One characteristic, above all else, defines the sociopath: an utter lack of guilt or remorse. One characteristic, above all else, defines Christianity: freedom from guilt and remorse. Christianity, as a rule, doesn’t explicitly endorse the worst possible things a person can do. But it does forgive them, and that insidious negation of conscience is a quietly lethal thing. Anything’s possible when you don’t have to live with the guilt of doing it. And as one poll from NBC shows, even a group less trusted than rapists can be good, if there’s no one around to take away the guilt of being bad.
The poll comes from MSNBC’s This Week in God, 12/20/14 edition. It was conducted in concert with MSNBC’s friend in print, the Washington Post. First up, this question, with results sorted by race and religious affiliation, or lack thereof:
Pretty telling results, though probably not as telling as the rationale behind them, at which we can only speculate.
The results among white Christians more or less balance out on either side of the national average; which isn’t unexpected for a group that makes up about two-thirds to three-quarters of the population. It is worth noting that the less fundamental the religion (non-evangelical protestant), the more likely they were to see the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” as torture. Those “Old Testament” types sure do seem all right with human suffering. Provided, of course, that suffering is endured by Muslim heretics. But, for the most part, Christian groups were evenly split.
Atheists and non-religious people were the only group to take a firm stand on the matter, dropping one heavy maleus malifacarum down on the CIA for its inquisition techniques. Then again, as the only group listed who never ran an actual Inquisition on heretics, or burned anyone at the stake, that’s probably to be expected.
Those results were evenly reflected in a similar, but notably different question asked of respondents.
For the most part, the results from this question mirror those of the first; after all, people who don’t think a particular act is torture would more likely be okay with it. But a much more interesting pattern emerges when we cross-reference the data from these two charts.
We’re going to call it our “Moral Conviction,” or “Moral Flexibility Index” — that is, the percentage of people who will justify something they BELIEVE TO BE WRONG, under just the right circumstances. The calculation is pretty simple; just subtract the percentage of people from each group who answered “not justified,” from the percentage of people from that group who said it was torture. And the results in our Moral Flexibility Index envelope say:
- All Adults: 18 percent
- Evangelical: 19 percent
- Mainline Protestant: 31 percent
- Catholic: 22 percent
- Non-Religious: 20 percent
Boy, there’s a lot about human nature in those numbers. But, let’s stay centered here.
Nationwide, roughly one out of five people (or one out of five times people will) justify something they believe to be wrong under the right circumstances. Now, the more cynical among us would probably say “Wow. I can’t believe the number is that high. Who’d have thought people actually stood by their moral or ethical convictions 80 percent of the time?” And that’s a pretty valid point.
An atheist would probably invoke utilitarianism, or basic biology, human nature to explain it. Moral and ethical compromises are a fact of life, and sometimes they’re the only route to a practical solution. Sad, but true.
A Christian, though, in particular a mainline protestant, would and should be horrified at their standing in the Moral Flexibility Index. Even the best of them, Evangelicals, have only 1 percent more moral conviction than atheists, which could easily be within a margin of error. And Mainline Protestants…well, Jesus forgives all. And that’s a pretty good thing, too, since a third of the time the standard operating procedure for Mainline Protestants seems to be “Sin now, pray later.”
But, on the whole, justifying immoral acts doesn’t seem to have much to do with any ideology. Moral conviction doesn’t seem to be a strength of Christianity as a whole, and immorality recognizes no ideology. It isn’t a religious thing — it’s just a human thing.
So, if ethics only matter 80 percent of the time (or less), regardless of one’s ideology, the the winner is the one with the highest ethics. The highest standards for physical behavior.
And in that respect, so far as the higher of two ethics go…well, we direct you back to the higher of our two graphs.