Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Are Christians Really….? 6

posted by Scot McKnight

BREWright.jpgWhen it comes to marriage, sex, domestic violence, abortion, crime, substance abuse and everyday honesty, how do Christians stack up?


Some of you were asking Wednesday about “non-churchy” behaviors, well, here are some numbers.
These are the questions Brad Wright asks and probes in the 6th chap of his excellent new book, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media

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Brad tells a story about divorce rates among Evangelicals, how he read a report that atheists divorce at a rate lower than Evangelicals, and he knew that was inaccurate, so he wrote another report — both of these were on the internet — and discovered something else: the pro-atheist report had over 2500 Diggs while his report had less than a dozen. Conventional wisdom, he suggests, emerged that suggested Evangelicalism’s divorce rate was higher than atheists. The media, he says, is more willing to believe negative things about Evangelicals than positive things. Bad news spreads faster than good news.
Big question: Does becoming a Christian make a person better?
So, here are some numbers:


Religious people have a lower cohabitation rate than religiously unaffiliated people: 4 vs. 8%.

Divorce: 42% vs. 50%.
Christians and divorce: Catholics 35%, Mainline Prots 41, Evangelicals 46%, Black Prots 54%.
Church attendance affects these numbers markedly. The more often one goes to church the less likely people who either cohabit or divorce.
Domestic violence: impacted by church attendance.
Sex numbers: Adultery in life, 2+ partners this year, X-rated this year.
Evangelicals: adultery (16), 2+ partners this year (10), and X-rated (18)
Mainline Prots: roughly the same
Black Prots: 24, 21, 30%.
Unaffiliated: 26, 22, 35%.
Substance abuse: 5 drinks or more when you drink, pot, hard drugs
Church attendance showed measurable differences: our numbers show the numbers from never attend to weekly attendance.
Prots on 5 drinks from 12-4%.
Prots on Pot: 14-5%
Prots on illegal drugs: 6-2%.
Overall, then, Wright shows that while Christians don’t live up to their beliefs, they live closer to those beliefs than the unaffiliated and church attendance is a good measure.
He says the charge of hypocrisy is often mistaken: claiming to do one thing and not doing is hypocritical; claiming to believe something, not doing it, and then saying you are not doing it is sin but it is not hypocrisy.
Becoming a Christian, in other words, makes people better.


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Robin

posted July 16, 2010 at 12:47 pm


Those are all well and good… but an evangelical was mean to me one time… so they are just as bad as everyone else.
In all honesty, as many times as we have gone round and round on this subject, I don’t guess I see the point anymore. People, all people, are sinful. Just because I am a sinner who struggles with a multitude of issues doesn’t give me the right to declare what is declared as sinful in God’s word is somehow righteous, whether we are talking about getting hammered, homosexual acts, plain old adultery, or murder. My sinfulness doesn’t change God’s moral law (If you doubt the sinfulness of one of the acts I listed, that is an exegetical question and has nothing to do with whether or not I myself have been divorced, or participated in homosexual acts, or watch pornography).
Neither the hypocrisy of the pharisees nor the blatant sin of the woman at the well altered what God commanded from his people then, and neither does it now.



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Robin

posted July 16, 2010 at 12:52 pm


I want to clarify that I don’t get the point any more because this evidence isn’t going to be enough. There is literally no amount of evidence that can be brought forth to convince someone that evangelicals are good people. Maybe there is enough to say definitively that other pollsters are hacks who can’t be trusted, but not to convince someone of the wrongness of their own personal hurt and experiences. And in the end, it doesn’t matter anyway. People that hate evangelicals will continue to do so until they have a personal reason not to do so – statistics won’t change their feelings.



