Torture and Religion
May 1, 2009 7:39 AM   Subscribe

The PEW survey recently released; summarised by Andrew Sullivan reveals that evangelicals are most likely to approve of torture.
This survey coincides with Harpers May edition lead article ( presently behind a subscription firewall) extracted here. The article is by Jeff Sharlet - (previously: How the Christian right is reimagining U.S. history). The two are not unrelated. The division of the world into God's people and Satan's people enabled the Bush Administration to support the most devilish behavior imaginable, all in the name of righteousness, as shown by General Boykin then Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence.
posted by adamvasco (181 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Over at my Jesusy blog, I was just commenting on that survey:

"Seriously–love your enemies, turn the other cheek, ‘vengence is mine’ says the Lord, do not return evil for evil–what do people think that means? I don’t get this at all. I wouldn’t be surprised if some Christians approved of torture, or even a substantial minority, but I’m just dumbfounded that church attendance is positively correlated with a pro-torture stance. We are failing at some pretty fundamental spiritual formation somewhere."
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:44 AM on May 1, 2009 [33 favorites]


To be fair, torture isn't against the 10 commandments. Also, did not Jesus himself say "torture thy neighbor as thyself"?
posted by DU at 7:44 AM on May 1, 2009


Evangelicals are most likely to approve of torture.

I'm shocked, and not just because the holy electrodes of Christ are attached to my testicles.
posted by rokusan at 7:45 AM on May 1, 2009


Torquemada was so surprised when he heard this that he dropped his branding iron.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:48 AM on May 1, 2009 [12 favorites]


At least they're taking the fundamental part seriously for a change. Christians pretty much invented torture, anyway. At least, they sure as hell defined the modern language and imagery we associate with it.

And that's not even counting the profound influence they had on fetish fashion.

For which I am very grateful.
posted by rokusan at 7:50 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


You americans generate and love this stuff don't you. You crazy americans.
posted by tellurian at 7:50 AM on May 1, 2009


Well, who kept the torturers in power for the last 8 years?
posted by Artw at 7:50 AM on May 1, 2009


The poll also says that people who attend more or any religious ceremonies are more likely to approve of torture. This is a valuable datapoint because of the many people who say that religion is necessary as a source of morality.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:54 AM on May 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


I’m just dumbfounded that church attendance is positively correlated with a pro-torture stance

Yeah, who'd have thought that the religion that constantly talks about how all non-believers and sinners are going to spend eternity suffering in a lake of fire would approve of torturing people.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:57 AM on May 1, 2009 [30 favorites]


I hope the editorializing doesn't get this deleted because it's important stuff.

The New York Times' refusal to use the word "torture" in describing Bush-ordered interrogations is just one reason why I'm not sorry to see it circling the drain.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:59 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


is this another one of those 'predetermined beliefs (pre-)disposes you to what you want to see'?
posted by kliuless at 8:00 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


I seriously laughed when I heard this yesterday. I had an image of a middle-aged woman in church getting ready to pull out someone's fingernails with a pair of pliers.

How hypocrisy, how sweet is thy taste.
posted by elder18 at 8:00 AM on May 1, 2009


Maybe it has something to do with the de facto installation of a certain intolerant "Christian" viewpoint as the state religion under Bush? Maybe it has something to do with the aggressive attempts to breach the wall separating church and state? Maybe it has something to do with the nauseating politicization of the pulpit?
posted by Mister_A at 8:03 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, who'd have thought that the religion that constantly talks about how all non-believers and sinners are going to spend eternity suffering in a lake of fire would approve of torturing people.

Although I think you are painting with too broad a brush there (I can't remember the last old-fashioned hell sermon I've heard, or heard about), I do think you are probably right that the traditional (and completely wrong) view of afterlife does enable this kind of thing. If you think God is going to torture people for eternity, then maybe 183 waterboarding sessions seems okay, even if it runs against everything Jesus every says.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:03 AM on May 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


In other news, evangelicals are most likely to approve of nearly everything you disapprove of and vice-versa.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:04 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Christians pretty much invented torture, anyway. At least, they sure as hell defined the modern language and imagery we associate with it.

Not that I want to defend Christianity, particularly the fundies, but...what. The only thing I can possibly think you are referring to is the cross, which was a Roman thing, not a Christian one.
posted by DU at 8:05 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's no surprise. When you view mortal life as a temporary test, just a quick jaunt through this vale of tears before entering into the enormous bulk of eternity, what is done to the body (the "shell") is ultimately meaningless. Heaven, Hell, the Happy Hunting Grounds ... whatever your idea of an afterlife looks like, its infinite expanse renders any suffering that came before into insignificant slivers.

Your three score and ten then are a test — a test which you must pass to have a comfortable afterlife, to be sure — but those years take on the semblance of a silly game you must play. Don't mix dairy and meat in the same dish? One day out of seven I can't work, or other people will throw rocks at me until I die? Makes no sense to me, but you call the shots, God. I'll do whatever silly little dance is required, so long as I get my, what was the term they use? Oh, yes, reward.

Mortal life is just a game show, a little Survivor, some Fear Factor, maybe some grimly humiliating Japanese show where you spend most of the time naked and helpless. The rules are often arbitrary and you work within them and bend them as you may, to win. At the end of it, you wash off the fake blood, collect your prize money, and you go home. Home to Jesus, that is. If you pull out someone's fingernails so slowly that you can hear them tear (if only that guy would stop screaming), well, it's all a game anyway, right?

Right?
posted by adipocere at 8:06 AM on May 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


Not that I want to defend Christianity, particularly the fundies, but...what. The only thing I can possibly think you are referring to is the cross

There's another big part of history you're forgetting... but that's understandable since nobody ever expects it.
posted by rokusan at 8:09 AM on May 1, 2009 [36 favorites]


I guess I don't really think of the Spanish Inquisition when I think of torture. Maybe I'm not history-oriented enough. In any case, a famous example is hardly the invention of.
posted by DU at 8:12 AM on May 1, 2009


the traditional (and completely wrong) view of afterlife does enable this kind of thing

I agree with you, but I would be interested to hear what the correct view of the afterlife is, and how it differs from the eternal joy/eternal torment which my naive reading of the Bible would describe.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:12 AM on May 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


I believe that Hugo Grotius once mentioned in his treatise on international law that Jesus Christ was a tortured prisoner. If the Biblical injunction, "Whatsoever you have done to the least of my brethren, you have done to me," means anything, then it means that support for torture is equivalent to supporting the torture of Jesus Christ.
posted by jonp72 at 8:13 AM on May 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


I think there are a few issues getting some what confused here. On the one hand, you've got fundamentalism, a late 19th-early 20th century invention that is at odds with both historic and contemporary Christian beliefs. On the other hand you've got traditional Christian notions of hell and eternal suffering for the unsaved, which are not tied specifically to fundamentalism, and exist(at least theoretically) in most mainstream Christianity. It's also worth noting that this survey doesn't isolate fundamentalists, only evangelicals.

The problem, of course, as Pater Aletheias points out, is that hell and damnation are not a popular sermon topic anywhere these days, and certainly not among the kind of soft, friendly type that's been on the rise in American Christianity (see, Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, et. al). I don't believe that these people don't support torture because they believe strongly in hell or because they see this mortal life as transitory and unimportant. That's just not the theology you get in these churches.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:15 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Awful Christian of them.
posted by brundlefly at 8:19 AM on May 1, 2009


I don't think it's surprising because they're on the team that at this point happens to be for torture. What does abortion have to do with environmental regulation or progressive taxation or military intervention? More or less nothing. I'm sure you could concoct stories to convince yourself of some overarching ideology but I doubt I'd be able to believe you. People believe what things to fit in with other people that believe those things to reach their preferred level of social friction or lubrication. And when I say believe I don't mean actually believe I mean more like a sports jersey that you wear to games. And when I say people I don't mean republicans. I mean you. And to a lesser extent I mean me.
posted by I Foody at 8:20 AM on May 1, 2009


William Empson had it right, as usual:
[I]t would regularly happen that a man was promoted to high place in it through a widespread recognition that he was genuinely imitating Jesus Christ; and then he would say to himself "Come now; a man with my responsibilities has a duty not to go on imitating Jesus Christ; it is time to imitate God the Father"; and immediately he would start behaving with monstrous cruelty, apparently without any psychic shock.
And of course there's also his pithier summary of the Bible:
Heads I win, tails I burn you alive.
posted by dickymilk at 8:22 AM on May 1, 2009 [8 favorites]


Why does hell have to be a popular sermon topic for hell and torture to be linked? The basic promise of Christianity is "be good or you'll go to hell". Or, for the "soft, friendly type" it is sometimes phrased as "be good or you won't go to heaven". Failing to go to heaven, to be "separated from God" as they put it, is described as torture.

Either way, the idea is that torture, eternal torture, is a good motivator. No, I guess you are right...there's no way that could be related to seeing torture as a good motivator here on Earth.
posted by DU at 8:23 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Christians neither invented torture, nor the idea that torture was an inherent part of the afterlife for sinners. Check out the ancient Egyptian Book of Caverns, or the (previously on MeFi) Chinese Jade Calendar.

but I would be interested to hear what the correct view of the afterlife is

To learn the answer to this, all one needs is patience.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:23 AM on May 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


In any case, a famous example is hardly the invention of.

I can't tell if you're being deliberately obtuse. You don't have to be some kind of scholar here. It's torture.

You know, thumbscrews? The Spanish Tickler? The Catherine Wheel? The Pear of Anguish? The Iron Maiden? Death by Stoning? The Heretic's Fork? Burning at the Stake? The Rack? Witchcraft Trials? The Chair of Judas?

What, you thought those were just cool names for metal bands?

Torture's been a leitmotif of Christianity since Biblical times, in old world and new.
posted by rokusan at 8:23 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Pretty much invented" was, I thought, an obvious exaggeration, especially when the next sentence was: "At least, they sure as hell defined the modern language and imagery we associate with it."

Which is... well, which is exactly what I meant to say.
posted by rokusan at 8:24 AM on May 1, 2009


I imagine we're just going to ignore complicating, interesting observations, like the fact that mainline Protestants contain the largest component of any group who assert that torture is never justified? Just stick with the usual "Christians - does anyone suck harder" line that always plays so well in these discussions? Yeah, good times.

Nothing much surprising here. The component of Christians who actually seem to take the assertions of Christ seriously have always been a minority.
posted by nanojath at 8:26 AM on May 1, 2009 [8 favorites]


Christians pretty much invented torture, anyway. At least, they sure as hell defined the modern language and imagery we associate with it.

it's like the KGB never existed, comrade
posted by pyramid termite at 8:26 AM on May 1, 2009


There's another big part of history you're forgetting... but that's understandable since nobody ever expects it.

You are defending your statement that Christians invented torture by referencing the Spanish Inquisition? So, prior to the Spanish Inquisition, nobody anywhere in the entire world ever tortured anyone? And the Spanish Inquisition just invented torture out of whole cloth? So all those Christians tossed to the lions by the Romans...that was what? Playtime?
posted by spicynuts at 8:27 AM on May 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Don't read too much into this study. "Other religious groups are not reported due to small sample sizes," so we only have reports on white Protestants and white non-Hispanic Catholics. The other report out of the same survey (Public Remains Divided Over Use of Torture) show how this correlates with political affiliation, which (as we are all aware) also correlates with white religious affiliation and attendance.

