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This Week in God, 12.20.14

Who's more likely to support a policy of U.S. torture of detainees, religious Americans or non-religious Americans?
Back in May 2009, the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life conducted surveys and found that the more religious an American is, the more likely he or she is to support torture. More than five years later, not much has changed. Sarah Posner reported this week:

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that Americans, by a 59-31% margin, believe that CIA "treatment of suspected terrorists" in detention was justified. A plurality deemed that "treatment" to be "torture," by a 49-38% margin. Remarkably, the gap between torture supporters and opponents widens between voters who are Christian and those who are not religious.

Right. While many might assume that the faithful would be morally repulsed by torture, the reality is the opposite. When poll respondents were asked, "Do you personally think the CIA treatment of suspected terrorists amounted to torture, or not?" most Americans said the abuses did not constitute torture. But it was non-religious Americans who were easily the most convinced that the "enhanced interrogation techniques" were, in fact, torture.
The results in response to this question were even more striking: "All in all, do you think the CIA treatment of suspected terrorists was justified or unjustified?" For most Americans, the answer, even after recent revelations, was yes. For most Christians, it's also yes. But for the non-religious, as the above chart makes clear, the torture was not justified.
In fact, looking through the poll's crosstabs, non-religious Americans were one of the few subsets that opposed the torture techniques -- and that includes breakdowns across racial, gender, age, economic, educational, and regional lines. The non-religious are effectively **alone in their opposition to torture.
This is, as Posner noted, only one poll, and we'd need more data before drawing sweeping conclusions, but the Post/ABC results are generally consistent with the Pew Research Center data from 2009.
And they serve as a pretty interesting starting point for a discussion about faith, morality, the law, and the limits of human decency.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* This story out of Ohio sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen: "Gov. John Kasich's $10 million plan to bring mentors into Ohio's schools for students now has a surprise religious requirement – one that goes beyond what is spelled out in the legislation authorizing it. Any school district that wants a piece of that state money must partner with both a church and a business -- or a faith-based organization and a non-profit set up by a business to do community service."
* Don't mess with nuns: "The Vatican is making nice with American nuns. A report stemming from a three-year probe is full of praise while acknowledging the modern challenges the sisterhood faces. The tone reflects the gentler approach of Pope Francis and stands in stark contrast to a crackdown on nuns ordered under former Pope Benedict XVI, after an earlier investigation claimed U.S. religious women were promoting 'radical feminist themes.'"
* Speaking of the Vatican, did Pope Francis really say dogs go to heaven after they die? No, apparently this was all a big misunderstanding.
* Oh my: "Bud Williams, city councilor in Springfield, Mass., stood in the court square earlier this week and participated in a holiday tradition. 'Jesus is the reason for the season,' Williams said at a Tuesday ceremony, according to His remarks wouldn't really be notable, except that Williams was speaking at a menorah lighting ceremony, to mark the beginning of Hanukkah."
* In Michigan: "Some powerful voices are aligned on both sides of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but it appears the bill that provides protections for 'sincerely held religious beliefs' will die for the year."
* And on Fox News this week, Bill O'Reilly congratulated himself for "single-handedly" saving Christmas. Just in the nick of time, too.