In August 2008, I wrote a column for the Lexington Herald-Leader in which I asked why evangelical Christians, of all people, had remained silent as it became clear that during George W. Bush’s administration the U.S. government, for the first time in American history, had instituted an official program of torture against captured enemies.
Now I’m afraid I know the reason for that silence.
Last week, Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Miami Herald wrote an opinion piece citing a report from the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life on Americans’ attitudes on the torture of suspected terrorists:
“Pew found that 49 percent of the nation believes torture is at least sometimes justifiable,” Pitts wrote. “Slice that number by religious affiliation, though, and things get interesting. It turns out the religiously unaffiliated are the least likely (40 percent) to support torture, but that the more you attend church, the more likely you are to condone it. Among racial/religious groups, white evangelical Protestants were far and away the most likely (62 percent) to support inflicting pain as a tool of interrogation.”
To repeat: The people least likely to condone torture? Those with no religious affiliation. The folks most likely to approve it? White evangelical Protestants.
So, my question finally is answered.
I’d wondered why evangelical Protestants (“Protestant” comes from our ancestors’ tendency to protest any outrage) weren’t yelling their heads off when they discovered their country was violating a slew of international laws, all standards of common decency, 200 years of American history and every known Christian principle.
The reason: the majority of such Christians approve torture.
I usually try to be diplomatic when I write. But there’s no diplomatic way to approach this subject. This is insane. It’s shameful.
After World War II, America prosecuted Japanese officers as war criminals for waterboarding Allied prisoners. But after 9/11, Americans waterboarded suspected terrorists.
Many books describe the agonies inflicted on captured U.S. pilots during the Vietnam War, including shackling the prisoners’ arms behind their backs and then suspending them by their wrists. Yet recent reports have indicated American interrogators did this to prisoners captured in the war on terrorism.
Then there’s our use of sleep deprivation (one of the worst forms of torture, actually) and stress positions. Americans also have threatened prisoners with vicious dogs, confined them in coffin-sized boxes, stripped and humiliated them.
From Jane Mayer’s excellent book on the Bush administration’s policy of torture, “The Dark Side”, to daily reports in the news, the practical fallacy of these methods has become unmistakable. “Enhanced interrogation methods” don’t work. They elicit bad intelligence, they alienate our friends and they give our enemies a powerful recruiting tool.
But more than anything, they’re just plain wrong. Even if they worked, they’d be wrong. George Washington refused to torture British soldiers captured in the Revolutionary War, even though the British were seeking to destroy Washington’s little army and regularly tortured American prisoners.
In World War II, the Germans and Japanese threatened our nation’s very existence. And they were torturing and murdering people overseas by the millions. Yet Americans didn’t torture prisoners. Americans said, in effect, “We’re better than that. We refuse to stoop to the level of the Gestapo. That’s not who Americans are.”
But today, 62 percent of evangelical Christians approve torture?
It’s a sad, sad commentary on the state of our faith.