The reason I am not Christian is because of Christians.
I came across that quote years ago, attributed to Gandhi. I can’t demonstrate that Gandhi actually said it, because I don’t know the original source. But the attribution makes sense: Gandhi was profoundly influenced by Christ’s example of non-violent resistance, yet he never converted to Christianity.
I’m thinking about that quote this week because I am so deeply discouraged by my fellow Christians. I’ve also been thinking of Bruce Cockburn, who once professed at a concert:
I’m a Christian, but I’m not one of those Christians.
Cockburn made that statement during the Reagan/Bush 41 era. Presumably he’s still making the same apology; neo-conservative Christians haven’t improved any in the past 16 years.
Why am I about ready to disown my Christian brothers and sisters? Because white evangelicals are the most pro-torture of any demographic group in the USA.
That’s the conclusion I draw, based on a new survey carried out by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. According to white evangelical Protestants, the use of torture against suspected terrorists is often (18%) or sometimes (44%) justified. That’s a combined 62% who support torture.
Note the following three points about the survey:
- It referred explicitly to “torture” (not something mealy-mouthed like “enhanced interrogation techniques” ).
- It asked about the torture of “suspected terrorists”, not “terrorists” — there’s a big difference.
- In this survey, “sometimes justified” is a clear expression of support for torture. It’s the middle option between “often justified” and “rarely justified”.
By way of contrast, consider people who attend religious services seldom or never. Respondents in that category indicated that the use of torture is rarely (27%) or never (26%) justified.
It makes me sick that 62% of white evangelical Protestants support torture, compared to only 42% of non church-goers. (5% answered “Don’t know”, or declined to answer the question.)
Last March, I asked the question, “Whose side of the torture issue is Jesus on?” I posted three artists’ interpretation of the crucifixion —
— and then I answered the question: “He’s on the side of the tortured.”
The argument is incontrovertible. I have no patience for Christians who rationalize torture: they are siding with the Pharisees and the Romans.
They are siding against Jesus. After all, Jesus was a suspected insurrectionist.
Around the time of that post, I was engaged in a fierce debate with several Christian scholars. I use the term advisedly: they were highly educated pastors and professors; some of them had published weighty theology books.
And yet they defended the U.S. government’s practice of torturing suspected terrorists. I was so demoralized by my interaction with them that I abandoned my theology blog.
I understand that Christ isn’t responsible for everything that’s done in his name. But we’ve been using that excuse for decades, for everything from the Inquisition and the Crusades to priests who sexually abuse boys. If I was willing to do so, I could just add torture to that list.
In the same way, a lot of conservatives are now saying that George W. Bush wasn’t actually a conservative. (Not because of Bush’s record on torture, which conservatives continue to defend, but because of Bush’s fiscal profligacy.) By distinguishing between Bush and conservatism, conservatives can reject the former and continue to embrace the latter.
There’s a problem with that rationale, as Josh Marshall points out:
Political philosophies aren’t based in pundits or really good books. They’re a matter of political movements — parties, records in office, political institutions, all of which exist in the fallen world of constrained options.
In other words, conservatives can’t construct a castle in the air and label it “conservatism”. Well — they can, but they shouldn’t expect anyone to find it persuasive. The model is constructed in an imaginary world where politicians aren’t constrained by hard choices between this and that mutually exclusive option.
Conservatism is what conservatism does, in the real world. Likewise, at some point we have to conclude that Christianity is what Christianity does.
I know that Christians do a lot of good in the world. I’m inclined to blame the worst sins on Church leaders, rather than layfolk. But it’s yer ordinary white evangelical layfolk who expressed support for the torture of suspected terrorists.
I’m reluctant to be associated with believers like those. Thus I find my thoughts turning to that Cockburn quote: “I’m a Christian, but I’m not one of those Christians.”
That’s how I feel on a good day. On a bad day, I think Gandhi made the right decision.