Religious people support torture

By Razib Khan | April 30, 2009 7:49 pm

John Schwenkler points me to Rod Dreher’s shock that religious people seem to support torture more than the non-religious:

And get this: the more often you go to church, the more pro-torture you’re likely to be!
What on earth are these Christians hearing at church?! Very sad indeed.

John notes:

There are plenty of data showing that Christians’ attitudes toward abortion, contraception, and the rest don’t differ very significantly from those of the rest of society; the real factor, of course, lies in political affiliations, and I have little doubt that most of the relevant findings can be explained in terms of the fact that frequently churchgoing Catholics and Evangelicals are especially likely to identify as Republicans.
“What on earth are these Christians hearing at church?!” asks Rod. Perhaps it’s had something to do with there being a moral obligation to support the GOP in the face of the Democratic menace.

There isn’t any question about torture in the GSS, but there are questions about abortion and the death penalty. I selected 2 with large sample sizes, CAPPUN and ABANY, and checked how they relate to 4 religious identities, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and None.
So on the Death Penalty:

Do you favor or oppose the death enalty for persons convicted of murder?


And on Abortion:

Please tell me whether or not you think it should be possible for a pregnant woman to obtaina legal abortion if: The woman wants it for any reason?


Politics & religion matter shaping opinions. But to me it looks like religion has a much stronger independent effect on abortion than the death penalty. If I had to bet, I think torture would be more like death penalty.

  • Shadow Caster

    You can’t seriously predict such a thing by the pro-death-penalty/anti-abortion opinion of people. It’s just wrong to insinuate like that.

  • Joshua Zelinsky

    The death penalty thing I understand at some level. If one believes in an afterlife then death isn’t as big a deal. This is especially true if you believe that death has possible atoning effects if done correctly (that’s more or less how some form of death penalty used to be theologically justified in Judaism. I think I’ve seen this idea in Islamic sources as well. I don’t know if any modern Christians who think this although it was certainly an idea that existed during the various Inquisitions)
    By a similar token, if one is willing to believe in a God that tortures people for eternity with no productive result, then human torture for a few minutes or days to get information seems downright sensible in comparison.

  • L

    Unitarians? Quakers? Wicas? Druids? Buddhists? Taoists? Shinto? Maybe those are not religious enough…

  • Sandgroper

    The religious are always telling us that we need to get our values from religion.
    Perhaps we are born altruistic and compassionate, and have to be taught in church that it’s OK to torture and execute people.

  • Catholic

    This comment you make is the same as saying that german people are likely to commit genocide. There are susbstancial evidences that can be used to support this comment but of course it is NOT true.
    Radicals and bad people support torture; maybe they are religious maybe not, maybe the are black or white, maybe Indian or Chinese?. Don’t say that “generally” religious people support torture because many Religious people, even today, are tortured only because they have faith (China have you ever heard of that countrey before? and Tibet does it sound familiar? who tortures who?).
    Many religious people abroad help tortured people and refugees (there are non religious that do this too of course but the nº1 Help Organization in the world is still religious). Religion is not the problem it is radicallism, ignorance, egoism, unbalanced resources and also wrong interprtation of Religion. And I think the worse is egoism. That makes people torture other people.Not religion.

  • Sandgroper

    Have I ever heard of China?
    Sure, it is the country I live in.

  • Ron Guhname

    If it’s waterboarding we’re talking about, it looks like the non-religious soaked up all the self-righteousness and the religious all the common sense.

  • Derek

    I’m with Ron Guhname. If the issue is waterboarding to get information from a d-bag terrorist leader that we know will save lives (this is the context people are thinking of these days, since that is in fact what happened), then I really think it’s irresponsible not to waterboard, assuming you’ve exhausted every other method. I’m an atheist, btw.
    Also, beware of phrases like “pro-torture”. Think of the phrases pro-war or for peace. You can be for peace and cause many more deaths or be for war and prevent many deaths. It’s all about context. But those phrases sure to stop thinking, which is exactly what they’re intended to do.

  • outeast

    Three things:
    a) @ ron, Derek: The question was not constrained to waterboarding; indeed, if you were among those who do not cobnsider waterboarding to be torture you might argue that it excluded waterboarding! The question was simply and solely about ‘torture’ to extract information from suspected terrorists.
    b) The correlation between political allegiance and approval of torture was far stronger than the religious. My suspicion is that political views are the driver, with religion being incidentally correlated with politics.
    c) Most interestingly imo is that an earlier Pew study found that views on torture are very movable: when asked about the acceptability of torture in a way that alluded to the golden rule, the religious took a far more anti-torture stance. My tentative interpretation is that right-wing Christians are actually confluicted on the issue: when pressed to approach the issue as Christians, they are more charitable; but when a question alludes instead to terrorists, their political views dominate.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


See More


RSS Razib’s Pinboard

Edifying books

Collapse bottom bar