Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The media's use of a statistic

(Part 2 in a series)

Yesterday I recounted a study conducted by the Barna Group. This study can be summarized as positive, negative, or ambiguous in its portray of Christians. Positive in that born-again Christians were found to be well-regarded, negative in that Evangelicals were not, and ambiguous in that different reactions were given to what is essentially the same group (i.e., evangelical and born-again Christians).

As such, these data provide almost a Rorschach test in which people can see what they want about Christians. It’s informative, then, to see how commentators, both within the church and without, have used these data. Without exception, they emphasize the negative story, and each has different incentives to do so.

The July/August issue of the Atlantic included a summary of Barna’s study, and it entitled this summary “Evangelicals and Prostitutes.” They write that “Non-Christians, it turns out, have a low regard for evangelical Christians, whom they view less favorably than all the above-mentioned groups except one: prostitutes.” While the Atlantic highlights the negative story, to their credit, The Atlantic also the positive story--that born-again Christians were well regarded. Of the hundreds, if not thousands of studies available to the Atlantic that month, why did they choose this one? It’s counterintuitive and catchy. Evangelical Christians are thought of almost as poorly as prostitutes? That’s “interesting,” and perhaps that’s why the Atlantic Monthly—a general interest, somewhat liberal publication—included it.

Part 3 in the series.


J. R. Miller said...

Once again, a good series. I was motivated by your post to create another entry in my cartoon series about "Blind Foxes and Rorschach Statistics"

Brad Wright said...

Thank you, J.R.

Adrienne Williams said...

When I think "Evangelical," I think of divisive television and crowds with large angry signs and strongly worded announcements from groups with "Concerned" in the title.

Therefore I don't have a positive connotation with the word, and I am an evangelical. Perhaps this is why the Barna study was commissioned to begin with, although that is not a reason to use the results as if they mean anything.

A big benefit I got from reading _UnChristian_ was a working definition of what an evangelical is. I must have a version of the Bible that left that out.