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May 01, 2009


i think you're explanation accounts for most of it.

Oy... Bill Maher is going to have a field day with this. (AICSFN)

Not only is the figure at the centre of Christianity a 'hippie pacifist' but a hippie pacifist who was also tortured by an unjust regime...

There's a fair amount of "smite thy foes" muscular Christianity in the evangelical set and I suspect that is the driving force behind those numbers, rather than opposing the opposers (although I'm sure that's in there too).

This is about good and evil.

There are good people, and rules for good people. Then there are evil people, and rules for evil people. We can torture, because we're good. They can't torture, because they're evil. Saying, 'We prosecuted the Japanese for doing the same thing' completely misunderstands the right. We are good. The Japanese, evil. We -cannot- do the same thing. What matters is not our actions, it is the content of our hearts--or our souls, I guess.

I'm not much on Christian theology, but isn't there a similar belief, among some Christians? Your actions don't matter as much as if you accept Jesus? Something about grace?

That explains the overlap, I think. And it’s why all the explanations in the world, all the horror of torture, doesn't penetrate. To us, what matters is the rule of law and a rational argument. Both are completely irrelevant if you're more concerned with the spiritual quality of the actors and their inherent rightness.

Bob Altermeyer covers it pretty well in The Authoritarians. Extremely dumbed-down-for-comment-length version: If you tend to fall in line behind conventional authorities and dislike those who deviate from this, then strict forms of religion and violent governments will both appeal to you

A deceased former speaker of Tennessee's House of Representatives related an anecdote. He stated that, when asked, "How did you get into politics?", he replied, "in the business meeting of the Baprist church."

I suspect that people with authoritarian personalities and issues regarding control of others' behavior are drawn to fundamentalist churches and the Republican Party, what with the dogma, structure and rigid rules for behavior of those organizations. Or perhaps being among fundamentalists, especially at one's formative stages, breeds authoritarianism.

I think you're describing an effect rather than a cause. Dig a little deeper and you have to ask, why do they despise Democrats.

Psychoanalyzing religious groups is dangerous territory, but I would offer a more general answer: fear of gray. Popular religions, to varying degrees, tend to draw black and white lines. Good vs. evil and sacred vs. profane lead to us vs. them. And I think you'll find that us vs. them accounts for most of the tragic injustices that mankind has perpetrated on mankind since the beginning of time.

Most white evangelical protestants I know spend more time reading Paul (filtered through Luther or Calvin) than they do the gospels. To them Jesus is mostly theory and Paul is the actual application.

If memory serves me right, people like these also believe that religion is necessary to morality.


There's a lot of popular and scholarly energy that's always been behind the belief that pacifist interpretations of Jesus miss the point. He brought not peace, but a sword. I'd like to believe that Jesus was a hippie, but I now tend to believe he was an apocalyptic cult leader, with some good traits. Good (better?) people throughout history have taken the evident love for him that persists, and constructed a larger body of peaceful theology.

Of course it all depends on what the meaning of "is" is. It's not clear "he" even "was.". As a literary/political/spiritual construct, he "is" definitely a mirror.

And here we are. u

Evangelical is, primarily, a socio-political category, and not a theological stance. The modern-day evangelical is closer to the Anglo-Protestants who embraced US Empire and ethnic-genocide, and the advance on the west and colonialization, than the romantic civil-rights and liberal-Protestantism of John Dewey and Reinhold Niebuhr. The relationship with US Nationalism and old-fashion Anglo-Protestantism has not been broken, but has left its racist language and replaced it with “cultural values” rhetoric.

"people who spend the most time discussing a man who was essentially a hippie pacifist (I say that with love) are the most likely to support torture." -Hilzoy

It is my impression that the model for evangelicals' God is found in the Old Testament rather than the Gospels. They are not being inconsistent. It is a God of wrath not a God of Love. What Jesus taught is largely irrelevant- after all, he was a Jew not a Christian.

