The Revealer is tempted to practice some Darwinistic deduction of its own. Don’t virgin birth believers have a greater gene pool of people with shared values to dip into in search of a mate with whom to participate in bringing about the the non-virgin kind of birth? Isn’t subscribing to a majority belief an adaptation with a good shot of paying off?
But that would be missing the real story here — the tyranny of surveys within the coverage of belief in America. The intangibility of belief tempts too many reporters into quantitative “reasoning,” which in turn leads to unsupported, unexamined conclusions based on data no more reliable than a Maxim poll on readers’ sexual adventures.
“There are two subjects on which no half-bright person should ever take an opinion poll seriously,” writes Steve Perry, a columnist for the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages. “And of the two, I suspect people these days are quite a lot more honest about sex than they are about religion.”
Critiquing a poll conducted by The Minneapolis Star Tribune, Perry points out what should be obvious — people lie about piety. The same logic as that underlying Pascal’s Wager may explain the deception — there is nothing to be lost by telling pollsters you believe in God, but perhaps a risk to saying you don’t.
“Consider,” writes Perry, “that 69 percent of Minnesotans affirmed God to be very important in the conduct of their lives and 46 percent said they frequently use religious principles to solve problems; then consider that, to any serious religious person, these two questions are essentially the same question stated in different terms. So why did half again more respondents say yes to the first version of the query? Because it mentioned God, and — as a matter of cultural manners, first and foremost — Americans aren’t supposed to say no to God, openly anyway.”
As oversimplified as The Revealer‘s social Darwinism, above? Absolutely. Revealing of the unreliability of the “facts” peddled by the press when it comes to explaining religion? No doubt.
Which brings us to The Revealer‘s latest feature, “Religiously Ignorant Journalists,” by Christian Smith. Smith, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is one of the top scholars of evangelical America; as such, he’s also the recipient of any number of phone calls from religion reporters seeking a quick fix for a story due the next morning. More often than not, Smith writes, they don’t even know what they don’t know.
Smith is not so much concerned with polls and surveys as he is with the fundamental lack of any background at all among many of the reporters he deals with — journalists who call with questions about “evangelics” and “evangelicalists.”
“I find it hard to believe that political journalists call Washington think tanks and ask to talk with experts on background about the political strategies of the ‘Democrizer’ or ‘Republication’ parties, or about the most recent ‘Supremicist Court’ ruling…. So why do so few journalists covering religion know religion?”
Good question. Let’s take a poll. Better yet, read “Religiously Ignorant Journalists,” and repent, all ye sinners.