Late last week several atheist writers used a survey from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life to argue, in effect, that atheists are better than theists.
(See: The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life: The Religious Dimensions of the Torture Debate)
In effect, they used the following graphic and argued that we should see an imaginary like, for example, between the bottom bar and the two above it. And because there are fewer people who endorse torture in the bottom bar, this demonstrates that religion has bad effects on a person's moral character.
I have a different suggestion.
Instead of drawing a horizontal bar between the bottom option and the two above it, let's say we draw a verticle bar that separates the left side from the right side - those who support torture and those who do not.
If I were to affiliate myself with the bottom bar, then this means that I would have to affiliate myself with a group where 42% of its members believe that torture can sometimes or often be justified. However, if I were to assoicate myself instead with people on the right side of the bar, then I would be associating with a group of people where 0% believe that torture is sometimes or often justified.
Whereas, if I assocate myself with the bottom bar I would be associating myself with people who seldom or never attend religious services. But in associating myself with people on the right side I would be assoicating myself with a number of people who attend religious services at least weekly.
But who, seriously, is the bigger treat to me, those I care about, and to innocent people around the world?
Personally, I think that a person will do more good in the world siding with people who attend religious service against those who embrace torture, than siding with those who embrace torture and against those who attend religious services.
Just to be clear, my own position is that torture is rarely justified. I would fit in the light blue group.
In desire utilitarian terms, weakening the aversion to torture will result in more people being tortured. It lowers the psychological barriers against torture that make brutal dictatorial regimes possible. Whereas public condemnation of torture makes torture less common, and saves a lot of innocent people a lot of needless suffering.
This is because I do not believe in moral absolutes in this sense. It is quite possible that a case can come up in which torture can be justified. For example, aliens from another planet surround the earth and declare that if one does not torture a child, then the aliens will cause pain worse than torture to every citizen of the Earth including the child.
Okay, then, it seems that the best option is to turture the child.
It does not mean that we have to like it. However, I think that the argument can be made that we have to do it.
However, since alien invasions (and similar events) are extremely rare, then the justification for torture is also extremely rare.
When it comes to trying to decide who to trust with my well-being and that of my friends and family, I'm sorry. Count it treason if you like but I will side with the theist who opposes torture over the atheist who embraces it.