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Robin

posted July 16, 2010 at 12:59 pm


Last clarification (for now)
It seems to me that alot of people think about evangelicals as a toned-down version of Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist. Maybe not as hateful, but same basic agenda. Just go read Andrew Sullivan and his posts about ‘Christianists.’ Now, would I have some dark glee if I knew that Fred Phelps cheated on his wife or watched pornography, yeah, it might be cathartic to point to someone that hateful and rake them across the coals for personal sins. However, if I find out that he perfectly keeps all of the outward laws in scripture is it really going to make me have a positive outlook on him or his ministry? No. I think it is the same with evangelicals, people hate them, to varying degrees, for things that have nothing to do with their personal holiness, and while statistics like these might take an arrow out of the sling of their adversaries, they will not fundamentally change people’s opinions about them.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 16, 2010 at 1:27 pm


Robin,
Brad Wright brought up the media and you feasted on it; there’s more to this post than what others think of evangelicals.
In fact, the post shows that conversion/evangelical faith makes a person better.
I have chosen not to let my life get hooked into the victim mentality, though I grew up in that and I have seen plenty of it among evangelicals, educated and otherwise. I have chosen to go with the facts that I know, and Wright’s book confirms those facts, and that means I tend to see evangelicals as good people. It can only help to repeat that, and that means responding with reasonable arguments when evangelicals are ripped.



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Rick

posted July 16, 2010 at 1:36 pm


I was one of those asking about the “non-churchy stats”, so I find these interesting. The frequency of church attendance correlation is especially helpful.
Thanks for posting this info.



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John Lussier

posted July 16, 2010 at 1:59 pm


Let’s clarify…
Becoming a Christian, in other words, makes people [marginally, not dramatically] better.
Evangelicals are still giant hypocrites. We still claim to be better, but aren’t really that much better.



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Jason Lee

posted July 16, 2010 at 2:17 pm


Just to clarify… these stats aren’t about “becoming a Christian” but about identifying as one. Correct me if I’m wrong about this, but these are not “converts.” What’s interesting then is that there is any difference (seeing as the categories “Christian” or “Evangelical” probably have quite a few nominal folks in them).
Why do Evangelicals and Black Protestants divorce so much more than other Christians?



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Robert

posted July 16, 2010 at 2:24 pm


John said: “Evangelicals are still giant hypocrites. We still claim to be better, but aren’t really that much better.”
What does this even mean? What kind of mark are you attempting to hold people to?
I know no evangelical who claims to have attained moral perfection. We all are dealing with the after-affects of a fallen nature. There is a struggle in our lives with right-living and right-belief in the modern society.
When we read the above numbers there is something that doesn’t fit. I’m looking for a biblical morality, not some quasi-Elizabethan morality that continues to plague our society. Being moral is a mark of fruit but it seems that it is a mark, what about the other fruits we are to exhibit. When I read about fruit producing followers in the NT there is something more than this boiled down morality.
We are all broken people dealing with our lives and baggage in light of sin. Maybe we shouldn’t be looking at legalism and consider grace more. This isn’t an excuse for immoral (read: vice) behaviors but I’m not quite sure how we can readily accuse evangelicals of being hypocrites and brandish that terms like a longsword of accusation.
Does following Jesus make someone better? Depends on what you mean by better. I know what Osteen says is better. I know what MacArthur says is better. I know what Jakes says is better. I know what Bell says is better. Yet I fail to see what we read the NT to teach is better.



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Travis Greene

posted July 16, 2010 at 2:28 pm


I think I agree with Robin, and I’m not sure I agree with Scot, that these kind of statistics are particularly helpful for apologetics/evangelism. I guess they might matter to some statistically-minded people, but for most folks, unless you see the moral life fleshed out in a loving and welcoming community, it doesn’t matter how many pie charts you are shown. Besides, this is really saying evangelicals are better according to evangelicalism’s own categories. Comparing rates of volunteering, giving to charitable causes, and so on, is I think much more convincing.
I also agree with C.S. Lewis that it doesn’t really matter whether Christianity makes Christians better than non-Christians, but whether Christianity makes people better than they would be if they were not Christians. It actually wouldn’t surprise me to find out many non-Christians are more ethical than Christians, because they might be just ethical enough to not realize they need Jesus.



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Ray Ingles

posted July 16, 2010 at 2:29 pm


In fact, the post shows that conversion/evangelical faith makes a person better.

