Two-thirds of Americans say bin Laden’s in hell
Nicole Neroulias, Religion News Service
May 12, 2011

Two-thirds of Americans say bin Laden’s in hell

Two-thirds of Americans say bin Laden’s in hell
Nicole Neroulias, Religion News Service
May 12, 2011

While Americans have debated whether Osama bin Laden’s body belongs

at the bottom of the Arabian Sea, most agree on the

final destination of his soul: in hell.

A new poll released May 11 reports that most Americans (82

percent) believe bin Laden distorted the teachings of Islam to suit his own

purposes, and nearly two-thirds (65 percent) agree he will be “eternally

punished for his sins in hell.”

Evangelical Christians, at 80 percent, are most convinced

bin Laden will spend eternity in hell, according to the poll conducted by

Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service a few

days after the al-Qaida founder was shot by U.S.

troops in Pakistan.

In contrast, only about two-thirds of Catholics, white

mainline Protestants and minority Christians — and less than half the religiously

unaffiliated — agree that bin Laden’s in hell.

(The PRRI/RNS poll didn’t yield representative samples of

Muslims or other minority faiths.)

Stephen Prothero, a Boston

University religion professor and

author of “God Is Not One,” said the numbers struck him as low, particularly among

evangelicals. But the “eternally” part of the question may have prompted

hesitation among some respondents, he said, compounded by questions about hell

raised by megachurch pastor Rob Bell’s recent book, “Love Wins.”

Americans are more conflicted over whether Christian values

are consistent with the raucous celebrations that broke out after bin Laden was

killed. About 60 percent of respondents — ranging from seven in 10 minority

Christians to just over half of white mainline Protestants — believe the Bible’s

message, “Do not rejoice when your enemies fall,” applies to the death of bin


Clark West, an Episcopal chaplain at Cornell University, said

the Bible sends mixed messages on such celebrations — examples of rejoicing

over an enemy’s downfall, as well as the admonition from Proverbs.

“Scriptures can be found both supporting and critiquing such

celebrations,” he said. “There can be healing for a trauma survivor in recovering

a joyful sense that evil will not have the last word, but human events like the

killing of bin Laden should not be confused with the divine vanquishing of


But for 9/11 survivors and victims’ families, “quiet prayer

and attentiveness,” rather than raucous celebration, may provide a greater sense

of healing, he said.

In other findings:

  • A

    slim majority (53 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 — down from 2008, when 62 percent agreed.

  • Support

    for the Golden Rule principle was strongest among minority Christians,

    Catholics and religiously unaffiliated Americans (all with majorities above 52

    percent), but less so among evangelicals (47 percent) and mainline Protestants

    (42 percent).

  • Younger

    Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 (69 percent) are more likely to believe

    the Bible passage about not celebrating “when your enemies fall” applies to bin

    Laden than do those age 65 and older (47 percent).

  • Religiously

    unaffiliated Americans (57 percent) are significantly more likely than

    Christians to say the use of torture against suspected terrorists 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 of white

    mainline Protestants and 42 percent of Catholics.

  • A

    slim majority (51 percent) of Americans believe God has granted America

    a special role in human history, led by two-thirds of evangelicals and nearly

    as many (63 percent) minority Christians, compared to 51 percent of Catholics

    and white mainline Protestants.

Prothero said he was most surprised by the Golden Rule

responses, which indicate that half the country is willing to disregard Christianity’s

most commonly expressed teaching — at least, when it comes to wartime.

“There is this sense that America

is supposed to be a Christian nation … but that tends to be more of a slogan

than a reality,” he said. “Are you willing to think about the Bible when it

comes to torture and terrorism and bin Laden, or are you just throwing biblical

principles out the window and going with your gut and your anger and your


But even if Americans seem conflicted on this fundamental

Christian teaching, the widespread agreement across religious and political

lines that bin Laden “distorted the teachings of Islam” indicates a growing knowledge

about Islam, he said.

“There’s an awareness out there about the distinction

between Islam and Islamic extremism,” Prothero said. “It’s an important

conversation that we’ve having right now.”

The PRRI/RNS Religion News Poll was based on telephone

interviews of 1,007 U.S.

adults between May 5 and 8. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3

percentage points.

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