Is Torture Okay? Depends on Your Religion

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What's your view? Vote below.

A recent Pew Research Center survey asked 742 U.S. adults whether the use of torture against suspected terrorists can be justified.

The overall results (leaving out the popular rarely justified category to keep this simple. Full results here.):

  • Can often be justified: 15%
  • Can sometimes be justified: 34%
  • Can never be justified: 25%

The figure changes a bit among white evangelical Protestants (although there were only 174 of them in the survey):

  • Can often be justified: 18%
  • Can sometimes be justified: 44%
  • Can never be justified: 16%

It's also different for those who seldom or never attend religious services (sample size: 168 people):

  • Can often be justified: 12%
  • Can sometimes be justified: 30%
  • Can never be justified: 26%

Polls can be flawed, and while Pew is a solid organization doing scientific polling (unlike the one you can take below, which is not scientific because it has no controls on who can participate), this survey (the Pew one) could benefit from a larger sample size. Another caveat:

"Party and ideology are much better predictors of views on torture than are religion and most other demographic factors," according to Pew analysts. Then again, they point out, "religion itself is known to be a strong factor shaping individuals' partisanship and political ideology."

Torture, for the record, has a long history of not working. In fact, even relatively mild tactics like sleep deprivation can cause innocent suspects to confess under pressure.

Today, AP reports on the Pew survey, and states that after the Obama administration's release of Bush administration memos on "harsh interrogation," as AP puts it, some rethinking among evangelical leaders — perhaps hewing toward those evangelicals who staunchly oppose torture, might be going on.

"There is a version of Christianity in America that I think is not adequately committed to the Bible's teachings about the sacredness of every human life, including the lives of our enemies," David Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University in Atlanta and president of Evangelicals for Human Rights, tells AP.

<script type="text/javascript" language="javascript" charset="utf-8" src=""></script><noscript> <a href="">Is torture of suspected terrorists justified?</a><span style="font-size:9px;">(<a href="">myspace polls</a>)</span> </noscript>

Robert Roy Britt is the Editorial Director of Imaginova. In this column, The Water Cooler, he looks at what people are talking about in the world of science and beyond.

Robert Roy Britt

Robert is an independent health and science journalist and writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a former editor-in-chief of Live Science with over 20 years of experience as a reporter and editor. He has worked on websites such as and Tom's Guide, and is a contributor on Medium, covering how we age and how to optimize the mind and body through time. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.