As Jason pointed out, the numbers presented here don’t establish that. The article breaks down some aspects of how people of various denominations behave, but I didn’t see a breakdown comparing (or contrasting) how converts to those denominations behave relative to ones raised there.
Maybe the converts don’t behave differently, and are dragging down the numbers for the affiliated. Maybe there’d be more of a difference between ‘affiliated’ and ‘unaffiliated’ if the converts were factored out.
Perhaps the book has data on that, but it wasn’t presented here.



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Richard

posted July 16, 2010 at 2:57 pm


But I thought mainliners weren’t as close to God as evangelicals because they’re liberals?
/sarcasm dripping on my keyboard
I like the CS Lewis tangent that Travis brings in at 9. I was a lot better than most people I knew growing up but my life really transformed internally when I encountered Christ. I’m more patient, forgiving compassionate, hopeful, and joyful among other things.
Another thought, maybe we’ve just lowered the bar so far on what it means to be a Christian in our drive to save everyone that we’ve effectively diluted out any differences.



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HomelessDrew

posted July 16, 2010 at 2:58 pm


The Gospels have a lot more to say about money alone than all of these topics combined. My scope of ethics seems to be quite a bit different than these surveys, I would include something about amassed wealth, money spent towards caring for the poor (and that doesn’t include pastors), violent crime, participation in war (same as the last one), diversity in congregations, equal opportunities for all races/genders/nationalities/etc. to at least start with. I would like to see surveys on these and I am under the suspicion that Christians wouldn’t fair too well, but then again most of the Church seems to worry very little about these topics so I guess it wouldn’t really make them hypocrites, just in dire need of grace as much as the rest of us. I think either way it’s a form of evangelism to set oneself solidly in a different ethical framework reflecting the justice of God and unconditional love and forgiveness through Christ.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 16, 2010 at 3:15 pm


Travis, for the record, I see this kind of study to be of value for the public and for the accountability of routine statements. They also provide for us grist for pastoral ministry. We need to do better.
Drew, fair enough. But those questions haven’t routinely been asked in the major surveys of Americans. Wish they were.



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EricG

posted July 16, 2010 at 3:17 pm


Aren’t these stats self-reported (or at least some of them)? If so, I don’t think they suggest whether Christians are hypocrites. A hypocrite, almost by definition, is unlikely to self report behavior that their own religious community views negatively (and evangelicals probably tend to view these vices more negatively than others). I’m not saying this evidence shows that Christians are hypocrites — just saying that it doesn’t seem, to me, to indicate one way or the other.
Also, the evidence people tend to point to regarding hypocrisy of Christians is, for example the number of pastors who bash gays, but then hire gay escorts. Whether that sort of hypocrisy is typical of many Christians, I don’t know. But it is certainly hypocritical. I don’t think we can pass off the concerns of non-Christians on this point that easily.



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Justin Topp

posted July 16, 2010 at 3:22 pm


I agree with some of the posters that this data has its value, but that value is not all that great. Sure, Christians score somewhat better and this needs to be published in response to the fall information that Christians aren’t better at all. Fair. But I don’t think that this information should be used really in any other way because if Mormons were polled, the differences would be much more extreme, no?
scienceandtheology.wordpress.com



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Tusk

posted July 16, 2010 at 3:41 pm


Whoa, whoa, whoa.
How did you come to that ridiculous conclusion from a few numbers and the data found. How does not having a divorce or stopping at four drinks make you a better person. I get that you’re suggesting that statistically, Christians behave differently than non-theists, but how on earth does that bring you to the idea that they are better people?



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brgulker

posted July 16, 2010 at 4:15 pm


So this study essentially shows that Christians don’t drink or chew or hang with those that do?
Seems like there might be at least a few other ethical issues worthy of considering, at least if we take Jesus seriously.



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Jason Lee

posted July 16, 2010 at 4:41 pm


#17:
“So this study essentially shows that Christians don’t drink or chew or hang with those that do?”
No, that’s not what it shows. There is no statistic about who people hang out with.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 16, 2010 at 4:49 pm


Tusk,
That “better” category, if you read the book, is reduced to the measurable and looks more accurately like this: “conform more to standards Christians have traditionally held to be indicative of moral character.”



