Friday, May 1, 2009

The Problem With Morality From Above

torture, waterboarding, hitchens, christophers, christian, protestant, evangelical, religion, morality, morals

A new CNN survey proves exactly the atheist concern with morality from above.

Morality from above is the religious view of morality: if god says it's okay, no matter how horrible it is, I'm okay with it. God says that oppressing homosexuals is good, then that's what I'll do.

The atheist perspective on morality is a little different. We have nowhere to go for our morals other than ourselves, so we naturally go to golden rule morality: would I want this done to me? Should I oppress gays? Hmmm . . . would I want to be oppressed? No. Then I shouldn't do it to other people.

The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey.

More than half of people who attend services at least once a week -- 54 percent -- said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified. Only 42 percent of people who "seldom or never" go to services agreed, according to the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified -- more than six in 10 supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were least likely to back it. Only four in 10 of them did.

Christopher Hitchens actually had himself waterboarded to determine if that qualified as torture or not. (Note: that video is disturbing.) I think that anyone who isn't sure if waterboarding is torture or not, should do what Hitchens did. I've already drowned once, so I know the answer. It is.

If you think torturing people (and yes, terrorists are indeed people, bad people, but people) is okay, you might want to consider two things: it's very hard to take the position that captured USians should not be tortured when we run around torturing people, and torture produces unreliable information. People being tortured will say anything to make it stop. Anything at all.

It may be a means of extracting information, but it is also a means of extracting junk information. (Mr. Nance told me that he had heard of someone’s being compelled to confess that he was a hermaphrodite. I later had an awful twinge while wondering if I myself could have been “dunked” this far.) To put it briefly, even the C.I.A. sources for the Washington Post story on waterboarding conceded that the information they got out of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was “not all of it reliable.” Just put a pencil line under that last phrase, or commit it to memory.

Think about that for a moment. We (and we all must take responsibility for the actions of our government) tortured a human being in order to obtain unreliable information. I'm pretty sure just asking would have produced that result. At least then we could have maintained the moral high ground. Now, here we are, down in the muck, and 60% of white evangelical protestants think that's a fabulous place to be.


  1. I got this at my blog too. Anyone know what makes the 40% of non-evangelicals support torture?

    Also, I don't know how many of those evangelicals are fundamentalists, but I am not surprised by this tidbit of information (p115, italics in original):

    "...David Winter at the University of Michigan recently found that fundamentalist students, when evaluating thhe war in Iraq, rejected a series if statements that were based on the Sermon on the Mount--which is arguably the core of Jesus' teachings. Fundamentalists may believe they follow Jesus more than anyone else does, but it turns out to depend a lot on where Jesus said we should go...."

  2. I think the link to the document I was referring to might not have worked; if that is so, it is located here.

  3. How can people look at a study like that and say that Evangelical Protestant churches don't foster an "us vs. them" mentality? They are certainly not fostering a "everyone is equal" mentality.

  4. go over to conservapedia and check out the page on the Sermon on the Mount. That was the most important of Jesus' speeches, and the core of his ministry- yet it is exactly one paragraph long.

    The Sermon on the Mount is a set of statements by Jesus of Nazareth that fully clarify his most significant moral statements and duties anywhere in the bible. The Sermon is foun in Matthew 5. Perhaps the most people quoted part of the Sermon on the Mount are the Beatitudes which list those who are blessed, including the poor, the meek, and the children. The Sermon on the Mount, according to Matthew, then goes on to introduce the Lord's Prayer, the request to "turn the other cheek", and the "do unto others as you would have them do unto you".

    Luke has an abbrievated version of the Sermon on the Mount, including a shorter version of the Beatitudes.
    that's it. they may follow christ, but they don't give a fuck what he had to say.

  5. PF, compare that to the Atheist Community of Austin's Iron Chariot wiki page on the sermon on the mount.

    They actually go over the sermon and explain why it is a bad sermon.

  6. That video *was* disturbing but I'm glad I watched it. He didn't last 15 seconds! Imagine that this goes on for minutes or more!

    I think the people who support torture are hypocrites because I have a *very* hard time believing that they'd support torture if it was used on one of our citizens accused of a crime in another country. To me it reeks of, "It's ok when we do it because we're right and have the truth. It's not ok when others do it because they're living a lie."

  7. An objection I have to torture, that I rarely see mentioned, is what it does to the perpetrator. In the state where I live, torture was accepted and practiced routinely until the Civil War ended it. Now, over a century and a half later, the descendants of those torturers are the most backwards, least progressive people in the nation, and the states where they live are an anchor dragging against progress on any human rights you care to name.

    My experience is, growing up surrounded by images of bloody, dying torture victims, which are always referred to in accepting or even admiring tones, one no more questions it than they question breathing. My Asian, Buddhist, guests are often horrified when they're first exposed to the centerpiece of a Christstain chapel, and it was their reactions that made me notice it.

  8. what you describe, the whole "would i be ok if it was *me*"?


    apparently, God and Jesus are not empathic. a half-alien on TV is more powerful, or at least more human than the Christian Deity.

  9. uzza has a good point that rarely gets mentioned. there was an article about the a gitmo torturer and how much what he did hurt him. he thought he would be okay breaking others, he ended up breaking himself.

  10. PF,

    Did you see the SMRT debate we had (and are still having) on torture? I find it interesting that one of the arguments opponents of torture most frequently rely on is that it doesn't work. The moral argument is rarely, if at all, spelled out. Honestly, I'm torn. I'm skeptical of arguments on both sides because it's a hugely emotive topic and confirmation bias reigns supreme. I do however agree with you that the evangelical Protestant position is a hypocritical one.


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