One of the joys I have teaching at ACU is doing research with undergraduates. In the coming posts I'd like to share a bit of the research I supervised this summer working with some very talented students: Allison, Whitney, Daniel, Page, Bonnie, Courtney and Kelsey. The students plan to present their research this coming spring at a psychological conference.
Our broad topic was attitudes toward torture and the use enhanced interrogation techniques. A more specific focus in some of the research was the relationship between religious belief and attitudes concerning torture.
Our research discussions began with me handing out a report published by the Pew Research Center. Specifically, at the height of the torture debates in America last spring Pew published a report regarding the relationship between church attendance, religious affiliation and attitudes about the use of torture.
The following question was asked:
Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?The following likert scale was provided:
- Can often be justified.
- Can sometimes be justified.
- Can rarely be justified.
- Can never be justified.
As similar trend emerged when church attendance was examined. Fifty-four percent of people who attend religious services "at least weekly" said that torture is often or sometimes justified. That is a +5% increase over the national average. This difference might not be much but it's downright embarrassing, morally speaking, given that only 42% of people who "seldom or never" attend religious worship services saw torture as often or sometimes justified. That is, religious people were +12% more in favor of torture than the irreligious. Translated into my religious tradition, this means Christians were more in favor of torture than non-Christians.
I asked the students to process these findings. What is going on? Their first response is likely to be your first response. Might these findings be confounded by political affiliation? That is, there might be more Republicans in the religious group. This is most definitely the case for the White evangelical Protestants who had the highest pro-torture ratings. So might all this just be a Democrat/Republican split rather than a Christian/non-Christian issue?
I think so, and some additional Pew analyses support this notion (that the religious differences go away when political affiliation is controlled for). But this still begs the question. Republican or no, why would Christians be more in favor of torture than non-Christians? It's a curious position given the explicit teachings of Jesus in the gospels. And let me be clear, I'm not even talking about pacifism. I'm talking about torture. That is, even if you believe in just war a Christian should be very reticent about the use of violence. Even if a Christian doesn't totally eschew violence they have to be very, very squeamish about it. Right? Isn't that the Christian position? And yet, that's not what we see in the Pew Research. We don't see the Christian population being more worried and angst-filled about torture. They seem, rather, more gung-ho. It's the exact opposite of what Christ-followers should be doing.
So I asked my students, what's going on here? Is this all just about politics? Or is there something about religious people, Christians in particular, that make them pro-torture?
In the coming posts I'll share what the students discovered.