Christians More Supportive of Torture than Non-Religious Americans

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. Just 39% of white evangelicals believe the CIA’s treatment of detainees amounted to torture, with 53% of white non-evangelical Protestants and 45% of white Catholics agreeing with that statement. Among the non-religious, though, 72% said the treatment amounted to torture. (The poll did not break down non-Christian religions in the results.)

Sixty nine percent of white evangelicals believe the CIA treatment was justified, compared to just 20% who said it was not. (Those numbers, incidentally, roughly mirror the breakdown of Republican versus Democratic voters among white evangelicals.) A full three-quarters (75%) of white non-evangelical Protestants outnumber the 22% of their brethren in saying CIA treatment was justified. White Catholics believe the treatment was justified by a 66-23% margin.

But a majority of non-religious adults, 53%, believe the CIA actions were not justified, with 41% of the non-religious saying the treatment was justified.

These results are rather astonishing, aren’t they? (The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, for example, would suggest that religious people mostly oppose torture. UPDATE: The National Council of Churches tweets: “Wrong,@sarahposner, @NRCATtweets is fully aware that religious ppl are more likely to support #torture, and laments.“) Or are they not? Perhaps the respondents were not leaning on scripture, but rather what they deemed to be national security or life and death considerations. (Majorities in all three of these Christian groups believed the torture “produced important information that could not have been obtained any other way,” even though the Senate report debunked that claim.)

I’d like to see more polling on this, but still, it’s a striking look at the way religion (or lack thereof) informs people’s views on legal and moral questions.