Belief Beat

This month’s Public Religion Research Institute/Religion News Service poll asked how Americans  feel about Osama bin Laden’s death, whether the Golden Rule applies to terrorists, and other questions that probe the grey area between Christian belief and behavior.

No surprise (unless, like “God Is Not One” author Stephen Prothero says in my story, you thought it would be higher): two-thirds of us think bin Laden will spend eternity in hell.

Other findings include:

  • A slim majority (52 percent) of Americans say the U.S. should follow the Golden Rule and not use any methods on our enemies that we would not want used on our own soldiers. Support for the Golden Rule principle was strongest among minority Christians, Catholics and religiously unaffiliated Americans (above 50 percent), but less so among evangelicals (47 percent) and mainline Protestants (42 percent).
  • Religiously unaffiliated Americans (57 percent) are significantly more likely than Christians to say torture can never be justified. Catholics, at 53 percent, are the Christian group most likely to say torture can never be justified.
  • Majorities of white evangelicals (54 percent) and minority Christians (51 percent) believe God had a hand in locating bin Laden, compared to only a third percent of white mainline Protestants and 42 percent of Catholics.
  • A majority of Americans (62 percent) agree that it’s wrong to celebrate the death of another human being “no matter how bad that person was,” including 67 percent of white evangelicals, 64 percent of minority Christians, 62 percent of Catholics and 55 percent of white mainline Protestants.
  • Americans are divided over whether killing bin Laden will help or hurt America’s image in the world, with 52 percent believing it will help, 20 percent believing it will hurt, 13 percent believing it will be a combination of both, and the rest responding “neither” or “don’t know.” Most white mainline Protestants (60 percent), white evangelicals (53 percent), and Catholics (51 percent) think it will help, compared to just 46 percent of minority Christians.

CNN’s Belief Blog has also covered the poll results, with a bonus “My Take” from Prothero.

Two interesting points from Prothero that didn’t make it into the final version of my story:

  1. On why some Americans  celebrated bin Laden’s death, while others didn’t: “I was struck in speaking with my students that it really had much more to do with temperament and personality (than religious beliefs), and even with the way our memories are wired. People who upon hearing of his death and thought of 9/11 found it to be sad and reflective and contemplative, and people who saw it as a victory in the War on Terror saw it as a celebration.”
  2. On why Catholics are more opposed to torture than other Christians: “Catholics have a strong social teaching in the church telling them that torture is wrong. Evangelicals don’t. There are progressive evangelicals who say that, but the main teachings in the Catholic church is against torture. It’s that whole ethic of life. You’re opposed to abortion, you’re opposed to capital punishment, you’re opposed to torture.”


What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.