I go to church every week; I don't approve of torture. In other words, let's be careful about overreading the data.
posted by wfitzgerald at 8:28 AM on May 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


but I’m just dumbfounded that church attendance is positively correlated with a pro-torture stance. We are failing at some pretty fundamental spiritual formation somewhere?
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:44 AM on May 1


It isn't surprising if you consider that for many, the attraction of church is the hierarchy and the authority of it - the desire to subject oneself to rules. To seek someone to tell you how to act. It's the manifestation of superego, if you're into that sort of thing.

But when Jesus says "Turn the other cheek," he's appealing to the ego, not the superego. The superego is just as aggressive as the id (the passions, irrational desires, etc), but it wants to ruthlessly impose order and judgment. "Turn the other cheek" is to ignore the demands of the id and the superego and to remain at peace both with the notion of having been struck (offended) and with not reacting in kind. It is a way out between the two without giving into either one.

The whole new testament is pure ego instruction. Jesus on the cross says "Father, why have you forsaken me." In the rather coarsely cut Freudian context I'm using here, Jesus has conquered his id and superego - your rules and order mean nothing and have always meant nothing, I still suffer, and I have no choice but to accept it. I will let myself feel this pain, I will see that they are wrong, but I will succumb to both. And, of course, he dies.
Understand yourself and be at peace. Intellectualize everything.

By contrast, the Old Testament (and revelations) is an orgy of id and superego run amok. Gross sin is met with total annihilation from above. Rules and punishment need something to punish.

But while spirituality is about ego, morality, rules, dogma and doctrine are all about feeling the superego. But the superego needs the id - there has to be something to punish. Torture is justifiable to these people because they personally feel that terrorism is so morally wrong that the terrorists must be punished. And the punishment must fit the crime. A perfect example of this is the guilt many religious people feel over masturbation. The latter is an expression of unbridled id, the guilt is the superego. Where is the ego? The ego is replaced by the confessional. And never having to develop your own ego means you will always return to that confessional to reconcile the urge and the guilt over the urge.

So you see, when church is structured in this way, it exacerbates the feelings of "eye for an eye". It suppresses the ego that says "turn the other cheek" by amplifying the id and the superego. Feel the sin so you will feel the guilt. see the sinner so you can sit in judgment. It makes the followers hypersensitive to a moral hierarchy and to the slightest offense within it, unleashing the id to wrath, and channeling that through the superego to mete out an appropriate punishment. The ego is reduces to a short circuit, a mere conduit between the two. The feelings of the id are simply fed to the superego for expression, but nothing is processed.

Being a good Christian is incredibly hard. "Judge not, lest ye be judged" That's easy to say and remember, but think of how nearly impossible it is to integrate this into your thinking so that it is automatic. Someone insults you, and you are neither angered nor hurt. You have to shrink your conception of self so that you see only the world and the pain and joy of others, and share those feelings with them.

You can't develop a strong ego by working it out once a week listing to Rev. Bible Thumper talk about God giving us AIDS as punishment for liberals and homosexuality. But that stuff really appeals to the id and the superego. Yippie, more things to hate and judge, and no uncomfortable introspection!

To be a christian, you need to be listening to it all the time, you need to hear that internal conflict and argue with it. What am I feeling, what do I want, how do I react to those feelings, why do I react that way, and why do I want these things. Etc. It's an exhausting process, and it's why good analysis is rare, and successful analysis is rarer still.

So, no, I'm not surprised that so many church goers support torture, Pater Aletheias. People don't listen to each other, they aren't going to struggle to hear this long-ago drowned out internal dialogue.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:28 AM on May 1, 2009 [32 favorites]


Yeah, who'd have thought that the religion that constantly talks about how all non-believers and sinners are going to spend eternity suffering in a lake of fire would approve of torturing people.

I think it has more to do with arrogance.

American Evangelicals tend to have such a black and white idea of good and evil, while simultaniously avoiding any influences that might challenge those beleifs. The result is this ends-justifies-the-means way of thinking, that allows just about anything to be done in service of what they see as the ultimate good. This drives Evangelicals' stance not jsut on on torture, but other issues like abortion, homosexulaity, etc.
posted by jpdoane at 8:28 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


The poll also says that people who attend more or any religious ceremonies are more likely to approve of torture. This is a valuable datapoint because of the many people who say that religion is necessary as a source of morality.

Slanted interpretation: those many people know that religion is a necessary source of morality for themselves; they see on some level that they are torture-approving monsters whose thirst for blood must constantly be kept in check by religion. If the urge to torture is so powerful -- if man is so wicked -- then how can he possibly be good unless he is restrained (re + ligo).

Personally I don't love inflicting pain, so the argument doesn't appeal to me.
posted by grobstein at 8:29 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


In related news ...

Salt Lake Tribune: Mormom lawyers, psychologists had a hand in torture policies.
posted by ericb at 8:31 AM on May 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think the other side of the coin is that conservative Christians believe that governments are ordained by God to uphold law and order and punish criminal behavior. While one should always grant that the enemy has the possibility for personal redemption in the grace of God, to shirk responsibility for retributive justice and justifiable warfare in defense of Christianity is to invite collective divine retribution.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:33 AM on May 1, 2009


Wow, Pastabagel, I think you're on to something there...
posted by jpdoane at 8:34 AM on May 1, 2009


to support the most devilish behavior imaginable

Somebody has a very poor imagination.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:35 AM on May 1, 2009


If you think God is going to torture people for eternity, then maybe 183 waterboarding sessions seems okay, even if it runs against everything Jesus every says.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:03 AM on May 1


Should have previewed. The reason torture is okay top these people is because they get to be God, the ass-kicking Old Testament God, even if it's only by proxy through some soldiers. You get to sit in judgment, mete out the punishment, decide who deserves to be brutalized and who does not. That's the appeal, I think.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:35 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


So wait, you are saying that people who believe that those that disagree with their beliefs will burn in eternal pain and damnation also might believe that those people they disagree with might deserve pain and damnation now? Shocked! SHOCKED!
posted by Pollomacho at 8:35 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Modern American Fundamentalist Christianity shares a common thread with most other wacky fundamentalism- a belief of being besieged, that the world is out to get them. Add in the level of dehumanization that has to happen to rationalize the idea that entire cultures exist to steal your soul, or that billions of souls have already been condemned to hellfire because they didn't know Christianity, and you have a formula for good times.
posted by yeloson at 8:40 AM on May 1, 2009


evangelicals are most likely to approve of torture.

I just sort of figured that they walked the Stations of the Cross and watched Passion of the Christ and figured "Hey, if torture is good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for anyone..."

Because any other answer would be so at odds with Christ's teachings as to suggest that his followers weren't actually listening to his message, but just making shit up that fit their own world view and claiming the moral high ground because of their beliefs...

But I've beat this dead hobby-horse before, so I'll move on.
posted by quin at 8:40 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was speaking of the contemporary definition of "torture", spicynuts, as the rest of my first comment said, though that part wasn't quoted back. No, I'm not dumb enough to think that torture literally did not exist before and apart from Christianity, thanks, but I am dumb enough to speak loosely.*

As I re-stated above, when one hears the word "torture", many if not most of the images and terminology that probably to mind are linked to Christianity, whether we're talking about biblical times, medieval times, or new world Salem.

At least, those were the predominant images and terms, until the last few years. Now we have a new vocabulary, both in words ("water boarding") and images (the triangle-hooded prisoners). And these, now, are also linked to Christianity? That floors me in a sad way that feels deeply-connected.

I may still be choosing words poorly, here, dancing around this minefield in my clumsy way, but it's in that way that I see these particular modern Christians as earning the "fundamentalist" label in a new and different way.

*I know, I know. Crucify me.
posted by rokusan at 8:42 AM on May 1, 2009


Let's just toss the Christians to the Lions.
posted by caddis at 8:44 AM on May 1, 2009


Awful Christian of them.

You forgot the hyphen.
posted by rokusan at 8:44 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


DU, I think the problem you're making is an assumption about what Christians believe. The nice thing about looking at what sermons are about is that they tell you what people are actually being taught in their churches. You just don't see hell and damnation being taught that often in American churches. You certainly don't see it in mainline Protestant churches, and you don't see it that often in non-denominational/mega church circles, at least in my experience.

Yes, it is traditional Christian theology that non-believers are punished for eternity, and there are certainly plenty of people who believe in that. I don't think, however, that that reflects how the vast majority of American Christians(of all political stripes) see their faith. There is a huge gap between the percentage of Christians that believe in hell, and the percentage who believe in heaven.

I think what we're actually seeing here is a holdover between the correlation between church going and political identification. People who go to church identify with the conservative side of the American political spectrum, for a variety of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with foreign policy. Having so self identified, they learn to support torture, not from the sermons they here in the pulpits, but from the ones they get from their side's political press.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:48 AM on May 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Let's just toss the Christians to the Lions.

The Lions would probably lose.
posted by rokusan at 8:48 AM on May 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


Point of clarification: the most fundamental tenet of Christianity is that Christ is the only way to heaven. Good works are how you live as a disciple, and how you bring God's message to the world, but the quote upthread of "do good stuff and go to heaven" is pretty much the antithesis of Jesus' teachings. That's the whole point of the blood sacrifice: there's nothing mankind can do -- outside of professing a belief in Jesus as the only son of God and asking forgiveness for one's sins -- that can get him to heaven. If that's your espoused belief system, anyway.

As for the article: this is just one more baffling and profoundly disturbing example of just how far these freaks have strayed from the actual teachings of Jesus. CHRISTIANITY: UR DOIN IT RONG.
posted by shiu mai baby at 8:54 AM on May 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


I was speaking of the contemporary definition of "torture", spicynuts, as the rest of my first comment said, though that part wasn't quoted back.

The rest of your original comment narrowed the blame from all torture to all modern torture. Which doesn't do much for your argument. You then proceeded to back up that statement by referencing the Spanish Inquisition as the source and inspiration for all modern torture. You're still forgetting that the west is not the entirety of the world. Don't jump into threads that are already ripe for LOLXTIANS and 'loosely' (your word) through crap like that around. It's not strong argumentation, it's just knee-jerking crap around in a thread the you know damn well will devolve into Christians are teh stoopid.
posted by spicynuts at 8:54 AM on May 1, 2009


when one hears the word "torture", many if not most of the images and terminology that probably to mind are linked to Christianity, whether we're talking about biblical times, medieval times, or new world Salem.

Obviously that's because we (the vast majority of us) live in Christian-majority countries (or, if you prefer, countries whose culture was shaped largely by Christians) and are saturated with Christian history and imagery whether we believe in the religion or not. What comes to our minds is irrelevant to history, which is full of the images and terminology of torture from the very beginning.
posted by languagehat at 8:54 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


"I think there are a few issues getting some what confused here. On the one hand, you've got fundamentalism, a late 19th-early 20th century invention that is at odds with both historic and contemporary Christian beliefs."