"a hippie pacifist"

An aside, but:

I don't think one could describe Jesus as a pacifist. Certainly, Jesus preached a message of love and did not advocate violence. But that's not the same thing as being a pacifist. Jesus did not, for example, reject the rules or teachings of the Old Testament and did not decry the abuses of the Roman state. Nor did he say that violence, even including crucifixion and torture, was categorically improper or wrong. Nor did Jesus preach against the various radicals in Palestine at that time, many of whom were perfectly willing to use violence to achieve violence. (Note that his harshest words are for the Pharisees, and those debates were religious and not over the Pharisees' civil authority.) Instead, there is a strong strain of deference to the civil authorities in Jesus's teachings (e.g., render unto Caesar).

*In a sense, calling Jesus a "hippie pacifist" assumes that the gnostics succeeded in the debate, when, if fact, they failed. But even that's not entirely true, in that the gnostic view was that Jesus (and us) should not care at all about this world -- i.e., be indifferent.

Eye for an Eye & anything goes.

There's a lot of popular and scholarly energy that's always been behind the belief that pacifist interpretations of Jesus miss the point. He brought not peace, but a sword. I'd like to believe that Jesus was a hippie, but I now tend to believe he was an apocalyptic cult leader, with some good traits. Good (better?) people throughout history have taken the evident love for him that persists, and constructed a larger body of peaceful theology.

While there are certainly some curious bits of behavior in the gospels, I wouldn't say that Matthew 10:34 is specifically anti-pacifist. By my reading, the sword is a metaphor for religious conflict, not an endorsement of violence.

"people who spend the most time discussing a man who was essentially a hippie pacifist (I say that with love) are the most likely to support torture." -Hilzoy

Actually, publius authored this post, but who's counting?

"to use violence to achieve violence"

Although the tautology is sound, I meant to write "to use violence to achieve their ends" in the above.

Where is that Holy Hand Grenade Of Antioch?

It is my impression that the model for evangelicals' God is found in the Old Testament rather than the Gospels. They are not being inconsistent. It is a God of wrath not a God of Love. What Jesus taught is largely irrelevant- after all, he was a Jew not a Christian.

There should be some award for including so many vaguely insulting errors in a single post, Johnny Canuck.

I agree with von, on May 01, 2009 at 12:11 PM.

This torture thing is not theological, but has more to do with race/ethnicity and nationalism. The ethno-religious nationalists of this nation resemble the ethno-religious nationalists in most nations, the tribe above all else.

I meant, agree with von's assessment of the canonical Jesus.

Just a minor aside, the Gnostics were not a specific theological view; they were all the rest of the Christian faiths that did not make into the cannon, so there are wildly divergent views of Jesus, even among the Gnostics. It just was not one tradition, but all the “losers” in the debate over what made it into orthodoxy.

There's also a strain of thought among many evangelicals that you aren't obliged to forgive someone without repentance on the other fellow's end. This has always struck me as a fairly hard-line stance and perhaps informs attitudes toward national defense and foreign policy. Or, maybe it's the other way around...

Good point regarding variety among Gnostic groups, Someotherdude.

Well, Christians were against Christ's Crucifixion torture at the time until they went to the business meeting where future endorsement strategies were discussed and the mugs, T-shirts, bumperstickers, and crucifixes were presented.

Then God franchised the entire enterprise.

I don't think it's stretching things too much to say that protestant evangelicalism is the preferred faith of those who also adhere to other simple-minded beliefs about the world, including that it's perfectly okay to torture dark-skinned Muslims, but not fine American soldiers.

I liked this Froomkin response to Krauthammer's wretchedness in the Post today (which I will not link to).

It seems to me that fundamentalists of all religions and creeds follow the same pattern. There is an imperative for black and white (or good and bad)answers to everything.

Part of their intolerance for ambiguity is assuaged by tribalism. If we all look and act alike, we are all good. Therefore anything or anyone different must be bad.

This need for conformity, which is required to support their duality world view, is enhanced by totalitarian, or at least autocratic political regimes. And this leads to the acceptance of whatever the Regime wants to do.

Any fundamentalist is about three steps away from a contradiction, no matter what the subject. The world simply will not fit into a duality model.

If this thinking is correct, the posting has nothing to do with Christ or Christianity, but with dualistic, tribal, authoritarianism. These types of people are drawn all out of proportion to church, fundamental church, tribal church, authoritarian church.