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Barb

posted July 16, 2010 at 5:19 pm


What worries me is that this list of “don’ts” seems to say that being a Christian is reflected in what one doesn’t do–just like Mormonism or Islam.
my first reaction was the same as Travis–I thought of CS Lewis’ take on it. My second reaction is that we are “a new creation in Christ” by definition the Holy Spirit is working to transform us–TO BE BETTER.–but not to just follow a list of rules.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 16, 2010 at 5:23 pm


Barb,
Let’s be fair to what Wright is doing, what stats can show, and not to think these kinds of studies prove the essence of holiness and love.
What Wright is after is there is measurable data that speak to whether or not Christians are changed by measurable connections to the faith, like church attendance. This study is not showing whether or not Christians live up to the best of its ethics.
Remember, too, the accusation is that Christians are worse than others. Wright is examining that, and that alone.



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EricG

posted July 16, 2010 at 5:33 pm


Scot (#21) — I think the accusation folks tend to make is not that Christians are worse, but instead that they don’t live up to their own strict standards that they sometimes seek to impose on others. On that, I don’t think Wright’s analysis helps. See my comment # 14 above.



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Jason Lee

posted July 16, 2010 at 5:52 pm


EricG:
Your concern is valid: there is the potential for some groups to give socially desirable responses on certain questions when self-reporting in surveys. But it could be that that the unaffiliated are introducing bias in the data too. For example, you could argue that have lots of sexual partners is a badge of honor among the religiously unaffiliated, so they’re more likely to inflate their sex partner numbers when answering survey questions.
In the end surveys (even top quality ones like the GSS that Wright uses) are flawed and only give us a rough lay of the social landscape. But what we can say is that some of the best available data shows that Christians have less infidelity that non-Christians. Those who want to tear Christians down must contend with this finding if they want to be honest and base statements on more than opinion, sensational media stories, or personal observations.



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EricG

posted July 16, 2010 at 7:37 pm


Thanks Jason. I think we are on the same page re: self-reporting. But my point in #22 was also this: Wright’s data doesn’t seem to me to address the primary criticism non-Christians make of Christians regarding hypocrisy. In my experience, they tend to say something along the lines of the following:
“Conservative Christians are the ones who think it is wrong to engage in various so-called vices that they themselves define — e.g., gay or premarital sex, drinking, etc. And the conservative Christians seek to impose those views on the rest of us, either through the political process or through societal pressure. Yet they don’t even follow their own standards; they are hypocrites.”
If that is the criticism, it is no response for conservative Christians to say “but we’re no worse than you!”, because the non conservative Christian response is “these aren’t our morality standards — they’re yours, that you seek to impose on us — and you and your leaders often don’t follow them!”
That’s why people think it is so odd, for example, to see gay-bashing pastors hiring gay prostitutes. Its not because they think homsexuality is wrong. It’s the hypocrisy of so publicly slamming the very same conduct they engage in it. Whether or not you buy into their criticism, I just don’t see Wright’s data addressing this key issue.



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DAVID

posted July 17, 2010 at 1:01 am


being a christian has NOTHING to do with church attendance. The church wants you to be a part of their club,so they get to spend your money.Jesus came to earth and endured all the suffering so we could go to heaven and have a personal relationship with HIM.You can pray to god and talk with jesus any time.Going to church makes people think they are closer to god,because they show up every sunday and wednesday night.The bible doesnt say you should go to church it says you should pray constantly.FUTHERMORE,the results of this study does not take into consideration the FRONT people in church put up.they are not going to admit watching xxx or committing adultry.