Well, maybe it's at odds in its modern incarnation, but I do believe that it began with Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Protestant Christianity found a welcome home in the colonies and later US, although the evangelical movement didn't start until the end of the 18th century.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:55 AM on May 1, 2009


Also, what spicynuts said. Can we please try to keep this interesting thread from devolving into yet another round of LOLXIANS?
posted by languagehat at 8:55 AM on May 1, 2009


I hate this as much as everybody else here who's not a pro-torturist, but... what's that axe-grindy sound I hear?
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:58 AM on May 1, 2009


It's literally true that if you say today verbatim what Ronald Reagan said in 1988 about torture and the need to prosecute those who do it, then you are immediately and by definition a rabid score-settler from the Hard Left who is unfit to be trusted with national security decisions. Conversely, the views that Reagan vehemently rejected by words and by treaty -- that torture can be justified in some circumstances; that torturers should be shielded from prosecution; that other countries have no right to prosecute the torturers from other countries under "universal jurisdiction" -- are now not merely acceptable, but are required views in order to be not only a conservative, but to be a centrist. That's how severely the political spectrum and our elite consensus on these questions have shifted -- descended -- even from the time of the right-wing Reagan era when American exceptionalism and military aggression thrived. - Glenn Greenwald
posted by Joe Beese at 8:58 AM on May 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


Although I gotta say some of the snark is world-class.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:59 AM on May 1, 2009


You just don't see hell and damnation being taught that often in American churches. You certainly don't see it in mainline Protestant churches, and you don't see it that often in non-denominational/mega church circles, at least in my experience
I hope this is true. I know my own church is pretty to the left of the mainstream so I have a skewed view of typical.
Thinking about my own (admittedly anecdotal) experience with very conservative/evangelical folks, I wonder if the pro-torture sentiment has more to do with fear than anything else. Fear of going to hell, fear of the godless homosexuals, fear of communism, fear of being opressed for their beliefs, fear of terrorists, fear of those different from them, fear of so many things, and those who are so fearful are most likely to support extreme measures and punishments because so much of the world is scary to them.
posted by pointystick at 8:59 AM on May 1, 2009


Pater Aletheias: "Over at my Jesusy blog, I was just commenting on that survey:

"... We are failing at some pretty fundamental spiritual formation somewhere."
"

Ever since they took Prayer out of schools! Oh yeah, and made baby killin' legal. Or something.
posted by symbioid at 9:00 AM on May 1, 2009


Yes, it is traditional Christian theology that non-believers are punished for eternity, and there are certainly plenty of people who believe in that. I don't think, however, that that reflects how the vast majority of American Christians(of all political stripes) see their faith. There is a huge gap between the percentage of Christians that believe in hell, and the percentage who believe in heaven.

Here's an interesting recent survey from PEW that does show the gap you're talking about and the general downward trend in the belief of hell. But, it's worth noting that a majority of Americans (not just American Christians) still do believe in hell, and that evangelicals were pointed out in particular:

The Pew survey showed the biggest believers in hell are evangelical Protestants, African-American Protestants and Muslims. Sizable majorities of Jews, Buddhists and Hindus -- as well as atheists, agnostics, and the rest of the unaffiliated -- say they do not believe.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:00 AM on May 1, 2009


Perhaps evangelical church attendance and torture approval are both indications of an authoritarian personality.
posted by anthill at 9:01 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Personally I don't love inflicting pain, so the argument doesn't appeal to me.
posted by grobstein at 11:29 AM on May 1


Oh yes you do, my fellow homo sapien. You just haven't come across the right target yet. You may one day find yourself out of time, out of words, and out of options facing a horrible and imminent reality. At that point and to your amazement this entire other dormant thing in your brain will come to life, an impossibly huge and unstoppable monster will emerge from behind the delicate lattice of your mind, and it will seize control of your eyes, adrenaline, muscle and bone. And you will let it, because at that moment you will realize that these things of yours actually belong to this monster, and it knows how to use them better than you do. As the monster takes over, you will withdraw to the background, a spectator to your own brutality.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:03 AM on May 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


Bulgaroktonos: People who go to church identify with the conservative side of the American political spectrum, for a variety of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with foreign policy. Having so self identified, they learn to support torture, not from the sermons they here in the pulpits, but from the ones they get from their side's political press.

The problem then isn't too much theology, but a lack of theology. We Christians don't spend enough time talking about Jesus as the victim of torture and capital punishment, or Matthew 25, or "those who live by the sword die by the sword," or "love your enemies," or "blessed are the peacemakers." When we do, we're eager to talk about them in ways which stand to offend the sensibilities of as few people as possible ('Love your enemies' means make up with that neighbor who never brings your lawnmower back when he borrows it, etc.)

There's a lesson we have to learn from Zen Buddhists who spend years trying to answer the question "What is the nature of Buddha?" We Christians rarely spend enough time asking "What is the nature of Christ?" Surely, if we did, the adjectives "tortured," "oppressed," "poor," etc. would all come back to us. Take the Bible literally, and that's what you'll find. Take only the historical record about Jesus (as Gandhi did), you'll find basically the same Jesus. These are the things we know for sure. The solution isn't less Jesus for those of faith, it's more.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:03 AM on May 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


"Pretty much invented" was, I thought, an obvious exaggeration, especially when the next sentence was: "At least, they sure as hell defined the modern language and imagery we associate with it."

Which is... well, which is exactly what I meant to say.


Still a silly thing to say, when our "modern language and imagery" on every subject are so heavily influenced by Christian documents and practices. We know Christian torture because we know Christian history.
posted by palliser at 9:07 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, maybe it's at odds in its modern incarnation, but I do believe that it began with Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Protestant Christianity found a welcome home in the colonies and later US, although the evangelical movement didn't start until the end of the 18th century.

I'm deeply confused by what you're saying. Fundamental is not Protestantism, and Evangelicalism is not fundamentalism. What I was saying is that talking about "fundies" as if they represent any sort of standard Christianity is wrong. Fundamentalism grew up in the late 19th Century as a response to higher biblical criticism, and as such it has a set emphases that are weird historically. It also tends to be associated with doctrines, such as dispensationalism, that are not historically part of Christian thinking.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:08 AM on May 1, 2009


or what languagehat said.
posted by palliser at 9:10 AM on May 1, 2009


Reading this is powerful motivation for me to start going back to church. As I get older, I am increasingly aware that every moral truth that has guided me in my life is rooted in the message of the New Testament. And I also realize that the corruption of this message by mainstream American churches is responsible for most of what is wrong in this country.

In some ways I feel like I've spent a large portion of my life trying to have a moral argument with mainstream America. I've been waging this argument by doing things like participating in the political process, choosing to work and volunteer in the settings that I do, and more recently by the things I plink out on my computer keyboard. But if you want to win a moral argument with America, it seems the place to do it is in the churches.

Fuck torture and fuck the weak minded christians that are ok with torture.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:16 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've always thought one of the biggest hidden tenants of just about every faith was the abdication of responsibility. With the presence of an omnipotent being controlling the scene from the ground up, accountability for any action taken becomes very very muddy, no matter how much lip service is paid to the concept of free will while trying to shoehorn the concepts together. This has several side effects - when you do something wrong, you get to apologize to a mental construct of the Authority Figure, as opposed to the person wronged. When you witness someone else do something wrong, you can wishpray for something bad to happen to them, rather than getting up and doing something yourself, and that actually seems like an internally consistent course of action. And of course, there's the reassurance that no matter how confusing the world seems to you, there's Someone Up There taking care of all the messy details and putting it together Just The Way It Should Be.

So really, these factors would seem to bring together a perfect storm of behavioural traits to encourage torture support - you see someone that you've been told is bad by the Authority Figure(s), and you wish ill upon them. They must pay for their actions, regardless of whether or not this retribution seems remotely effective... it's satisfying to think of someone getting brutalized for their trespasses against you. And best of all, you don't actually have to do anything! You just support the Authority Figure, and Authority Figure takes care of all the little details. It can't be wrong if the AF supports it! And you can't be wrong if you support them. And hey, if it comes out in the long run that it was wrong, you can just apologize to the Authority for supporting them incorrectly.

(Note: This is not generally the way society-wide religious structures are SUPPOSED to operate, but more a happy byproduct of the human psyche that is taken advantage of by ruling powers. The main focus of religions is generally the enforcing of society-wide behavioral coding and in-group/out-group structures, enforced by the threat of damnation.)
posted by FatherDagon at 9:22 AM on May 1, 2009


The problem then isn't too much theology, but a lack of theology.

I'd strongly recommend Milton's God (quoted above) as an interesting take on this issue. Empson's argument is that Christian attitudes toward torture are directly shaped by the doctrine of the Trinity, which turns torture into a family affair of sorts.

If he's right, then the findings of the PEW survey aren't just about hell, fundamentalism, Protestantism, the "division of the world into God's people and Satan's people," or accidents of 20th-century history. They're a direct outgrowth of one of the core concepts of Christian theology—a concept that's exclusive to Christianity among religions.

This doesn't mean that Christianity is necessarily nastier than other religions—just that it has a unique built-in tendency toward certain nasty attitudes toward torture.
posted by dickymilk at 9:22 AM on May 1, 2009


Slarty Bartfast: "I am increasingly aware that every moral truth that has guided me in my life is rooted in the message of the New Testament.... fuck the weak minded christians that are ok with torture."

The New Testament directs you to pray for the salvation not only of weak-minded Christians who approve of torture, but also of the torturers themselves.

Just sayin'.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:23 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


We know Christian torture because we know Christian history.

I agree with this, but I'm still getting no traction. Too charged in here, I guess. Yes, our history is Christian, and our history is full of torture. Gotcha. I figured that was given.

So now we "learn" that all these evangelicals Christians disproportionately support torture. No shit. This is right up there with "water found to be wet."

I guess what I was saying poorly, or carelessly, is that them crazy ol' Christians might not have literally invented the practice of inflicting suffering on other human beings, but they sure knew how to make it their own and work it.

And these scary new-breed evangelicals are taking it to the next level. Again, this is not a surprise.
posted by rokusan at 9:25 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've never met these Christians who do not believe in Hell. (Aren't they called Jews?)

What do they believe happens to a non-Christian after death?
posted by rokusan at 9:27 AM on May 1, 2009


You know, thumbscrews? The Spanish Tickler? The Catherine Wheel? The Pear of Anguish? The Iron Maiden? Death by Stoning? The Heretic's Fork? Burning at the Stake? The Rack? Witchcraft Trials? The Chair of Judas?


Hey now, we didn't come up with stoning.
posted by spirit72 at 9:27 AM on May 1, 2009


"I'm deeply confused by what you're saying. Fundamental is not Protestantism, and Evangelicalism is not fundamentalism."

Protestantism is a form of religious fundamentalism. Even wikipedia sez, "Dispensationalism is a Protestant evangelical theology." Dispensationalism has its origins in Calvinism in the 1820s, which is intertwined with Protestant Reformation. "Born out of the religious environment in England and Ireland in the 1820s, systematized dispensationalism began with the Plymouth Brethren movement, especially the teachings of John Nelson Darby (1800–1882)." The evangelical movement and fundamentalism in the US would not have come to pass without the strong influence of Protestant theology and its ties to Calvinism.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:27 AM on May 1, 2009


dickymilk: Empson's quote presumes the members of the Trinity have different characters, which I would argue is a pretty gross violation of Trinitarian dogma. Each one of the members of the trinity is God and God's character does not contradict itself.