For them, the Bible is the authority, not Jesus. After all, what could be more black and white?

someotherdude: You're promoting a popular misconception about the Gnostics. They were not "the other Christians", but a religion independent from and predating Christianity.

Christian Gnostics, which appeared far later than Jewish and Gentile (Pauline) Christians, were trying to combine the traditional beliefs of Gnosticism with the sides of Christianity that appealed to them - they simply interpreted Christianity though their traditional world-view, just like Hindus do today, for instance.

Crucifixion is merely a type of prolonged stress position tactic which as John Yoo has informed us, is not torture.

I was under the impression that the term "Gnosticism" (as well as “Paganism,”) were created after the formation of the cannon and official Roman Church. Elaine Pagels, no friend of orthodoxy, whose work on the Gnostics is pretty solid, and Luke Timothy Johnson (a traditionalist, I think) both agree the term was a label the Church used (sarcastically) to describe the “losers.” This same thing happened with the term Pagan, a sarcastic word used to lump all non-Christian religions, during the era of the formation of the Roman Church.

A "pagus' is a village, so there was the added imputation of a fatal, rustic, un-hipness. Clearly 'paganus' < 'urbanus', regardless of theology.

I was actually about to make the same point about crucifixion that go cart made. Death occurs when you become so tired that you can no longer hold your body up at which time you cease to be able to breathe.

I do however want to note from our previous conversations that about 49% of Americans seem to believe that torture is sometimes justified and that this number has increased in recent times. Implications for the definition of "cruel and unusual punishment" based on changing moral consensus anyone?

I would argue that "Gnostics" didn't view themselves as "Gnostic" but had their own individual names and eventually fused/mixed with the various Christian sects, however the use of the term "Gnostic" as a blanket term comes with the creation of the Roman Church.

Yes, there were various religious traditions that eventually fuse with various Christian traditions, but none of them would have called themselves "Gnostic" that is a Church term the early Chruch fathers used. Pagan seems to have been created, in the same way.

How a term, which is created to describe whole groups of folks who had never used that term to describe themselves.

By the way, this is part of my argument on the creation of the term "evangelical" and who it gets used to describe, in the past, thinkers and groups who would have never identified themselves with that term.

I believe Harald K is correct with respect to Gnosticism. It wasn't the combination of all the "losing" early Christian sects, but a particular Christian sect, with roots that predate Christianity. In fact, some of Paul's epistles with the Gnostics as implicit targets of his diatribes.

Also, I know plenty of people who self-identify as "evangelical," so I can't imagine that someotherdude's objection there is a valid one, at least not with respect to today's evangelicals. I will concede, however, that it has come to mean something quite different than it did even 20 or 30 years ago, and that is something to be careful of.

"I do however want to note from our previous conversations that about 49% of Americans seem to believe that torture is sometimes justified and that this number has increased in recent times. Implications for the definition of 'cruel and unusual punishment' based on changing moral consensus anyone?"

I think one of the few things the Bush Admin did well was paint torture as good (us, of course) vs. evil ("them"), the continued pointing to the fact that we have not been attacked since 9-11.

I mean, it seems like a good portion of the public has bought into this. (Personally, I find Dick Cheney's incessant hard-selling of fear distasteful and desperate.)

For whatever reason, torture seems to be in a different category of what we generally regard as cruel and unusual punishment (although it clearly is).

Case in point: Support for the death penalty, not counting the province of Texas, is on the wane.

How does that square for the support of torture?

A little off to the side but interesting in regard to names and labels used for religious groups and beliefs:

When I was growing up Catholic in the 50's and 60's, no one called themselves or anyone else "Christian."

You were Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran, Greek Orthodox, etc. (unless you were Jewish, of course). Everyone knew that folks in all those Catholic and Protestant denominations were "Christian" in the sense that they all believed that Jesus was God etc. (Of course, that didn't prevent them each from thinking that all the others were both wrong and damned.)