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Jason Lee

posted July 17, 2010 at 8:07 am


EricG:
I’m only partially sympathetic to your comments. First of all, I believe Wrights chapter is about how non-Christians claim certain things about Christians (eg, they have more extra-marital affairs). What Wright is doing is testing such pop-hypotheses to see if there is any evidence for them.
Second, I don’t think the chapter is really about hypocrisy, it’s about the above. So, the analyses are not about individual pastors following their own teachings, so I will not comment on that. But if you try to look at the findings in terms of your hypocrisy concern Wright’s data (as far as such data can) show mixed results for your hypocrisy hypothesis: CHRISTIANS FOLLOW THEIR OWN TEACHINGS LESS
1. Conservative prots divorce more than other Christians, yet are arguably louder on the issue. Christians in general teach against divorce and they divorce less than the unaffiliated.
2. Christians/conservative prots score better on many of the specific outcomes measured. If you assume Christians proscribe behavior more on these outcomes, then they’re following their own teachings more.
CONCLUSION: Overall your hypocrisy hypothesis is left with only partial support in the case of conservative prots and divorce. The bulk of the evidence runs counter to your hypocrisy hypothesis.



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EricG

posted July 17, 2010 at 11:07 am


Jason — your comment still isn’t responsive to my point. You are comparing Christian vice rates to non-Christian vice rates, which is not the correct test for hypocrisy for the reasons I state above. I don’t see you responding to my point.
There are also loads of problems with the basic point Wright is trying to make.
— He doesn’t show a valid causal comparison because it isn’t a before or after test; causation often runs the other direction when there is correlation; i.e., his results are perfectly consistent with the hypothesis that people who don’t follow Christian-defined vices are less likely to become Christian in the first place (which is a very reasonably hypothesis).
— He also relies on self-reporting, which for the reasons we’ve agreed on likely under-states Christian vices. And it may even over-state non-Christian vices, for the reasons you mentioned.
— As someone else mentioned above, it doesn’t even study some of the key virtues that are truly important in many minds — care for the poor, love of others; much of the list comes from the conservative list of do’s and dont’s.
— And most importantly, it is not a test for the sort of hypocrisy that most non-Christian folks argue for the reasons I mentioned.
Let’s put it this way. I’m a litigator, and spend a lot of time on whether this sort of evidence. I’m pretty sure most federal judges would not even admit this sort of analysis into evidence. It is very weak.
My bottom line is this: The criticism I hear most often from non-Chrisians is this: “You Christians are preachy and judmental. Yeah, we non-Christians are not perfect, maybe even slightly worse than you on *your own defined list of vices*. But you’re the ones who are supposed to follow them, and you preach them at us, but you yourselves often don’t follow your own rules — often spectacularly so. You should clean your own house on these, and other key morality issues — like the hatred toward gays, judgmental attitude, lack of environmental care, and lack of care for the poor that some conservative Christians exemplify — before you try to clean the house of others (or, as Jesus said, before you take the speck out of our eye.” As a Christian, I think there is some validity to their point.
My concern is that these sort of posts not be used as an excuse by Christians to not engage in serious collective and individual self examination, which is sorely lacking in many, many Christian circles today.



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Jason Lee

posted July 17, 2010 at 11:49 am


EricG, you’re asking way too much of survey research. This kind of national research looks a differences in broad trends. Survey researchers detail the nature of their data, define how they measure concepts and proceed from there. Longitudinal data (which Wright’s data is not) is very rare. This is not legal evidence, this is social scientific research that uses its own definition of evidence…things like differences in percentages.
Back to the issue of hypocrisy…Scot addressed the substantive aspects of your comments within the initial post:
“…Wright shows that while Christians don’t live up to their beliefs, they live closer to those beliefs than the unaffiliated and church attendance [makes this ‘live up to’ correlation stronger].
He says the charge of hypocrisy is often mistaken: claiming to do one thing and not doing is hypocritical; claiming to believe something, not doing it, and then saying you are not doing it is sin but it is not hypocrisy. ”
I fully agree with you that Christians need to take their own sin more seriously, deal with their own hypocrisy, and not coercively force morality on others. However, that said, Wright is responding to some of the shoddy “scare stats” of the Barna Group as well as the conspiracy theories and wild claims of Christian-bashers. His aim, like many social scientists, is myth-busting. He shows, for example, that claims of unusually high infidelity among Christians are not born out in national data. We can’t make more of this than what it is…baseline evidence counter to only some of the Christian-bashing hypotheses that are floated. Of course, it would take better longitudinal data to control for reverse-causation, etc… But we know conversion is relatively rare and so this would only account for a small number of cases.