If we as Christians were better about making Christianity about Jesus, then there would be a built in tendency towards self-sacrifice, particularly of the powerful (cf Ephesians 2:6-11). Imitating Jesus means giving oneself up to suffering rather than, and instead of, inflicting it.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:29 AM on May 1, 2009


the most fundamental tenet of Christianity Protestantism is that Christ is the only way to heaven.
posted by absalom at 9:29 AM on May 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


You then proceeded to back up that statement by referencing the Spanish Inquisition as the source and inspiration for all modern torture.

Oh sweet suffering Christ on a stick. That was a joke, not an infernal supporting argument.
posted by rokusan at 9:29 AM on May 1, 2009


Protestantism is a form of religious fundamentalism

Just because every rectangle is a square does not mean that every square is a rectangle.
posted by absalom at 9:32 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


The quote upthread of "do good stuff and go to heaven" is pretty much the antithesis of Jesus' teachings.

Faith vs Works isn't quite as settled and done as all that. Christianity is a big tent.
posted by rokusan at 9:32 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Protestantism is a form of religious fundamentalism

No. The word "fundamentalism" is confusing, but Fundamentalist Christianity is a modern religion, early 20th century. It's the personal-jesus-in-your-heart version.
posted by rokusan at 9:34 AM on May 1, 2009


Or, to give you another example, Jerry Falwell founded a Baptist church early in his career in the '50s, which his son runs now. He's a dispensationalist and an evangelist, but his denomination is Baptist, a Protestant denomination.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:39 AM on May 1, 2009


Oh yes you do, my fellow homo sapien. (...) As the monster takes over, you will withdraw to the background, a spectator to your own brutality.

Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:41 AM on May 1, 2009


I've never met these Christians who do not believe in Hell. (Aren't they called Jews?)

No, because the doctrinal differences between Judaism and Christianity go pretty far beyond just whether there is a Hell, which some Jewish sects consider to be a possibility apparently.

What do they believe happens to a non-Christian after death?

Well, it depends. The most common version is that hell isn't a place of torture but a state of being deprived of the grace of God. Other people hold that people without the redemption of Christ just die, or that we can't and shouldn't question how God will judge non-Christians. There is also a belief out their floating around in universal redemption, and that we make hell ourselves. An example of the current state of contraversy over these ideas can be found around Carlton Pearson who had an epiphany regarding hell caught hell as a result.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:43 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


when you do something wrong, you get to apologize to a mental construct of the Authority Figure, as opposed to the person wronged.

Um, no. I mean, I can't speak for all the world's religions, which you're conveniently generalizing into one massive theory of theological unification, but the Christian faith is pretty clear on the importance of asking forgiveness -- not just from God, but from the person or persons you've wronged. See here: "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."

Jacob apologized to Esau, Joseph's brothers (eventually) apologized to him for that whole selling-into-slavery bit, Ephesians has that verse about not letting the sun go down on your anger, etc., etc. I mean, jeez, the whole point of forgiveness is that Christians are supposed to offer it freely to others and seeking it out themselves from those they've hurt, otherwise it's the height of hubris to ask God for forgiveness in return.

Your sweeping assumptions look pretty on paper, but man, they're kind of insulting to pretty much every religion out there.
posted by shiu mai baby at 9:44 AM on May 1, 2009


the most fundamental tenet of Protestantism is that Christ is the only way to heaven.

D'oh, you're right, absalom. Thanks for the correction.
posted by shiu mai baby at 9:46 AM on May 1, 2009


Well, I don't really want to argue the point, as it's not that important here. But I don't agree that American Fundamentalism is separated from Protestantism, nor that it would have developed without it coming first.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:47 AM on May 1, 2009


"Just because every rectangle is a square does not mean that every square is a rectangle."

I get what you're saying, but American Fundamentalism is not a form of fundamentalist Christianity which sprang up from the soil wholly conceived on its own. It owes a great deal to Calvinism, the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent foundation of Protestant religions in the US, all of which are fundamentalist. American Fundamentalism took it further and indeed influenced Protestants, which today are not really that far apart, depending on the church. Many fundamentalist evangelicals consider themselves Baptists. This doesn't mean a modern Lutheran or Presbyterian is necessarily an American Fundamentalist, but the American Fundamentalist movement captured a lot of Protestants under its tent.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:52 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Something important that has been left out of the silly finger-pointing about the Spanish Inquisition, etc., is that the mediæval Church was a temporal power–at times the greatest temporal power in Europe. The Spanish Inquisition was a vehicle for social domination and control that was justified (poorly) in religious terms. Likewise the witch-hunts in New England.
posted by Mister_A at 9:52 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've never met these Christians who do not believe in Hell. (Aren't they called Jews?)
No, because the doctrinal differences...


Another joke, sorry. The only thing shocking in here is the humorlessness. I long for the good old days, when little things like religion and torture didn't get in the way of a snappy one-liner at the buffet table.

What do they believe happens to a non-Christian after death?
Well, it depends. The most common version is that hell isn't a place of torture but a state of being deprived of the grace of God.


Interesting... so then, it'd be just like before they died, when they were also without the 'grace of God?' They will spend eternal life in the same state they chose in their regular life?

I don't think a popular Christianity without all the punishment and suffering would be very marketable, but it sure sounds more appealing, in that maybe it would produce fewer monsters.
posted by rokusan at 9:53 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, our history is Christian.

So now we "learn" that all these evangelicals Christians disproportionately support torture. No shit. This is right up there with "water found to be wet."


Here is where we disagree: You are saying that there is no surprise that Christians would be disproportionately supportive of torture, because torture is somehow particularly identified with Christian history. This, I think, is either wrong or unprovable. Certainly a greater familiarity with Christian history would lead to a set of torture-related images that are particularly Christian, without Christians having been particularly devoted to torture. So, to me, this information needs some other explanation -- maybe the greater emphasis on the afterlife, or (more convincing, I think) our tendency to accept a whole set of positions of a group once we've identified ourselves with it.
posted by palliser at 9:57 AM on May 1, 2009


rokusan: Well, as many Christians argue that the grace of God has positive aspects on life as lived, I don't think that follows.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:58 AM on May 1, 2009


Faith vs Works isn't quite as settled and done as all that. Christianity is a big tent.

Indeed, which is why I do appreciate absalom's much-needed refinement of my point. Still, if you're going for a straight-up interpretation, the NT is pretty clear on this matter:1 2 3
posted by shiu mai baby at 9:58 AM on May 1, 2009


so then, it'd be just like before they died, when they were also without the 'grace of God?' They will spend eternal life in the same state they chose in their regular life?

No, we all benefit from Gods grace in this life: Prevenient grace
posted by jpdoane at 9:59 AM on May 1, 2009


Well, I think another big issue is denial that the interrogation techniques used by Americans are torture. (And lest I be accused of advocating that argument, I'm not.) Conservatives will argue that it's excusable because it's just not as bad as what the Nazis/Communists/Islamic Fundamentalists do.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:04 AM on May 1, 2009


You may one day find yourself out of time, out of words, and out of options facing a horrible and imminent reality. At that point and to your amazement this entire other dormant thing in your brain will come to life, an impossibly huge and unstoppable monster will emerge from behind the delicate lattice of your mind, and it will seize control of your eyes, adrenaline, muscle and bone. And you will let it, because at that moment you will realize that these things of yours actually belong to this monster, and it knows how to use them better than you do.

You must be a blast at parties.
posted by Shepherd at 10:05 AM on May 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


krinklyfig: We are not in disagreement about the origins of the American evangelical movement. However, saying "Protestantism is a form of religious fundamentalism" is saying the exact opposite. Not that "American Fundamentalists" are a subset of Protestants, but that Protestantism is a form of Fundamentalism. There is a HUGE difference in those two statements.
posted by absalom at 10:05 AM on May 1, 2009


Faith vs Works isn't quite as settled and done as all that. Christianity is a big tent.

So big, in fact, that a fair amount of Calvinist Protestant denominations still say "neither faith nor works but irresistible grace alone -- and solely for the elect."
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:07 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here is where we disagree: You are saying that there is no surprise that Christians would be disproportionately supportive of torture...

Correct, I am not surprised. The history of Christianity and the history of torture certainly look strongly linked enough for me, and so there's nothing that seems new or shocking about this news to me.

So if there's no link between historical Christianity and historical torture, then what is the alternate theory? Is it all a coincidence? Why are you so surprised by the connection made by the study?

I mean, other than Pastabagel's astute comment on some of the psychology that might be in play, this thread is pretty high on picking apart my flippancy, and pretty short on other reasons that these things ("evangelicals are most likely to approve of torture") might be linked.
posted by rokusan at 10:08 AM on May 1, 2009


Here is where we disagree: You are saying that there is no surprise that Christians would be disproportionately supportive of torture, because torture is somehow particularly identified with Christian history.

For me it's no surprise because all of Christianity is founded on torture. Believe that Jesus is the messiah or you will be tortured forever. In order to redeem men, Christ had to be tortured on the cross. It's not surprising what kind of people find that outlook appealing. There are a few exceptions - kindhearted men and women who handwave away the very straightforward believe-or-be-tortured bullshit - but most Christians are totally, completely down with it.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:09 AM on May 1, 2009


Well, as many Christians argue that the grace of God has positive aspects on life as lived, I don't think that follows.

Maybe I misunderstand, but I believe that means that those who live in the grace of God, who are happy now, will continue to live in it later. And those who live "without" it now, and are also happy and fine, will continue to live without it later. So... we all stay the same forever?

As for positive aspects of that grace in this life... well, it sure would be great if it would have some positive influence on them there torture supporters, see?
posted by rokusan at 10:12 AM on May 1, 2009


Well, I think another big issue is denial that the interrogation techniques used by Americans are torture.

I've noticed that foreign media, including the BBC, called the recently released papers "The Bush Torture Memos", but they're usually called "Interrogation Memos" here. Sort of sad.
posted by rokusan at 10:13 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Believe that Jesus is the messiah or you will be tortured forever.
A somewhat crass over-generalization of the diversity of Christian opinion (btw, this is actually about loss of the presence of God, see above, not pitchforks and little red dudes)

In order to redeem men, Christ had to be tortured on the cross.
Which is exactly the reason why a true Christianity overtly rejects torture. In order to redeem men, Christ (God) had to suffer the worst thing they could do, and suffer it as a human being would. That's the only way the claim made in Matthew 25, "what you do to the least of these you do to me," works. Because Christ was a human being named Jesus of Nazareth who was poor, who was rejected, who was tortured and who was killed, God understands and empathizes with those who suffer those things and believers can therefore find God within the poor, the rejected, the tortured and the executed, among others.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:21 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


rokusan: Maybe I misunderstand, but I believe that means that those who live in the grace of God, who are happy now, will continue to live in it later. And those who live "without" it now, and are also happy and fine, will continue to live without it later. So... we all stay the same forever?

Well, the argument is that you can't really be happy without God in your life. This sort of Christian doctrine holds that a non-Christian perception of happiness is something of a false consciousness. (Ironically, the same argument is made by Buddhism.)

