I’ve been reading a lot of blogs from people who quote Pew Research this and Barna Group that. Quite frankly, people just quote these stats without even a second thought about the hermeneutics behind such “research.” These thoughtless blogs are once again a proof of “lies, damn lies and statistics” being the trinity of modernistic deception. This way of blogging has been so hip that it’s become pandemic.
The logic of such blogs usually goes one of the following two ways. They could say, “Oh, based on these statistics, America has become less Christian. Look how few people identify themselves as Christians.” They could also say, “Based on these statistics, these many people who identify themselves as Christians also believe that ___ (fill in the blank: living together, being homosexual, drinking, premarital sex etc.) is okay. Look how Christian value has eroded.” There you have it. The first basically says that the present statistics are accurate reflection of how many real Christians there are, and the number is declining. It also assumes that previous statistics are quite reliable with the greater number of real Christians. See? Assumption is everything. The second basically assumes that whatever ethical value being put in the blank is the key issue that divides what is a true versus a false Christian. Assumption again!
I wish to question all such assumption as being lacking in any sense in our everyday experience. I’ll use my experience as an example. Where I grew up in the Southern part of the US, you can’t kick a little pebble without hitting a baptist. In fact, I bet the Muslims there are also baptist. No, I’m kidding. If you were to ask anyone around where I live with a simplistic statistical questionnaire whether that person is Christian, Catholic, Jew, or Muslim (I’m using their common categories of course), you would find that most would say they’re Christians and some would say that they’re Catholic. In addition, aren’t Catholics also Christian? Not according to the way these discussions are framed. I overheard one particular discussion that went something like this. Person number 1 says, “Are you Christian?” Person number 2 answers, “No, I’m Catholic.” What the statistics in the past and often in the present do not tell us is that they frame such questions in such biased way that they would inevitably get a large percentage to be Christian. What being a “Christian” actually means does not matter.
For some, being Christian just means being white and middle class, while believing there’s a god. I’m not joking. I’ve seen enough examples to tell you that this is true. And being white and middle class while believing in God is the cool thing to do in the past because that’s the American way. There’s no way to verify whether that person really is a Christian. The paradigm begins to shift however. Now, with the moral value of the society defining what is cool, being Christian may not be cool any longer.
Now, being a Christian could mean being a homophobe and a sexual prude. That is NOT cool. Since the Christians no longer project that cool value, less people now identify with being Christians than before. This is natural. To top off the problem is the Christian’s own hermeneutics on the Bible as to what consists of “Christian value.” This kind of value obviously shifts, from the prohibition of drinking to premarital sex to now homosexual lifestyle. What we haven’t realized is that our main problem has not changed: our hermeneutics and ethics still suck. Only because more people were in agreement that drinking and drugs are usually not good for you, we were able to become more of a moral majority (I mean that, of course, sarcastically) in the past. Now, societal value can no longer accept “Christian value”, less are willing to be identified as Christians. I suspect that the decline is over exaggerated. I suggest though that we have proclaimed something that has repulsed society. The real issue then is whether the repulsion we have caused is the right issue, the one that we’re willing to die for. I mean, is not sleeping with your girlfriend before marriage really is the ethical defining line of Christianity?
You see? The first and the second set of logic are actually related. When the hermeneutics of scripture on which Christian value is based are framed a certain way, people either identify or not identify with it. At that point, people’s identification with it shows whether that value is cool or not. Nothing in such assumptions have to do with truth. It is a popularity contest. It is a publicity disaster. When we use such assumptions, we only reinforce but not solve the problem.