Views on Torture by Religious Demographic

We may not consider Jesus divine, but one survey suggests that atheists pay closer attention to his teachings than those who do. An analysis of a new survey illustrates differences in the views of four major religious traditions in the U.S. about whether torture of suspected terrorists can be justified.

The specific question put to the 742 adults polled last month was, “Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can be justified often, sometimes, rarely, or never?”

The summary of responses to the question posed by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that 62% of white evangelical Protestants believe that torturing suspected terrorists could be often or sometimes justified to get critical information. Fifty-one percent of white, non-Hispanic Catholics and 46% of white mainline Protestants agreed. Ironically, the respondents with no religious ties (“Unaffiliated”) were the least supportive – 40% – of the use of torture.

Now, this is one survey of only a few hundred people. But, the results raise the question of how people develop their ethical standards and whether or not religious belief, specifically theistically-centered religious belief, is a stronger grounding for this work than atheistic approaches. As an atheist, I am completely free to adopt part or all of the moral teachings of Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, Buddha, Lao Tse, Confucius, or any other great prophet without needing to place one above the other.