So Heaven is an eternal afterlife with God, which will surpass any earthy happiness, while Hell is an eternal afterlife without God, the full realization of which is presumed to be existentially painful beyond any demonic torture. But I'm cribbing second-hand interpretations of C.S. Lewis here. And personally the thought of any afterlife strikes me as horrifying.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:22 AM on May 1, 2009


Okay, I get the opposition to abortion and stem-cell research (I guess), but why is loving Jesus now equated with loving whatever the GOP wants? Why does American Christianity also involve free markets, trickle-down, tax breaks for the wealthy, opposition to ecological concerns, profit-driven health-care, plenty of guns, torture of enemies, etc? I've read What's the Matter With Kansas and I still don't understand why Christ's ministry supposedly meshes so well with the desires of Corporate America.
posted by Legomancer at 10:24 AM on May 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Perhaps evangelical church attendance and torture approval are both indications of an authoritarian personality.
posted by anthill at 12:01 PM on May 1 [+] [!]


quite so
posted by caddis at 10:26 AM on May 1, 2009


I've read What's the Matter With Kansas and I still don't understand why Christ's ministry supposedly meshes so well with the desires of Corporate America.

I'd guess that some Christians of the Kansas variety are not Christians because of an honest philosophical or spiritual reason, but rather because they have a deep need to belong to something, and if it turns out that as a part of that they end up feeling in some way superior to others... well heck, they'll stay for biscuits. Add a reinforcement loop and simmer.

But anthill nailed that already.

And yeah, this sullies the name for whatever real Christians there might still be out there.
posted by rokusan at 10:38 AM on May 1, 2009


A somewhat crass over-generalization of the diversity of Christian opinion (btw, this is actually about loss of the presence of God, see above, not pitchforks and little red dudes)

I guarantee you I have read the Bible more, and more closely, than you have - don't try to patronize me. Your interpretation that's it's just "loss of the presence of god" is the handwaving feelgoodery of liberal theology, which simply ignores the unpleasant but very clear Biblical descriptions of Hell.

Mark 9:43-47: And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:

Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:

Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire


I'm not going to quote the other sixty or seventy places in which Jesus himself describes hell, but you can see for yourself: it is everlasting, eternal torture.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:38 AM on May 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Rokusan:I mean, other than Pastabagel's astute comment on some of the psychology that might be in play, this thread is pretty high on picking apart my flippancy, and pretty short on other reasons that these things ("evangelicals are most likely to approve of torture") might be linked.
The separation of church and state is a legal and political principle. The PEW study shows evangelicais tending to be more in favor of torture. The American military is being infiltrated by evangelicals. The military is the protector of the state. Or have I got something wrong there?
posted by adamvasco at 10:39 AM on May 1, 2009


Believe that Jesus is the messiah or you will be tortured forever.
A somewhat crass over-generalization of the diversity of Christian opinion...


Just a literal reading, I think.
Matt 13:41: The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom everything that causes sin as well as all lawbreakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Rev 14:10 ...that person will also drink of the wine of God’s anger that has been mixed undiluted in the cup of his wrath, and he will be tortured with fire and sulfur in front of the holy angels and in front of the Lamb.
So if (some) Christians today happen to think that torture is an appropriate punishment for heathens and lawbreakers, I don't we should be surprised.
posted by rokusan at 10:44 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm enjoying the various assertions of what it means to be a Christian and what All Christians Believe by both the Christians and the Non Christians around here.

All Christians Believe that acceptance of Jesus is required to go to Heaven (except those who don't)

All Christians Believe that Hell is a literal state of torment (except those who don't)

All Christians Believe that torture in this life is ok, since God tortures unbelievers in the afterlife (except those who don't).

All Christians Believe that correlation equals causation (except those who don't)
posted by Reverend John at 10:55 AM on May 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


I'm really really trying hard to "judge not," here. My infuriating and reluctantly-admitted co-religionists are making it REALLY REALLY HARD. How the fuck stupid do you have to be to read the words of Jesus AND THEN APPROVE OF TORTURE!?

Deep breath. Deep breath. Judge not. Forgive them for they know not what they do.


((Fucking sadistic smug lunatics...))

I swear I'm going to just found a religion based on misanthropy instead.
posted by Scattercat at 11:12 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Flagged Pastabagel for a fantastic comment. Encourage others to do the same
posted by leotrotsky at 11:13 AM on May 1, 2009


"The division of the world into God's people and Satan's people enabled the Bush Administration to support the most devilish behavior imaginable..."

...makes this a blog post and shows the poster has a very limited imagination.

"The separation of church and state is a legal and political principle. The PEW study shows evangelicais tending to be more in favor of torture. The American military is being infiltrated by evangelicals. The military is the protector of the state...

...moves us well into tin-foil-hat territory.
posted by MarshallPoe at 11:20 AM on May 1, 2009


...moves us well into tin-foil-hat territory.

Yeah, totally.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:28 AM on May 1, 2009


I mean, jeez, the whole point of forgiveness is that Christians are supposed to offer it freely to others and seeking it out themselves from those they've hurt, otherwise it's the height of hubris to ask God for forgiveness in return.

Intent of the authors vs. actual reaction of the audience differs wildly.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:29 AM on May 1, 2009


Optimus, while I agree with much of what Online Journal has to say, and I think we need lots of people questioning what the Religious Right is doing, I think it's kind of silly for them to tout themselves as as offering "uncensored and accurate news, analysis, and commentary." Accuracy is the first victim of overheated opinions.
posted by shiu mai baby at 11:37 AM on May 1, 2009


Intent of the authors vs. actual reaction of the audience differs wildly.

And actual reaction of the audience differs wildly among the audience. Point?
posted by shiu mai baby at 11:37 AM on May 1, 2009


Well you see MarshallPoe as I'm not part of your country and I live somewhere else I'm just an interested observer.
The War Against Tolerance, by Chris Hedges
The public denigration of Islam, and by implication all religious belief systems outside Christianity, is part of the triumphalism that has distorted the country since the 9/11 attacks. It makes dialogue with those outside our “Christian” culture impossible. It implicitly condemns all who do not think as we think and believe as we believe as, at best, inferior and usually morally depraved. It blinds us to our own failings. It makes self-reflection and self-criticism a form of treason. It reduces the world to a cartoonish vision of us and them, good and evil. It turns us into children with bombs.
more
posted by adamvasco at 11:44 AM on May 1, 2009


More than half of people who attend services at least once a week -- 54 percent -- said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified. Only 42 percent of people who "seldom or never" go to services agreed, according the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The point is that rather large chunks of that audience seem to think things like this are internally consistent with their beliefs, despite scripture to the contrary.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:47 AM on May 1, 2009


Right, but the "rather large chunks of that audience" you're now referring to is a very small subset of Christianity that are the focus of the article in the OP. Upthread, you were all too ready to lump all Christians -- indeed, all believers of any religion -- into one giant audience. Which makes it kind of ironic that you're decrying these folks for a lack of internal consistency, no?
posted by shiu mai baby at 11:51 AM on May 1, 2009


Optimus, while I agree with much of what Online Journal has to say

That was one out of about a dozen articles noting the weirdly evangelical turn the miliary - most notably the Air Force - has taken. For MarshallPoe to say it's tinfoilish is both lazy and wrong.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:52 AM on May 1, 2009


So if there's no link between historical Christianity and historical torture, then what is the alternate theory? Is it all a coincidence? Why are you so surprised by the connection made by the study?

Huh, I thought I answered that in my comment -- "maybe the greater emphasis on the afterlife, or (more convincing, I think) our tendency to accept a whole set of positions of a group once we've identified ourselves with it."

That would include an emphasis on torture in the afterlife, as Optimus Chyme suggests.

But I personally think I Foody had it right, and this position is just part of being on the team they joined for other reasons.
posted by palliser at 11:54 AM on May 1, 2009


Sorry, meant to italicize first paragraph.
posted by palliser at 11:55 AM on May 1, 2009


Actually, the section that was referring to was "attends religious services weekly". Non-specific to a single faith, aside from what is statistically most likely in the polled areas. Inside that subset, it gets more and more extreme the closer you get to "white evangelical protestant", but the base category of "attends a religious service" is still significantly more aggressive and unforgiving than "doesn't".
posted by FatherDagon at 11:57 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


adamvasco, I think you're being disingenuous. I don't think you're "just an interested observer." I think you have a rather obvious point of view, unless of course "devilish" means something good, as in "devil's food cake" or "deviled eggs." But I doubt that's the way you intended to use the word.

And the word "infiltrate" means to enter or pass through, but has a special connotation, namely, to pass though enemy lines or to enter as a spy. I don't think that's what evangelicals in the U.S. military are really up to.

And besides, the only way to tell whether religion had a direct impact on the propensity of members of the U.S. military to torture people (setting aside the problem of defining "torture") would be to look at the religious beliefs of the people who ordered the torture and the putative tortures to see if you find any connection. Even then all you have correlation, albeit a suggestive one. I would suggest a series of interviews at that point. When you've established that being evangelical causes members of the U.S. military to suborn torture or to torture, then I suggest you write another post. I, for one, will read it with great interest.
posted by MarshallPoe at 12:03 PM on May 1, 2009


April 2008
At least half-a-dozen active-duty military officials have been working closely with a task force headed by the far-right fundamentalist Christians planning religious events at military installations around the country to commemorate Thursday’s National Day of Prayer.
posted by adamvasco at 12:10 PM on May 1, 2009


And I'd point out the fact that the Pew survey size is 742 American adults. When the actual number of people in this country that self-identifies as some brand of Christianity is in excess of 200 million1, I maintain that it's ridiculous to use such a broad brush to make your argument.

You're incredibly comfortable making sweeping generalizations and positing pedantic grand unification theorems about a tremendously nuanced and diverse religion -- indeed all religions -- but there's no escaping the fact that you're not basing this stuff on anything particularly solid.

Which, again, is remarkably ironic, considering that one of the things that super-conservative Christians take a ton of heat for (and rightfully so) is doing the exact same thing to those whose beliefs don't perfectly align with their own.
posted by shiu mai baby at 12:20 PM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


(All that was directed at FatherDagon, obvs.)
posted by shiu mai baby at 12:21 PM on May 1, 2009


MarshallPoe as JoeBeese noted above, your country has moved so far to the right so quickly that what you might take as normal is bordering on the batshitinsane to many Europeans. As to the religious beliefs of those who ordered torture the then Commander in Chief made statements about Crusades and stated that God told him to invade Iraq.
posted by adamvasco at 12:24 PM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


i'm going to go out on a limb here and say that being an American is also positively correlated with approving of torture, as is being white and male. this is hardly surprising because all white male americans know that deep down inside them is a jack bauer waiting for the right crisis to call them into action.
posted by nangua at 12:27 PM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


And I'd point out the fact that the Pew survey size is 742 American adults. When the actual number of people in this country that self-identifies as some brand of Christianity is in excess of 200 million1, I maintain that it's ridiculous to use such a broad brush to make your argument.

I don't think you understand the math behind statistics and sample size very well.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:32 PM on May 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


It would be overkill to go in depth into poll sampling group sizes due to the diminishing returns beyond a certain amount. The report was rated as 95% level of confidence with a 4% margin of errror, so there's that.

