Thou Shalt Not Torture?: A New Poll Finds That Most White Southern Evangelicals DISAGREE

The Pew polling organization released a rather sobering piece of news this week.

Nearly two out of three white, Southern evangelicals are okay with the American government using torture to obtain information from suspected terrorists. Money quote:

A new poll released Thursday (Sept. 11) finds that nearly six in 10 white Southern evangelicals believe torture is justified, but their views can shift when they consider the Christian principle of the golden rule.

The poll, commissioned by Faith in Public Life and Mercer University, found that 57 percent of respondents said torture can be often or sometimes justified to gain important information from suspected terrorists. Thirty-eight percent said it was never or rarely justified.

This authoritarian reflexiveness of self-identified Evangelicals can be reduced a bit (to about 48%) if the respondents are reminded of the golden rule (The saying attributed to Jesus, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”).

This suggests to me that politicians who condone torture (such as Mitt Romney did in the Republican primaries) can give people permission to indulge their worst aggressive impulses, and people who condemn torture (as John McCain ONCE did, and Obama continues to do), can tamp down the collective reactionary psyche (at least a bit) and bring out of people the better angels of their natures.

In other words, politicians and religious leaders, in their public statements surrounding things such as torture and habeus corpus (due process on being arrested), need to be conscious of the types of mass psychological energies that they can release, and lend permission to.

The Pew press release quotes Robert Jones, the president of Public Religion Research, the organization specifically commissioned to conduct the poll: 

Presenting people with this [golden rule] argument [against torture] and identifying with the golden rule really does engage a different part of people’s psyche and a part of their heart, their soul, and really does shift their views on torture.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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