I don't think the change from then to now, where many people call themselves "Christian" first and some denomination later if ever, is because it was taken more for granted in those days that *everyone* was Christian than it is now. I suspect the change had to do with politics and Roe v. Wade.

Decades ago, when I was in college, I took a psychology of religion class. In the course of getting lots of survey data on religion, we got some on the correlation between religious belief and attitudes toward race.

Now, obviously this particular survey correlation is tied to a time and place, and, given when I took the course and the fact that the survey data wasn't brand new even then, I'd say the time and place would be the US in the 1970s. Maybe even the US in the 1960s. It would be a time when open racism toward black people was a lot more acceptable than it is now. (I think, too, that it was probably a survey population that was heavily white.)

Anyway, the correlation, to my dismay, worked out to religious people being more racist than non-religious. I remember the professor talking about some different measure of religious belief, a sort of more internalized, questing measure, where that correlation didn't turn up. But for the regular measures like churchgoing and the like - the more religious you were, the more likely you were to be racist.

What I concluded on thinking it over was that perhaps there was some "us vs. them" dimension that both makes you want to tie yourself to whatever social group's available, and to disdain people not like your group, that makes prejudice against an outgroup fit in just fine with churchgoing and other external religiosity, however odd the combination may look if you think the religious should actually be trying to model themselves on Jesus.

Did anybody notice that the difference between evangelicals (6 out of 10) and non-religious people (4 out of 10) is not really very large in this survey? I'd be curious to know the sample size, and whether this divergence is statistically significant.

I do note that the Pew site acknowledges the following: "[The survey] did not include analysis of groups other than white evangelicals, white non-Hispanic Catholics, white mainline Protestants and the religiously unaffiliated, because the sample size was too small."

On the whole, then, this seems like a yawner. Most white evangelicals, who are mostly suburban republicans, take the conservative Republican line on torture. Is this surprising? Maybe the more interesting thing is that nearly half (46%) even of white evangelicals disagree.

The Book of Revelation is just full of Jesus torturing people, you know.

And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man.

And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.


Does Paul call them “Gnostic”? He may have been in a debate with certain religious sects/cults of the time, that are later labeled “Gnostic” by the new religious authority in Rome, but they themselves did not refer to themselves as “Gnostic.” I think he understood them as an aberrant form of the faith. If he does call them Gnostic, I stand corrected. And if they were NOT Christian (heretical or otherwise), then why not call them, or lump them with Pagans? The Roman Church was thorough about cleaning house, they obviously thought there was a categorical difference between the Gnostics (Heretical Christian) and Pagans (non-Christian):

In 1948, Neo-Evangelical and Evangelical were terms used by Fundamentalist’ who were looking to interact with US society in a different way. Prior to that, “evangelical” was not a religious identity,

In the 1930s “evangelicalism” was not a term much used in American religious life. The white Protestant world was still dominated by the mainline denominations, and these were divided by wars between “fundamentalists” and their sympathizers and “modernists” and their sympathizers. Both sides had claimed the appellation “evangelical,” so that it was no longer of much use to either (Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism by George Marsden, 1991; 66).

D.G. Hart (Conservative Calvinist) and Martin Marty (Liberal Lutheran) both go further and claim that it was in use as a specific type of theological understanding, but not an identity. Think the term Holiness, it is used by ALL Christians, however there is a religious identity that was created much recently called the “Holiness’” tradition. They both argue that the term “evangelical” prior to Billy Graham and his Neo-Evangelical was not an identity. It gets used as a religious identity in a big way, during the 1970s and the rise of the religious right. It was a slick way to gather all the disparate Protestant denominations under one roof, and claim they are ALL part of the same “traditional” Protestant strain. The term “Evangelical”

[D]issolved older Protestant categories while also showing the infiltration of neo-evangelical self-understandings into mainstream academy. [These books] united diverse Protestant groups that in the day-in day-out duties of denominational life never cross paths. [They placed] the hard-core Calvinist in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, who believe speaking in tongues ended when the last apostle of Christ died, and members of the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination that makes Spirit-filled language a sign of genuine Christianity, are evangelicals. Never mind that each denomination has no formal link, other than an affirmation of the church universal. Nor does it seem to matter that as Calvinistic and Wesleyan denominations, these groups occupy fairly distinct positions on the Protestant spectrum. By waving the wand of conversion and Christian essentials, these Calvinists and Pentecostals became evangelicals (Deconstructing Evangelicalism: Conservative Protestantism in the Age of Billy Graham, 2004, 54).

