Sunday, November 12, 2006

"Spirit" -> The Trouble With Surveys

Ah the wise surveyor. And while the picture shows someone that surveys the land, for this post I want to talk about our surveyors or pollsters that pretend to survey the state of the nation.

The pollsters would like us to believe that he has out his instruments and he judges the landscape. He'll give you right answer and help you understand how everything lines up.

The problem for us Christians is that the methodology is fundamentally broken. Even wonderful organizations like Barna research that feature Christians are failing to help us really make sure we are getting a good understanding of the overall landscape from a Christian perspective.

As an example, here is some commonly accepted survey results:

1. Christians have the same or a little higher divorce rate when compared to the general population. (Barna Research)

2. 40% of American's go to church every week. (Barna)

3. Diet and exercise are ineffective at lowering your body weight. (Well known)

4. The smarter you are the less likely you are to believe in God. (Numerous studies)

The above are a few of the statistics that you may have heard if you scan the popular media. The problem, with all of the above, they are half truths.

My first two "facts" are derived by George Barna, who is by all accounts a believing Christian. However, the method in which his group presents data makes me wonder if Barna really understands what is going on.

For instance, let's look at his research on divorce rate. Mr. Barna reports that if you are a Christian you are "less likely to co-habitate" but are no less likely to divorce.

Let me run this past you again:

If you are a born-again Christian your chance of cohabitation drops to just 25%.

If you have any background in the scripture, this should scream at you:

You are NOT going to be "born-again" and cohabitate.

The facts are obvious. Barna is using a "self described" term to then assign a label to a group of people. I can call myself Asian descent, but that isn't going to keep me from being primarily Norwegian. Talk about a logic error.

The problem with the state of religion in the USA is that we have a bunch of people that simply lie about their faith. For instance, let's take a look at 40% of people attending church weekly. I simply don't believe it as I have lived in multiple places in the USA, and I simply haven't seen this rate of church attendance amongst my peers.

But, am I the only one to say this? A short snip from here (see Hadaway CK, Marler PL, Chaves M. Overreporting church attendance in america: evidence that demands the same verdict for more details) that sound very, very true by my observations:

Recent studies have been made of individual counties in both the U.S. and Canada. Researchers counted individuals as they went into church, synagogue, etc. They later interviewed a random sampling of adults in the county. They found that the survey results were inflated by about 100% from the actual attendance figures. Although about 40% of the American adults said that they attended church, the actual value was about 20%. Canadians lied by the same percentage.


Here is something shocking, people lie about how often they attend church.

This is where psychology pays off. People often describe themselves in light of what they would "like" to be, rather than what they are.

For instance, if you carry this over to dietary science, when people try and describe how much they eat, they regularly and in every peice of research done, under count the number of calories they take in.

This is similar to research that shows the majority of American drivers believe their driving skills are above average.

Here is the truth in our society:

1. We can't describe our spiritual diet
2. We can't describe our physical diet
3. We don't describe our physical level of activity
4. We don't describe our spiritual level of activity
5. We are self delusional

The truth is that we can't tell the truth. So be careful of the surveys.

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