NRT enthuses over a survey that confirms his view of religion.
This is scary: according to a poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, the more often you go to church, the more likely you are to support torture. Conversely, those who seldom or never attend religious services, and those who classify themselves as “unaffiliated” … are least likely to support torture. So much for the old claim that morality cannot exist without religion – instead, it seems the opposite is the case, and that religious fanaticism undermines morality.
Well, not necessarily.
First, I/S conveniently misses out the actual survey topic: the use of torture against suspected terrorists. This is not about forcing the local vicar to talk, it’s talking about hardened, ideological terrorist who are highly likely to have knowledge of future plots, knowledge that in the hands of law enforcement will almost certainly save lives. So it’s not quite as cut and dried a moral issue as all that.
In fact, this survey may simply show people’s opinions on what a suspected terrorist is. The left (who generally don’t go to church) spend much of their time emphasizing those caught by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the right, those hardened thugs who have spent years planning mass murder.
Second, what is torture? The big problem is the vast gulf between what people mean. The Bush administration put some considerable effort into desigingin limits to their interrogation techniques to ensure they stopped just short of it, but Democrats have gone balistic on those guidelines. So what was meant here?
But to the data.
What immediately struck me was that there was no “always” or “frequently” category. No one is supporting the regular and routine toture of supected terrorists.
So the worst is “Often”. That term is vague, and once again, depends on your worldview of what a “suspected terrorist” is.
My second observation that “sometimes” and “rarely” aren’t that clear either. Both really mean the same thing – that person thinks torture can be justified in some circumstances, but not in most cases.
Now, if your definition of torture is sleep deprivation and some tummy slapping, this is common sense. If it’s an hour of electric shocks, no one would tick either of these two boxes.
The only category that really means anything certain (outside the all-consuming uncertainty of the definition of torture), is the “Never” category. Now, my statistics are a bit rusty, but I’m picking that the margin of error for a survey in the USA (pop. approx. 304M) with a sample of 750 people is a heck of a lot more than the 1% difference shown here.
Not exactly strong grounds to decry that “religious fanaticism undermines morality”. (But again, is taking tea and cake with the vicar every week really religious fanaticism?)
Interestingly, one thing that does jump out is the 3% difference in “Don’t know/Refused” between those who regularly and never attend services. This suggests that religious people have spent more time thinking about their moral position and/or are more prepared to give it. Which doesn’t surprise me at all.
But even there, it may simply have been that the non-religious were less keen to answer a vauge survey.
In fact, the more I think about this survey, the more I think it shows nothing at all.