I yield to others on the question of the origins of the gnostic sects: I always understood the term as a grouping of a variety of sects and groups that had some commonalities (some of which may predate Christianity), but I'm nowhere close to an expert on the matter.

A couple of things:

It's interesting that mainline protestants have a high rate of saying that torture is never acceptable. I was disappointed that only 20% of non-Hispanic white Catholics said torture is never acceptable. I'm particularly disappointed because the Catholic Church lists a few sins which are never morally acceptably under any circumstances - torture is one of the few things on that list.

On the question of whether or not Jesus was a peace-loving hippie: I think that this depends on what you mean by 'peace-loving hippie'. In the very early Christian community, his disciples supposedly organized themselves into communes where all property was held in common and was used for the betterment of the least fortunate among them. In addition, many of the teachings of the apostles are focused around love being the organizational principle of their theology.

The Jesus presented in the Gospels is less consistent, but it is clear that he preached a revolutionary message against the accepted social order. He constantly preached against the accumulation of wealth, he promoted social justice, and he affirmed the inherent worth of the outcasts of society.

As far as gnostic Christians go: Gnosticism is not an undefined label. It doesn't merely label the theological 'losers' of Christianity - there were many theological conflicts, and they all have different names. In addition, Gnosticism is not limited to Christianity; many religions have a variant of it.

Gnosticism is predicated on the belief that knowledge is the highest good and that the material world is inherently bad. Further, secret knowledge, inaccessible via any earthly means is necessary to be freed of our material bonds. Within the Jewish and Christian contexts, there are alternate versions of the garden of Eden story where the God who instructed Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of knowledge was evil (known as the demiurge) and that the snake was good (since knowledge is always a good thing). The specific conflict that mainline Christians and Gnostics has was that Gnostics asserted that Jesus was fully divine and not human. Since material things are inherently evil, Jesus could not have a body; therefore, the crucifixion did not kill Jesus - it was only an illusion.

Sorry for the long post.

If you're such a fucking tribalist that you support torture because "opposing torture" is what "Democrats do" then I have no patience for you.

Adam A,

Do you think you might be confusing "mysticism" with "gnosticism"?

dopderbeck says "Did anybody notice that the difference between evangelicals (6 out of 10) and non-religious people (4 out of 10) is not really very large in this survey? I'd be curious to know the sample size, and whether this divergence is statistically significant."

Statistically speaking, that's a very significant difference. It may be "only" an additional 2 out of 10, but it's 200 out of 1000 or 200,000 out of a million. You would have to check the confidence level of the survey, which I did not do.

As for the overall question, I am sometimes astounded by the scorn heaped on "the others" by certain Christians in their online comments, whether "the others" are Muslims or poor people in this country or people who can't pay their mortgages. The assumption is that those other people are not as virtuous as the commenter.

It brings to mind the superior mindset of the Pharisees (I thank God that I am not like other men), and also the saying of Jesus that inasmuch as you did it to the least of these (prisoners, the sick, the hungry), you did it to Jesus. In my opinion, that would apply to torture as well.

Mark Kleiman on statistical validity of this:

Would it be intolerably rude of me to point out that this is entirely based on bad statistical analysis? First off, the reported differences are pretty small: torture is believed to be never acceptable by 26% of those who don't attend church at all and by 23% of those who attend weekly or more. On a sample size of 730, that's well within the margin of sampling error.

But even if a larger sample showed the effects to be statistically significant, that wouldn't tell you much about the causal relationships. Attitudes toward torture and other political questions might be correlated with religiosity as measured by frequency of church attendance, with religious denomination, with ethnicity, with sex, with education, with social class, and with age. And any of those other variables might be correlated with religiosity.


No. Gnosticism and mysticism are separate but related things. Mysticism is a very broad category that exists across all religions. The gnostics assert that they attain their secret knowledge through mystical means.