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Jason Lee

posted July 17, 2010 at 12:39 pm


EricG:
“you yourselves often don’t follow your own rules”
Wright’s chapter shows the opposite (the usual survey data caveats assumed). He shows there is a POSITIVE correlation between being a Christian and certain moral rules Christians promote.



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EricG

posted July 17, 2010 at 12:49 pm


Jason —
I understand how surveys work, but I also understand the limits in what you can conclude form them. The conclusion Scot draws (in bold, at the end) — “Becoming a Christian, in other words, makes people better” — is not one that a social scientist would reasonably draw from this evidence. Do you really disagree?
Regarding reverse causation: It isn’t just conversions where this is a problem; reverse causation is also an issue with people who were born into the religion.
(The legal standard for admissibility, incidentally, is quite low).
I think that the only folks this data would persuade are people who have already made up their minds.
And, as I’ve said, it doesn’t even begin to address the hard question about hypocrisy. Regarding the quote that “claiming to believe something, not doing it, and then saying you are not doing it is sin but it is not hypocrisy”: Again, that is a straw man. That isn’t the claim non-Christians are making about Christian hypocrisy, at least in my experience. We should listen to what they are saying, I think.
As for debunking conspiracy theories, I haven’t heard non-Christians engaged in that, and being dismissive of their concerns in this way isn’t fair, IMO. And as for conspiracy theories — check out the title of the book, with its reference to “lies” told by “media.” If there are conspiracy theories, the way to combat them is not with other conspiracy theories.



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Jason Lee

posted July 17, 2010 at 1:30 pm


I agree, “Becoming a Christian, in other words, makes people better” is not what these data support. The data are more simple than that. They show patterns between being affiliated with a religious group and reporting certain specific behaviors. So I’d say the chapter presents empirical support for the idea that identifying as a Christian is associated with certain positive behaviors.
“I think that the only folks this data would persuade are people who have already made up their minds.” I disagree. Barna readers are probably equally likely to read this book, and they’ll be presented with evidence that runs counter to some things the Barna group has claimed. Also some Christian college students may start to feel affected by negative things they hear from professors or peers about Christianity being essentially anti-social. Wright’s book would provide them with a push-back to those claims, at least for their own minds. It’s dangerous when only one side of the story is presented (i.e., that Christianity is anti-social and dangerous to society).
“…it doesn’t even begin to address the hard question about hypocrisy.” Again, it does at least begin to address this because being Christian is POSITIVELY correlated with these measures of Christian moral behaviors. But one can’t ask more of survey data than what it is.
“that is a straw man” No, this is being more clear-headed about the definition of hypocrisy. The word “hypocrisy” gets thrown around a lot and its important to resist fuzzy uses of it. You seem to be talking about Christians being vocally judgmental toward others. That’s a separate (but important) discussion. The data don’t measure that. I’m trying to stick to what these data and this discussion is about. You raise an important issue that’s outside the scope of these data.
“reference to “lies” told by “media.”” I do think the title of the book is combative and its style is more popular in that way. I agree that this is unfortunate because it will preclude some readers. However, the idea that America’s core cultural-producing institutions are controlled by those who are disproportionately secular and biased against traditionally religious people (especially Christians) is not a far fetched idea at all. It’s based on sound social theory about the stratification of power among networks of elites. For scholarship on this see the work of James Davison Hunter and Peter Berger.



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brgulker

posted July 18, 2010 at 11:11 am


Jason Lee,
I suspect my sarcasm wasn’t obvious enough. My point in using that little cliche was to take a subtle shot at how narrowly we often define Christian morality and how that narrowness is reflected in the survey cited here.
Admittedly, morality is a hard thing to measure. But, as one other commenter rightly pointed out, Jesus has a lot more to say about money than any of the things this survey measures — surely, we could measure how Christians spend their money, and presumably, that would be an important indicator of whether or not Christianity has made a difference in our lives or not.



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