A recent PEW Poll carried out the USA revealed that most people in the USA approved of torture. The USA is a modern, technologically advanced country, but this poll revealed the shocking news that a very large proportion of the inhabitants of this approved of something as regressive and primitive as torture! Moreover, this poll also revealed a striking relation between religion and torture - religious people are more likely to approve of torture! Indeed, those approving of torture are generally practising Christians and those with right-wing political leanings (PEW Poll - religion, politics & torture). Results such as these are disturbing - appalling even.
The acceptance of torture by practising Christians may seen paradoxical. After all, Jesus supposedly preached a religion of tolerance, even saying at one time:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Bible, Matthew 25:31-45)
This passage makes it sound like Jesus was a very kind, and almost supernaturally forgiving person. As the title of a Kinky Friedman song - They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore - implies, most people are certainly nowhere near as forgiving as this. Actually, Jesus was very unforgiving. He preached acceptance of degradation, suffering, and torment on this world, promising his followers that the souls of their oppressors would be tortured in a gratifyingly ghastly manner for eternity in the fires of hell!
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Bible, Matthew 25:31-46)
Many other passages in the New Testament of the Christian Bible repeat this promise of eternal, horrid torment of the souls of sinners and unbelievers. Saint Paul, the founder of the Christianity as we know it today, also confirmed that those who did not follow the teachings of Jesus would certainly suffer everlasting torment in hell.
Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; (KJV Bible, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)
What a wonderfully comforting concept - divine vengeance upon your unbelieving enemies whom you are too weak to revenge yourself upon! So for the last 2000 years, those following the preaching of Jesus, the founder of Christianity, have actually accepted the principle of everlasting torment of their enemies. Indeed, I am sure a gloating belief that their oppressors would undergo eternal horrific torments in an afterlife, was one of the factors contributing to the success of Christianity among the first enslaved, weak, or oppressed initial followers of this religion. In other words, Christians approve of, or at least accept torture! This explains why the idea of torture finds acceptance among religious people in the USA. But what about the followers of Islam?
Mohammed, the prophet of Islam, lived from 570 to 632 CE. He revealed that Christian ideas of eternal torment in a life after death were incorrect in many details. The torments of the souls of unbelievers, criminals, and sinners in an Islamic life after death were even more ghastly than described by Jesus, or written in the Christian Bible. For example, revelations of God to Mohammed described that sinners' skins consumed by fire would be miraculously regenerated, enabling these repellent creatures to suffer the torment of fire afresh with new skins full of wonderfully sensitive new nerves.
Lo! Those who disbelieve Our revelations, We shall expose them to the Fire. As often as their skins are consumed We shall exchange them for fresh skins that they may taste the torment. Lo! Allah is ever Mighty, Wise. (Quran 4:56)
As if this were not gratifying enough, the Islamic afterlife provides other improved forms of suitably horrific heavenly chastisement. We know this because the Quran reveals that God, and the denizens of hell, provide torments for sinners, such as: dragging the souls of the damned into hell with manacles and chains (Quran 40:71-72, Quran 73:12, Quran 76:4), beating them with hooked rods of iron (Quran 22:21), showering them with scalding water as hot as molten lead (Quran 18:29, Quran 55:44), giving them festering water to drink (Quran 14:16), or forcing them to drink boiling water while cramming their stomachs with the evil fruits of the Zaqqum tree, the horrid tree of hell (Quran 37:62-68)!
In other words, the followers of Islam are the same as the followers of Christianity! For 1400 years the followers of Islam they have been exposed to, and accept the concept of eternal torment of criminals, sinners, and unbelievers in a life after death. So it is not at all surprising that followers of these religions accept the idea of torment of fellow humans.
However, many followers of all manner of religions, as well as non-religious people, consider torture unjustifiable under all circumstances. They loudly claim they would never participate in torturing their fellow humans. This is nonsense. Several studies and recent events reveal that given the right setting, many people are quite prepared to torture their fellow humans.
Even so, as if religion, experiment, and history are not enough proof, many people still loudly claim they would never under any circumstances torture their fellows. A very noble ideal, but it is very doubtful whether anyone, given the right circumstances, can resist the urge to torture their fellow humans. Just examine this thought experiment.
Imagine a large passenger airplane filled with hundreds of passengers travelling over the Atlantic Ocean on a direct route between Miami in the USA and London in England. It is now flying at a normal cruising altitude, and the cabin pressure is set at the normal pressure of 5000 feet altitude. Three hours after take-off, the crew receive a massage informing them that one of the passengers is carrying a bomb in his hand luggage, and that the bomb will most likely explode in one hour. The crew also learn the name of the passenger. They seize the passenger and his bomb. The bomb is a very sophisticated explosive device built into a computer. The bomb-carrier, a fanatical terrorist, tells them gleefully that the bomb is set to explode in one hour.
Some of the less restrained crewmembers punch and kick the man, who then tells them the bomb that he activated shortly after take-off, can only be defused by typing the correct code on the computer keyboard. Removing the bomb more than 15 meters from a computer chip he swallowed shortly before entering the airplane will trigger the bomb, as will tampering with the bomb. Landing the aircraft will also trigger a barometric detonator. The only way to defuse the bomb is by typing a correct code in the computer.
Who would be able to resist the urge to torture this man to extract the correct code? Who would be able to resist hurling him out of the airplane together with the bomb wrapped inside an airtight low-pressure container? I cannot believe that anyone would consider torture and killing in this situation to be unjustified. It is even very likely that all passengers and crew would willingly participate...
This thought experiment demonstrates that all people would participate and approve of torture and killing under certain circumstances. Given the right situation, no-one is immune. All we can say is that religious and fascist types have a lower threshold for approval of torture than others.
This page last modified 13 May 2009