This is the final post surveying our research into the relationship of faith and torture endorsement. This final study was also done by the team of Alison, Whitney and Courtney.
Recall that our research was stimulated by the Pew Research that had found that Christians were more likely to endorse torture than non-Christians. Thinking through that trend the students and I had enough experience with Christianity to know that "Christian" is so broad a label as to be almost worthless. And yet many people, the media in particular, us the word "Christian" as if they are talking about a homogeneous and like-minded group of people. But nothing could be further from the truth. Christians are all over the map. Some are Republicans. Some are Democrats. Some are pacifists. Some serve in the military. Some are creationists. Some are evolutionists. Some are orthodox. Some are heterodox. Some are exclusivist. Some are inclusivist (or pluralists).
In short, there are many, many different kinds of Christians.
So when we saw the Pew Research we asked the question: What group within Christianity is driving this pro-torture trend? Because when you see a trend about Christians that is what is going on, some subgroup within the faith is pulling the "group" average in one direction or another. So we asked, which group was doing the pulling in this case?
In approaching this question we wanted to focus on theological issues rather than political affiliation. That is, we wanted to know if there was something within Christianity itself that promoted torture endorsement. We ended up focusing on three variables:
- Fundamentalism/Dogmatism: Biblical literalism combined with a strong sense of certainty.
- View of God: Is God primarily perceived as wrathful or loving?
- Traditional View of Hell: Belief that non-believers will be tortured in hell forever without end
- I am constantly questioning my religious beliefs.
- For me, doubting is an important part of being religious.
- I find religious doubts upsetting. (reverse scored)
We also felt that God Image would affect torture sentiment. Is God experienced as wrathful, vengeful and punishing? Or is God experienced as merciful, loving and forgiving? When one looks at Christian hate groups one finds their God to be as hate filled as they are. That is, was we saw in the When God Sanctions Killing research, God is often viewed at the source of violence or hate. Consequently, we predicted that a wrathful God image would predict pro-torture sentiment. We assessed this by asked participants to rate two items asking how wrathful and merciful they felt God to be.
Finally, we assessed beliefs about hell. Specifically, if God is going to horrifically torture people, even many good and decent people, for all eternity then why should we get squeamish about torturing bad people for a short time in this life? In short, we predicted that admitting torture into the life and nature of God would function as a tacit endorsement of torture in the name of justice (or God). We could find no measure of hell belief in the literature so the students created their own. The items were:
- Hell is a real place.
- The pain and suffering in Hell will be worse than anything experienced on Earth.
- Hell is everlasting, it never ends.
- Hell is an experience of extreme pain and torment.
- If one is condemned to Hell they can never leave.
- The biblical description of “burning in a fire” is an accurate description of Hell.
- God created and controls Hell.
What did we find?
Christians who were more fundamentalist and dogmatic were more likely to endorse torture. Conversely, Christian who entertain doubts and value questions were less likely to endorse torture.
Christians who saw God as wrathful were more likely to endorse torture. Christians who saw God as merciful were less likely to endorse torture.
And, finally, Christians who believed in a horrific and never-ending hell were more likely to endorse torture. As God tortures so we torture.