As far as the basis of my sweeping generalizations, it's personal experience and opinion, as well as constant reaffirmation from small things like opinion reports of the body theological. That's why I began my first statement with "I've always thought..." - it's an opinion based on my viewpoint, not a data study done through methodical polling of a population. I'll leave that to the experts... heh.
posted by FatherDagon at 12:43 PM on May 1, 2009


Really? Then please explain it to me how a sample size that's approximately 0.000371% of the overall group provides a firm foundation for some of the generalizations being made here. And please know that I'm asking that out of genuine sincerity, not snark.
posted by shiu mai baby at 12:44 PM on May 1, 2009


You know, I don't know why there's all this wangling between people who think things exist that aren't scientifically proven to. You're just bickering about what your imaginary friend's said. Adults aren't supposed to have imaginary friends. Grow up.
posted by kldickson at 12:47 PM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


It seems like the impasse here is a bunch of (US) Christians aren't behaving in a way that seems consistent with Christianity's founding principles, and we can't agree if that means:

a) Christianity is a religion which naturally breeds people who approve of torture (i.e. Christianity is dangerous); or,

b) Torture support among Christians is an unfortunate accident of the time, place and circumstances in which they live (i.e. most Christians aren't doing it right).

Since most of our examples are about a relatively small portion of contemporary Christianity (WASPs) and since their feelings on this issue map well with the country at large regardless of faith, B seems most probable.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 12:51 PM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sure, SMB - the Pew center themselves link to a good hub of polling methodology info from various sources of repute - Roper, Gallup, WaPo, etc. The basic principal for opinion polls is that beyond a certain volume of a few hundred or so people, your chances of getting more accurate results plateau. There isn't that much of a statistical difference between the results you get polling 800 people, the results you get polling 1600, or what you get polling 16000. That's where the level of confidence comes into play - 95% is the benchmark of accuracy you go for, and the margin of error is around there. The larger the group, the smaller the margin of error, but it tends to level off at around 3% or so. If you look at the second page of the report itself, they show the sub-group breakdown of the polled population, and what the MoE is for each of the individual groups.
posted by FatherDagon at 12:53 PM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I guarantee you I have read the Bible more, and more closely, than you have
Point conceded, while not conceding that all Christian theology is contained in the Bible.

don't try to patronize me.
No offense intended.

Your interpretation that's it's just "loss of the presence of god" is the handwaving feelgoodery of liberal theology, which simply ignores the unpleasant but very clear Biblical descriptions of Hell.
Actually, I think as I and others here have speculated, loss of the presence of God is actually a lot worse than physical pain, enough so that the wailing and gnashing of teeth metaphors don't even begin to describe it. From what I hear of those who have experienced severe depression, it can often be worse than physical pain. Imagine having absolutely zero sense of the purpose, meaning or vitality of existence. Pretty bad.

Doesn't change the central part of the argument, though. Even if you concede that God is a torturous being (which I don't), that doesn't automatically assume humans should ("judge not lest ye be judged" is one example where God asserts a power human beings don't have, "do not kill" is another). I still don't see the causation between "Bible has torture, therefore people torture" unless its the same kind of causation that says TV violence causes people to be violent.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 12:59 PM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks for that, FD. I always did suck at math, big-time.

And, for what it's worth, I think l33tpolicywonk just nailed it. I definitely believe -- want to believe, anyway -- that B is the more accurate perspective here.

Torture is just one particularly heinous example of where the religious right has conveniently ignored the actual teachings of the Christ they claim to follow; homophobia, racism, misogyny, disdain for the poor, are just a few more I can think of.

As someone who has spent years trying to reconcile her RR upbringing with, you know, logic, reason, and compassion (three things anathema to the RR), I want very badly to believe that the majority of Christians in this country aren't fag-hating, torture-loving, poor-shunning assholes.
posted by shiu mai baby at 1:01 PM on May 1, 2009


So, correlation doesn't equal causation, except when we're talking about Christian Republicans. Got it.
posted by jsonic at 1:25 PM on May 1, 2009


So, correlation doesn't equal causation, except when we're talking about Christian Republicans. Got it.

That is a tad unfair, jsonic. I am completely open to the idea that these people's belief in the rightness of torture led them to their chosen religion rather than the other way round.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:31 PM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


So if there's no link between historical Christianity and historical torture, then what is the alternate theory? Is it all a coincidence? Why are you so surprised by the connection made by the study?

how about that like any historical institutions church denominations/movements fall captive to particular political ideologies for certain periods of time? My understanding is that evangelicalism has at different times been a liberal, conservative, and populist force. In the last, forty or fifty years it's been mainly a conservative movement, but younger evangelicals I know are more likely to be moderate to liberal politically. Unfortunately, IMHO, it's impossible to truly separate religion and politics and occasionally they become joined at the hip (i.e. where being a particular type of Christian entails xyz political beliefs). Sometimes this is a force for good, sometimes a force for evil. In the history of Christianity and politics, there's moments I look back on with pride (Wilberforce's opposition to slavery, the social gospel, abolitionism, creation of just war theory), moments I look back on with shame (inquisitions, the supression of the Cathars, sustained Anti-Semitism), and moments I'm not really sure how to feel about (the leading role of the Catholic Church in Irish separatism, the role of the Reformation in the establishment of Germany, the role Calvinism played in the English Civil War and the establishment of the power of Parliament).

So yeah, this will go down in the shame column, but given that such views were abhorrent to American Christians in the past, I have faith that they'll wake up sometime soon, realize that they basically assented to the shredding of all those American values they been told they're protecting, and realize that loving one's neighbor as one's self means not torturing them. At least I hope they will.
posted by nangua at 1:32 PM on May 1, 2009


Actually, I think as I and others here have speculated, loss of the presence of God is actually a lot worse than physical pain, enough so that the wailing and gnashing of teeth metaphors don't even begin to describe it.

Really? ::checks around:: I lost that presence about 14 years ago (when I was a Sunday School co-teacher), and it's been nothing but roses since!
posted by FatherDagon at 1:51 PM on May 1, 2009


You know, I don't know why there's all this wangling between people who think things exist that aren't scientifically proven to. You're just bickering about what your imaginary friend's said. Adults aren't supposed to have imaginary friends. Grow up. -kldickson

Good thing my God isn't imaginary. ;)
posted by Atreides at 2:02 PM on May 1, 2009


"Not that 'American Fundamentalists' are a subset of Protestants, but that Protestantism is a form of Fundamentalism."

Protestantism is a fundamentalist theology in its origins. This may not be true of all the denominations today, but the Protestant Reformation was fundamentalist in nature, which isn't the same thing precisely as American Fundamentalism. I didn't say that Protestantism is a form of American Fundamentalism.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:22 PM on May 1, 2009


So if there's no link between historical Christianity and historical torture, then what is the alternate theory?

That humans are, to some extent, inherently power-hungry and bloodthirsty and more so in groups than individually? That the larger, more power-sucking, and/or more authoritarian a bureaucracy (such as an organized religion or government) is, the more bloodthirsty it tends to be?
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:24 PM on May 1, 2009


I'm not going to quote the other sixty or seventy places in which Jesus himself describes hell, but you can see for yourself: it is everlasting, eternal torture.

Because you can't. Because there are four or maybe five, two of them clearly parables whose point is not what the afterlife is like but how we ought to behave right now.
posted by straight at 2:34 PM on May 1, 2009


That the larger, more power-sucking, and/or more authoritarian a bureaucracy (such as an organized religion or government) is, the more bloodthirsty it tends to be?

Too big to flail?

Sorry.
posted by rokusan at 2:40 PM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


So if Jesus says something only four or five times, it can be disregarded?

(The whole pick-and-choose nature of modern (?) religions drives me batty.)
posted by rokusan at 2:42 PM on May 1, 2009


That is a tad unfair, jsonic. I am completely open to the idea that these people's belief in the rightness of torture led them to their chosen religion rather than the other way round.

I know people are dying to snark here, but you might want to make sure your super-awesome jibe makes an iota of sense. These church goers might all drive hondas too. Doesn't mean their religion influences their car choice or vice versa.
posted by jsonic at 2:59 PM on May 1, 2009


There is one straightforward Christian tradition which denies that any will suffer the torments of hell (and claims Biblical authority, which can of course be disputed and countered with contrary Biblical evidence, which is true of all scriptural interpretations, as the Bible is, to any objective assessment, a very inconsistent collection of writings), which is Christian Universalism.

There is in addition the idea developed, for example, by C.S. Lewis (and fictionalized in his allegorical short story The Great Divorce) that hell is fundamentally elective: that salvation is always available but those who refuse to submit themselves to the absolute dominion of God cannot endure in the presence of God and for all intents and purposes (though they might not recognize it as such) choose to be in hell.

The sort of Jack Chick comic scenario where you die unrepentant and then wake up in hell and go "oh no, I'm ready to repent now God" and the Devil goes "Bwa ha ha, it's too late!" is not particularly biblical (and indeed there is some suggestion in the Bible of Christ's salvation extending to those dead), although I can think of at least one passage that is often interpreted as illustrating remorse after death, the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16 19-31), but the idea that this parable is intended to literally describe the afterlife is disputed.

The "actual" meanings of any of the parables including everything is cited, for example, by Optimus Chyme are, in fact, disputed, and while you can argue as Optimus does that this dispute is "handwaving feelgoodery" among those who do not adhere to the orthodox exegesis of the nature of salvation and afterlife, it nevertheless exists as a legitimate (as legitimate as you want to consider any of it, anyway) element of Christianity. It would be absurd to argue that it represents the majority or the mainstream of Christianity, however, particularly considered historically.

Which is just to say that there is more complexity to the reality of the tradition and history on this topic than apparently some here believe. And of course being largely ignored in this particular side branch of the discussion is the fact that whatever you think Christ is saying about hell, it's even more unambiguous that he calls upon his followers to reject resisting evil by force, as I noted earlier, and that the behavior of the early Christians as presented in the Epistles is of complete pacifism to the extent of routinely submitting to public execution. Claiming that the Gospels present some justification of Christians approving of torture of living people here and now on earth is a real stretch and I don't see that anyone has offered a shred of decent justification for it here.

As I also confidently and I see with complete accuracy predicted in that comment, while the opponents of Christianity here are happy to correlate the approval of torture with what is wrong with Christians, nobody feels like introducing ideas like the interesting fact that the same tradition, in one of its permutations, produces the highest percentage of people who say torture is wrong in all circumstances. Those statistics don't say anything about what Christians are really like, of course not, that would be absurd, right? Probably more of that handwaving liberal feelgoodery, right?

Why I bother to even wade into these things I do not know. It's not like there's anything for anyone to feel very proud of in that survey (even cheering much about my one third of Mainline Protestant peers is a stretch, given the unfortunate fact of, you know, the rest of them). "More than half of people who attend services at least once a week -- 54 percent -- said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified. Only 42 percent of people who "seldom or never" go to services agreed" Oh wow, only 42 percent? Great, only almost half of everybody is happy for the toenail pliers to come out, you know, sometimes - if some fucker really needs it. Gotta say I'm not terribly impressed by the "seldom justified" crowd either, to tell you the truth. Wow, I am sick of humanity.
posted by nanojath at 3:02 PM on May 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


Protestantism is a fundamentalist theology in its origins. This may not be true of all the denominations today, but the Protestant Reformation was fundamentalist in nature, which isn't the same thing precisely as American Fundamentalism. I didn't say that Protestantism is a form of American Fundamentalism.

