Do unto others: What would Jesus say about torturing captives?

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Contrary to what some Christians believe, Jesus did not say "Blessed are the torturers."

He did not lay out conditions for the proper use of sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation or the waterboarding of one's adversaries. His attitude toward people who were trying to kill him was maddeningly unambiguous: "Love your enemies."

Fast forward 2,000 years. Jesus' words aren't any easier to follow, but the thrust of his admonition to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" appears to have gotten lost in translation, even for people who claim to be his most ardent followers.

A recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that 62 percent of white evangelical Protestants believe that torturing suspected terrorists could be often or sometimes justified to get critical information. Fifty-one percent of white, non-Hispanic Catholics and 46 percent of white mainline Protestants agreed.

Ironically, the respondents with no religious ties were the least supportive -- 40 percent -- of the use of torture.

The specific question put to the 742 adults polled last month was: "Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?"

The questionnaire didn't define torture and Pew representatives said afterwards that religion is one of many factors, including political ideology and party identification, that can affect one's opinion on this subject. Yet the poll results were surprising since those who claim a strong connection to Jesus seem to part company with his "turn the other cheek" philosophy, at least when it comes to torture.

While the religious right likes to claim that too many people of faith have been marginalized by the nation's growing secularism, the poll numbers suggest that some Christians, instead, may have allowed themselves to be seduced by political appeals, perhaps from Republican leaders, to enlist support for using harsh treatment against America's enemies.

How a spiritual person rectifies his religious beliefs with his political views can be a fascinating balancing act. But it would be hard for anyone to argue that atheists and agnostics fail to see the moral dimensions of the torture debate. Fifty-five percent of those with no religious affiliation told Pew that torture can rarely or never be justified against suspected terrorists.

Next month, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture will organize what it calls a "public witness" at the White House. Religious leaders from various faiths opposed to torture will speak against it on June 11, as part of Torture Awareness Month.

You don't have to be a biblical scholar to know that these folks are the blessed peacemakers Jesus was talking about.


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