Would it be intolerably rude of me to point out that this is entirely based on bad statistical analysis?

Yes, it would, because you are completely and utterly incorrect. The data from the Pew study indicates that 108 of 174 white evangelical protestants said torture is at least somewhat justified. In comparison 38 of 94 religiously-unaffiliated respondents said the same thing.

To test whether this difference is large enough to be worth caring about, I ran a standard Bayesian analysis using beta-binomial models, comparing a "no difference" model to a "different rates" model, using uniform priors on the rates and models (other choices are possible, but this one has analytic closed form so it only took me 5 minutes to code). The results: the Bayes factor (which is basically an odds ratio like at the horse races), is 49:1 in favour of the "different rates" model.

Using the generally-accepted scale for interpretation of Bayes factors introduced by Jeffreys in the 1960s, this is "strong evidence" that the groups differ. Even if we assume larger inhomogeneities within-group, it seems ludicrously implausible to believe the effect will vanish.

People who don't know anything about statistics shouldn't comment on the topic. Especially on the internets.

Sigh. I always forget that italics don't work the way I think they do. Also, I should say that I didn't analyse the case that Mark Kleiman chose (the "never justified" rates), because he seems to have focused specifically on a slice through the data that doesn't show group differences. But the tone of his piece is suggesting that there are *no* effects in the data at all, and hence we should disregard the whole thing. That's completely untrue, and anyone with basic stats training should be able to demonstrate this in 10mins flat.

Um, imnotgivingmynametoamachine, your analysis does not seem to address the question of whether religious beliefs cause the people to adopt positions on the legitimacy of torture of whether they merely correlate with other factors. This poll simply ignores the issue which makes it useless. Lots of things correlate with religious belief after all.

No it doesn't, but that's not what was being claimed. It is perfectly valid to argue that the observed group differences are caused by something besides the religious affiliation (for instance, publius' explanation would be one example, as would be an explanation based on non-random sampling, or something based on other covariates). However, that's *not* what Mark Kleiman is claiming -- he's saying that there's nothing in the data that even requires an explanation. That what it means to imply that the results aren't "statistically significant". And on that question he is dead wrong. The *data* show clear statistical effects. Debating the origins of the effect is one thing (that's what most people on this thread are doing, and it's totally legit); claiming that the statistical analysis of the data is incorrect is quite another (that's what the "not a big effect"/"not statistically significant" people are saying, and it's absolute rubbish). Don't confuse the two.

Sorry, let me rephrase slightly: "that's not *only* what he's saying". The second part of Kleiman's argument does talk about non-religious explanations, which I'm not addressing at all, because I think it totally fair to make those sorts of arguments. It's the statistical bit I'm bitching about. It's very common for people to yell "bad stats" when they see data they don't like, and very rare for people to actually analyse the data themselves to find out if the stats are good or bad. In this case, the stats look good to me. But if someone else wants to analyse the data, go right ahead.


One of my favorite quips is a recent comment on Krugman's blog: "correlation may not imply causation, but they often occur together":)


Whenever I see the "Jesus was a Jew" comment, I immediately think of Archie Bunker's rejoinder--"only on his mother's side".

Adam A.,

Got it, thanks.

Hm. Not to belabour the point, but on careful inspection I think that my problem might just be that passage quoted by Sebastian is slightly out-of-context. After looking over the original post more closely, I think that Kleiman might have intended to say that the attribution of *causality* to religion would be bad stats (and it is). However, the first part of the passage above seems to imply that it would be wrong to believe that religious and non-religious differ in their views (by using selective reporting of the data to imply that there aren't any significant effects). I still think that Kleiman shouldn't have written the sentence starting "first off, the reported differences are pretty small" (some of them are very large and easily statistically significant), but the rest of his original post seems pretty reasonable. Oh well. Sorry for the 5-post ramble... I just get annoyed when people say "the sample size is too small!" in cases when it clearly isn't.

Faith (at least the intense, unquestioning, American uber-evangelical kind) and blind loyalty (in this case to the previous administration) are likely to be correlated, no?

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