This is a nonsensical thing to say. Fundamentalism is a word that describes a particular religious tradition that sprung up in the late 19th century in America. There's no such thing as "non-American" Fundamentalism, at least not until Americans spread Fundamentalism to other parts of the world. There's also no such thing as Muslims fundamentalism.

It's also a specific reaction to liberal theology and higher criticism, and as such it can not exist prior to either of those things. The Fundamentalists are Protestant, and as such their theology is a Protestant theology, but to call the Reformation "Fundamentalist" when it happened four hundred years before the things that Fundamentalism is, by definition, a reaction against makes no sense. Fundamentalism did grow out of the reformation, but that doesn't make them the same thing, anymore than the Lutheran Church is the Catholic Church.

Now, it is true that both the Reformation, and Fundamentalism, and any one of a thousand religious movements throughout history share a certain character of a return to a perceived more basic and legitimate faith. That, however, does make them the same thing.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:04 PM on May 1, 2009


(The whole pick-and-choose nature of modern (?) religions drives me batty.)

I've asked this before with not very satisfying results but what the hell: why? Why does it drive you batty? I mean, you don't believe in Christianity, right? You think the Bible is just a collection of thousand year old mythological-political-mystical hoodoo aggregated by people who's grasp on the factual nature of reality was shaky at best? Yeah? I mean maybe I'm not "getting" where you come from? You'll have to correct me if my premise is false.

But if that is more or less what you think, why in the world would you not prefer people to "pick and choose" a generally more compassionate extract of this terrible source of guidance? I mean sure, obviously you'd prefer we just reject it totally, I get that, but assuming we aren't going to do that, isn't a less hostile bible better than a more hostile one (granting for argument that the more hostile presentation is unambiguously the clearer representation of what the Bible is "supposed" to be interpreted, which I don't actually agree with)? An honest question, I'm not trying to score some rhetorical point, I sincerely don't get the feeling you express.
posted by nanojath at 3:12 PM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bulgaroktonos, you may be interest in Karen Armstrong's very excellent The Battle for God which "documents the rise of fundamentalism in many of the world's major religions, such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism."

She discusses the use of the word, with both upper and lower-F's, thoroughly.
posted by rokusan at 3:13 PM on May 1, 2009


nanojath, if I can read through the countersnark... it drives me batty because if it seems to me it's either the Holy Word of God, or it's not. If it's just a bunch of books containing some good stuff and some bad stuff... and a book from which you can pick and choose to fit your own point of view or preferred beliefs, shifting with the times and moods and contemporary notions of morality... then it's really nothing at all, and you might as well make up your own beliefs from whole cloth. Why not use Shakespeare? Or Confucius? Or Foxtrot?

Now, the beliefs you make up (aided by cribbing parts of the Bible, or not) might be good beliefs that help others and make a better world, or they might be selfish or destructive beliefs... but your "goodness" hit rate would be at least as high as if you plucked your own hand-picked parts of the Bible, and at least you'd do it without claiming they're based on something that is Perfect and True. It seems to me that this claim that My Way Is Right Because God Says So According To My Interpretation is a theme that's cropped up a lot through our messy history, and not usually in a good way.

All of this, and my driven-battiness-by it, only applies to Biblical inerrancy types, of course, like every Fundamentalist-type I've met so far. If that's not you, good news!
posted by rokusan at 3:23 PM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Karen Armstrong can claim to document all the things she wants, fundamentalism is a 19th century Christan phenomena. What she documents is a series of similar movements, responding to similar forces, in a variety of contexts. The fact that they are similar doesn't make them the same.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:24 PM on May 1, 2009


MetaFilter: I know people are dying to snark here, but you might want to make sure your super-awesome jibe makes an iota of sense.

Hrm. Not snappy enough.
posted by rokusan at 3:26 PM on May 1, 2009


Certainly my people wouldn't torture anyone, not like those people do.
Pretty much the whole basis for this kind of thing I think. (We had right wing nutcases in charge - what's your excuse?)
But most of this is crap. Laying this all on Boykin is as silly as blaming everything the Nazis did on Hitler. Yeah, antisemitism didn't exist in Europe until Hitler came along. Uh huh.
(And Sharlet is full of bullshit about York - he first applied for Conscientious Objector status and was refused "I didn't want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had." - yeah, what a blood thirsty killer for God. And this "more comfortable, liberal histories declare their own myths simply a matter of record" is tripe - George Washington can never tell a lie, chopped down a cherry tree - that actually happened?)

I will agree this is about identity though. And where it concerns torture all the moreso.
But identity politics has been going on with the right and fundamentalist for some time - e.g. the "this is a Christian nation" schtick. All that.
Christian fundamentalism, as it relates to politics, has contributed to torture only insofar as its emphasis on 'other' as the means to define itself and narrow and wrest the identification of 'American' from the broader meaning.
This focus in the FPPs on denigrating religion is a red herring. Perhaps not purposeful. And I'll say I'm not entirely unsympathetic to the argument.
But it's sophistry really. And greatly ignores U.S. history.

There have always been identity politics of this type in the U.S. I mean - off the top of my head - the Know Nothings, who were opposed to the Irish Catholics, mostly became Republicans, hell, they were even strongly anti-immigrant. Yes they were protestant, but nothing like what modern protestants would recognize.

Point being - these themes and trends have long existed (and not just in the U.S. - but since we're talking the U.S....) People remember the McCarthy hearings for the Communist stuff. But they were strongly anti-homosexual as well.
Authoritarianism - McCarthyism - a rose by any other name - typically has these traits.

Any type of demagoguery inevitably leads to abuse and torture of the 'other' because, given a group has enough power, anyone with any brains will hide and or acquiesce, so you need a yet narrower scope, for more heretics, and/or even more baldfaced lies for more dissent to exercise more power, etc. etc.
The demand for orthodoxy as a means to define identity can take any form, secular, even anti-religeous.
The French, for example, have a real problem with women wearing hijab.

Criticism of the form I take no exception to. But let's recognize it's just a form. Otherwise we risk condemning ourselves to an opposite, but equal path. Orthodoxy, fundamentalism, just with another nature.
One cannot torture the torturers.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:28 PM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


They didn't call it World War I, either. That term did not even exist until many years after it ended. Imagine. But may we now call it World War I?

We are, I think, allowed to use new words to describe events that preceded their invention. Few movements had their name in advance, after all.

As long as one differentiates between (American Christian) Fundamentalism (1900, or thereabouts) and the general phenomenon of fundamentalism (a reactive attempt to return something to a more conservative 'true' nature, often in conflict with that thing's actual original nature), I don't see the problem.

Words are our servants, not our masters and all that rot.
posted by rokusan at 3:31 PM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but Hitler pretty much invented anti-semitism.

(See what I did there?)
posted by rokusan at 3:33 PM on May 1, 2009


Or Foxtrot?

You truly are an agent of Evil, aren't you.

Seriously though, taking biblical inerrancy as the precondition I get more where you're coming from.

I do think extracting a uniform doctrine out of the Bible (which has certainly been a primary activity of organized Christianity, particularly from the age of Bishop Irenaeus on) is inherently an act of picking and choosing, because it is not self-consistent, at least not in that tidy package of doctrine way. Of course treating the Bible as this unitary object anyway is questionable, the Canon was arrived at the same way as all the orthodox doctrine, i.e. a bunch of men bickering in various historical conclaves.

Conceptually at least, though, the idea of inerrancy does provide less murky waters than viewing the Bible as a human construct but still taking it seriously. Nice bright lines. Which is why it is so persistent, I suspect and why, perhaps, traditions like mainline Protestantism are frankly waning.
posted by nanojath at 3:55 PM on May 1, 2009



But if that is more or less what you think, why in the world would you not prefer people to "pick and choose" a generally more compassionate extract of this terrible source of guidance?

You are asking the worng question to the wrong person. Non believers don't have to justify this nonsense. Believers do.

Look. If this book is the word of god, and god is granting all these goodies to the faithful— the ULTIMATE goody of eternal life—it would seem the stakes are far too high to go about "interpreting." Right? So why do it if you ARE a believer. THAT'S the interesting and productive question. Morphing the tenents, inturpreting to be in what ever context you want removes them from the historical context. Why? When you examine the religion in it's original context you can clearly see the flaws, distortions, lies, massive contradictions, horrific cruelties, and mistakes.

It is not just the clearly arbitrary and capricious nature of embracing this so-called interpretation trend that get's frustrating for the non-believer (For fuck sake we can read what the words say). It's the clearly malevolent effect on secular institutions.

The Christian religion constantly morphs into whatever the believer wants. Excluding any tenant that is inconvenient to the modern creature comfort, or worse, excluding any tenant that does not serve the contemporary political goals of the community leaders. Until the interpretation simply stops being anything determined or related to the original text and it's historical context at all.

What you have is a belief system so far removed from it's original context that the modern believers attempt to fix a square peg in a round hole until they can no longer work the cannon like clay and thus begin to work the surrounding society to fit the cannon.

What KILLS me about this thread are the believers going about saying which believer are the "real" believers. When the entire notion is so laughably subjective in the first place as the bible is morphed into whatever anybody want's it to be. So what's the point? I can worship a Banana and call myself a christian by these standards.

Basically it's like watching two mental patients, each with a hand stuck in a hospital gown, argue who really is Napoleon Bonaparte.

What most of these (liberal and conservative) "interpreters" are doing is removing historical context and transmogrifying the stories, removing anything difficult or too dissonant for them personally, for sole purpose of assuaging their own childish fear of death, their fear of how complicated modern life truly is, and to guarantee their own selfish and impossible immortality.

Then on top of that they get govern how I and my children live.


The religion is based in borrowed myths and cobbled together semi-historical anecdotes, yes. That IS what it is. Nothing more. Nothing less. Stick to the original context and you see that right away.
posted by tkchrist at 4:18 PM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


To get back to the sense of the topic. I really think the concepts of a "Christian Nation" and Manifest Destiny are central to this. Driving much of evangelical politics is the belief that politics are both worldly and spiritual, and that there are potentially dire consequences if we don't engage in just warfare in the pursuit of Christianizing the world. The Communists of the 50s and the Islamic Fundamentalists of today are not just differences of opinion regarding political philosophies, they are demonically-influenced movements that destroy souls.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:19 PM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I really think the concepts of a "Christian Nation" and Manifest Destiny are central to this.

Absolutely. The christian movement has taken great pains to re-write our history so that we are a "Christian Nation." The founding fathers are near apostles by these histories. And back to the derail, look how hard Christians have worked to re-write their OWN history (AKA interpretation). Is it any wonder that this myth creation has worked it's way into policy creation and war making?

Fucking terrifying.
posted by tkchrist at 4:29 PM on May 1, 2009


And back to the derail, look how hard Christians have worked to re-write their OWN history (AKA interpretation)"

I think stealing Christmas from the Son of Isis (and the Roman Winter Solstice (thanks Pope Julius I!), and Mithras, and the Druids) was a dead giveaway of things to come.

