify-the-means attitude when it comes to the treatment of outsiders (and let's be clear, when a pollster says "suspected terrorist" most of the country hears "swarthy brown people"). Looking backwards, nineteenth Century efforts to "civilize" Native American populations involved a lot of what we would today call immoral behavior in the name of God. And while a number of Northern churches were the center of the abolitionist movement, the presence of slavery in the Bible was used to justify the "natural order" of antebellum times. A lack of concern for non-believers isn't unique to Christianity, as the residents of the Middle East or Kashmir will tell you, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
You raise an interesting parallel with the abolitionists. Although now acknowledged more than read, Uncle Tom's Cabin, the most widely read book of the mid-nineteenth century, made the slave holders' argument as basically anti-capitalist. (Very short version from bad memory: Slaveowners need to feed the bondsmen enough to keep them alive. Capitalists are under no such consraint, so wage slaves don't get enough to eat and are led to immoral lives and pitiful deaths.) The Northern churches were supporting immorality and worse by trying to end the southern way of life. Both sides used their pulpits, their bibles and their gods in support of the practices they wished to continue. It's much the same with torture (or harsh interrogation). The analysis is really an argument over what is torture the same way pre-civil war discussions concerned what is a human. The ever refreshing HD Thoreau put it to the abolitionists of his day in Slavery in Massachusetts: Again it happens that the Boston Court-House is full of armed men, holding prisoner and trying a MAN, to find out if he is not really a SLAVE. . . . after inquiring at the ouset as to what people in Massachusetts were doing talking about slavery in Nebraska. So, it seems to me are the anti torture folks missing the point on torture during the Bush administration.
Thoreau again: I wish my countrymen to consider, that whatever the human law may be, neither an individual nor a nation can ever commit the least act of injustice against the obscurest individual without having to pay the penalty for it. A government which deliberately enacts injustice, and persists in it, will at length even become the laughing-stock of the world.Thoreau, unlike Stowe and unlike most other abolitionists (let alone the Whigs), put the question plainly: how does your legal system treat a man? The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free. They are the lovers of law and order who observe the law when the government breaks it.Sorry for the lengthy quotes, but a you note, there is nothing new with this torture/religion thing. Thoreau's point is that men, not laws make men free and we really need to watch the analysis on both sides of the issue, because both will lead us to slavery or torture.
Of course surveys are open to many possible interpretations. I think what this one shows is that atheists would rather thousands of innocents be killed by terroists than find out ahead of time what the terrorists are planning.
I actually just wrote a post saying something similar, here is the core part:
"On a deeper level though, it is the case that within Southern culture (and evangelicals are mostly Southerners) there is a tolerance for the kind of violence that you would associate with torture, which itself stems from the absurd amounts of violence first directed towards slaves and later to their descendants in the Jim Crow South. Lynchings, after all, were a community affair, and indeed, it wasn’t at all unusual to leave a lynching with souveniers taken from the recently murdered. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that the cumulative effect of violent racial apartheid in the South on whites was to inculcate a somewhat higher tolerance for state-sanctioned violence against “others,” whether they be marginalized groups, prisoners (the South has stunningly high rates of incarceration), or in this case, suspected terrorists (and anyone who “looks” like them)."
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