But manifest destiny (thanks John O'Sullivan! and the Jackson Democrats, yeah, yeah.) is an excellent secular example of the struggle for identity. And indeed, co-option by religious forces as well. But whatever the constituent perspectives, the overall paradigm assumed that the native 'primitive' other (plethora of 'others' in all these things) needed to be superseded - whether through socialization, integration, indoctrination or destruction.
Whatever uses 'we' were going to put the land to, were inherently superior.

The point being reason, liberty, etc - some very laudable and otherwise noble ideals, and some quite secular and/or purely political - were behind U.S. territorial expansion (54º 40' or Fight!, etc) and some vicious treatment of the 'other' people.

This is not to marginalize the criticisms of religious thought or the inherent hypocrisies of claiming...hell, just about any religious creed while espousing torture, they all seem pretty serious about mercy (as a Nahuatl worshipper, I'm safe from hypocrisy - Huitzilopochtli demands you cut out the smoking heart of your enemies, so, y'know).

But in terms of religious thought I think it's the same dichotomy that allowed the inquisition to flourish. You torture the body but do that in order to save the soul.
That seems fairly standard though to demands for orthodoxy.
Perhaps religion is more gross and obvious an example because its focus is on the ineffable rather than the concrete?
1984 with O'Brien torturing Smith in order to get him to love big brother seems to be the purest example of this thinking though. In many ways the drive for immortality is expressed along these lines. Alloy as it so often is with (personal) identity.
Hell, look how many people indoctrinate their kids into - whatever they themselves are into.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:30 PM on May 1, 2009


Really? Then please explain it to me how a sample size that's approximately 0.000371% of the overall group provides a firm foundation for some of the generalizations being made here. And please know that I'm asking that out of genuine sincerity, not snark.

Most sample sizes in surveys are this small. The central limit theorem and a few other things basically say that once your sample size passes a certain threshold (hundreds are enough), if your sample is truly chosen randomly, it is very likely (though not certain) to represent your population well.

The trick tends to be in whether the sample is truly chosen randomly and whether or not probability just chose this particular sample to mess with you. You mitigate the former problem by being careful and open about your methodology and you mitigate the latter problem by repeating the study over a bunch of different samples.

I am unfortunately afraid I believe what the study suggests is possible. I disagree it's rooted in Christian history or theology -- I think it's much more likely a result of identity politics and human nature -- but my own experience in talking to people seems to bear it out.

The Christian religion constantly morphs into whatever the believer wants. Excluding any tenant that is inconvenient to the modern creature comfort

It surely does. In fact, I can't think of a belief or philosophy that won't do this trick on command, or at least won't appear to in the theater of a mind that's inclined to it. And every mind is inclined to it.
posted by weston at 7:51 PM on May 1, 2009


Alright, so here's a methodology for reading the Bible for peaceniks and those of us who are anti-torture in this thread: the Bible is a book of stories about human beings, each of them searching for God. If you are a Christian, than you obviously believe that this search culminates in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The God of the Old Testament often shows his wrath, but gradually reveals himself to the prophets as compassionate and merciful. By the time of Isaah, he's telling epople to beat swords into plowshares and laying lions down with lambs. Then, Jesus comes along and is routinely a practicioner of active nonviolence, up to and including his torture and death. "I came not to abolish the law," Jesus says, "but to perfect it" - in other words, to bring it to fulfillment and completion. The person of Jesus is the operative moral principle for the Christian church, and the Bible is a set of stories (all be them inspired by God) about the quest for God which have tons of educational value because everyone is questing for God.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:05 PM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Alright, so here's a methodology for reading the Bible for peaceniks and those of us who are anti-torture in this thread:

Wait, so you're saying that you read the Bible a certain way because you're a peacenik? As opposed to the Bible making you a peacenik? It seems to me that if the Bible really is inspired by God (as you assert), then reading it to support the values you already hold instead of reading it to discern God's values seems a bit silly. Blasphemous, even.

The person of Jesus is the operative moral principle for the Christian church, and the Bible is a set of stories (all be them inspired by God) about the quest for God which have tons of educational value because everyone is questing for God.

All of them are inspired by God? How do you know? How can I tell? Maybe I'm not questing for God. Am I lying, telling the truth or just delusional?
posted by Avenger at 8:23 PM on May 1, 2009


This post points to one of my favorite guys, Andrew Sullivan, and the subject of torture has come up recently with him. There seems to be a lack of purity on "we don't torture" that has been discussed here before, albeit unnaturally briefly, and which Andrew has highlighted in a series of posts 1 2 3 4 - The London Cage.
posted by caddis at 9:05 PM on May 1, 2009


The Christ portrayed in the NT was truly an awesome guy for the time: his message of peace and humility and etcetera are a real big deal. But the cannibal cult ("eat his flesh and drink his blood!") that his life spawned… just, wow, I can't imagine that's what he wanted. He hoped for far greater things.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:29 AM on May 2, 2009


Let me clarify: I was being a little flippant, which I apologize. More accurately, it is that reading of the Bible (along with other indications) that led me to be a peacenik and reinforced my Christian pacifism. YMMV.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:01 AM on May 2, 2009


So if Jesus says something only four or five times, it can be disregarded?

I didn't say that, I was merely irked at Optimus Chyme's ignorant "factoid" about Jesus talking about hell 60-70 times in the Bible, which is off by at least an order of magnitude. It was definitely not a central feature of his teaching and preaching.

On the other hand, if you actually read the New Testament, you don't necessarily get the same doctrines of hell that are commonly passed around among fundamentalists and evangelicals (nor the ignorant caricatures of said doctrines I see in this thread). (Just like the "literal interpretation of the Bible" the Left Behind books claim to be based on is anything but.) That's not "picking and choosing," that's reading carefully and thinking. I recommend it.
posted by straight at 3:59 PM on May 3, 2009


I didn't say that, I was merely irked at Optimus Chyme's ignorant "factoid" about Jesus talking about hell 60-70 times in the Bible, which is off by at least an order of magnitude. It was definitely not a central feature of his teaching and preaching.

Just going by the little Post-Its in my KJV, i can tell you that what you wrote is 100% wrong. Jesus talks about hell in John 5:29; Matt 5:22, 7:19, 8:12, 13:40, 18:8, 23:14, 23:33, 25:41; Mark 3:29, 9:47, 12:40; and Luke 16:23-28 and 20:47. That's 14 occurrences, some of which span multiple verses. That's just the stuff I have marked up as being of interest.

I have proved that your claim that I'm off by "at least an order of magnitude"* is 100% bullshit. But I've noticed among apologists of all stripes a disheartening tendency to just make up stuff, as you've done in this thread. Instead of making an unsupported argument, you can get a Bible and concordance for very little money and look it up yourself.

*also note how dumb this particular phrase is: "at least an order of magnitude." If I were off by two instead of one OOM, that would mean Jesus spoke about hell 0.5 to 0.6 times in the Bible. Sloppy scholarship, sloppy thinking, sloppy writing.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:40 PM on May 3, 2009


Optimus Chyme, straight's "at least an order of magnitude" is a bit of hyperbole, sure. (I recognize that "100% bullshit" is just your hateful way of talking.) On the other hand, it looks like you pulled your "sixty or seventy" figure straight out of your ass.

Also, the "number of times Jesus spoke about hell in the Bible" is not a particularly well-defined concept, considering that Jesus didn't write the Bible and there are four accounts of his life (Gospels) in the Bible.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 7:57 AM on May 4, 2009


Optimus Chyme, straight's "at least an order of magnitude" is a bit of hyperbole, sure.

okay so this is hyperbole but

On the other hand, it looks like you pulled your "sixty or seventy" figure straight out of your ass.

thanks for all the supporting evidence you posted, brosef; lots of good data to look through

if you want me to go to the effort of collecting all of jesus's quotes about hell, i'd be happy to, if it means you'll stop posting like you have any idea what you're talking about
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:02 AM on May 4, 2009


You're the one who asserted the "sixty or seventy" figure. Where'd you get it?

Until you provide a citation, I'll have to consider it "sloppy scholarship, sloppy thinking, sloppy writing".
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:16 AM on May 4, 2009


Just a quick vocabulary note here:

Tenant: One who pays a fee (rent) in return for the use of land, buildings, or other property owned by others.

Tennet: An opinion, belief, or principle held to be true by someone or especially an organization.
posted by Reverend John at 8:25 AM on May 4, 2009


Tennet: The grid administrator of the Dutch electricity network.

Tenet: An opinion, belief, or principle held to be true by someone or especially an organization.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:36 AM on May 4, 2009


. . . Brosef.
posted by grobstein at 11:05 AM on May 4, 2009


Damn you McKean's Law!
posted by Reverend John at 11:42 AM on May 4, 2009


One way to look at how the Bush administration redefined torture out of existence, so that it could, er, torture human beings, is to compare their criteria for "enhanced interrogation" with those for rape. Raping someone need not leave any long-term physical scars; it certainly doesn't permanently impair any bodily organ; it has no uniquely graphic dimensions - the comic book pulling-fingernail scenarios the know-nothings in the Bush administration viewed as torture; and although it's cruel, it's hardly unusual. It happens all the time in regular prisons, although usually by other inmates as opposed to guards. It barely differs from the sexual abuse, forced nudity and psychological warfare inflicted on prisoners by Bush-Cheney in explicit terms.

Recall that smearing fake sexual blood on the faces of victims was regarded as brilliant interrogation by the Bushies in Gitmo - and its psychological effects were supposed to be heightened by Muslim sexual sensibilities. And male rape would be particularly effective in destroying male Muslim self-worth and psychological integrity. Rape almost perfectly fits, in other words, every criterion the Bush administration used to define "enhanced interrogation."

So ask yourself: if Abu Zubaydah had been raped 83 times, would we be talking about no legal consequences for his rapist - or the people who monitored and authorized the rape?

posted by caddis at 12:48 PM on May 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


Just going by the little Post-Its in my KJV, i can tell you that what you wrote is 100% wrong. Jesus talks about hell in John 5:29; Matt 5:22, 7:19, 8:12, 13:40, 18:8, 23:14, 23:33, 25:41; Mark 3:29, 9:47, 12:40; and Luke 16:23-28 and 20:47. That's 14 occurrences, some of which span multiple verses. That's just the stuff I have marked up as being of interest.

Optimus, if you would bother to actually read those passages, you will see that many of them simply refer vaguely to some sort of "judgment" (Matt 23:14: "Therefore, you will receive greater condemnation!"). And several of the passages you refer to are multiple accounts of the same statement. (You count the records in Matthew, Mark, and Luke's of Jesus saying "you will receive greater condemnation" as 3 seperate instances of "Jesus talking about hell").

There really are only 4 or 5 places where Jesus talks about hell as if it were a place and in at least a couple of those he's telling stories/parables or using hyperbole (do you think that he literally meant people to cut off their hands or pluck out their eyes to keep from sinning? As if it's the hand that causes you to steal or the eye that causes you to lust?) in which it's not at all clear he's offering some literal statement about the afterlife, in which the point is what is the right way to live rather than to specify the punishment for evil.
posted by straight at 1:30 PM on May 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


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