Friday, July 30, 2010

Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites...And Other Lies You've Been Told

From Publishers Weekly:

A sociologist at the University of Connecticut, Wright examines recent survey data on Christian evangelicals to see if they substantiate the often misguided and hyperbolic public perceptions of this faith group. Separating the wheat from the chaff, he explains how some poorly worded, ill-sampled statistics give the wrong impression of evangelicals and why people should avoid giving them credence. Though he often blames the media for gleefully reporting bad news about devout Christians, he doesn't spare evangelical polemicists such as Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel for their false exaggerations of evangelical shortcomings. His biggest target may be the pollster George Barna, whose surveys on Christianity have generated intense controversy. Wright's colloquial writing style gives this volume the feel of a folksy college lecture series. The abundant use of graphics adds to the impression the book's genesis was cribbed from introductory sociology of religion classes. The conclusions drawn here--no surprise--are that the most committed Christians practice what they preach, performing better than the rest of the population on a host of social measures including divorce, domestic violence, sexual misconduct, crime, substance abuse, and everyday honesty. 

My take:  Sociological data, charts galore, and religion.  All of these components put together make me just giddy.  For reasons completely unknown to me even now, I found myself in sociology classes with people that can only be described as "the granola." Discussing survey questions, statistically significance, aggregating and disaggregating data, standard deviations, and best of all, a little book called "How to Lie with Statistics." The experience left me with an affinity for picking apart statistics and a 20 year old sociology degree.  The bachelor kind.  That gets you hired at JCPenney, doing the same thing the high school graduate does, muttering, "I hate my life."

Filled with charts, engaging explanation, and elbow-patch college professor humor, this book sets out to debunk commonly quoted myths regarding religion, focusing on Christianity and, more specifically, Evangelical Christianity.  

Statistics are fascinating things.  People tend to believe them when quoted.  A few things to keep in mind when seeing a statistic.  What is the thesis question, who is gathering the data and for what purpose, what is the  N or population for data (the smaller the study size, the less reliable the data and does it represent a fair amount of different groups), and is it statistically significant?  

The author addresses, through statistics and surveys, how Christians, and more specifically, evangelical Christians, are doing in regard to Christian lifestyle.  For instance, why do we hear so much bad news about Christianity? (It sells stories)  Is Christianity on the Brink of Extinction?  Are we losing our youth?  Are evangelical Christians all poor, uneducated, southern whites? Do Christians think and do Christian things? Do Christians love others?  What do non-Christians think of us?  What do Christians think of themselves?  The author is not attempting to attribute causality but simply report the differences between groups with available statistical data.  

I loved it.  I really, really did.  It was fascinating and read very much like a college lecture series.  In order to keep the book spicy, the author included a photo of "the future"; a sullen teenager with disco shirt open to his belly button and gold chains (slightly exaggerating) and big disco hair.  In 1980, this was the future.  In 2010, he's the author of a book describing statistical data in terms anybody can understand.  He gave up the disco shirt, I hope.

The book is easy to read.  The graphs are self-explanatory but the commentary is nothing less than engaging.  For instance, the author discusses sexual behavior and extramarital sex.  He says, "At this point, allow me to interject that there is a crucial distinction between extramarital sex and extra marital sex.  One is committing adultery, the other represents a better than average week, and they have very different consequences." 

Regarding drug use:  "What does this mean?  Well, the white powder on the church pew is probably just baby formula."

 The book is riddled with this kind of humor and it tickles my funny bone.  Because I am a nerd.  I know it.  I embrace it. 

My one complaint is definitions.  I happen to be a member of a church the author did not define as necessarily Christian, and this niggled me throughout the book.  Not until page 224 does the author explain that he used the word "Christian" to describe Protestants and Catholics.  This leaves out the members of a 14 million strong religion, mostly found in Utah, called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  These members were clumped together with Jehovah's Witnesses (who, although I know little about the religion, probably claim Christianity, as well) Muslims, Jewish, and Hindus.

Is it statistically significant to leave out these people?  No.  It would increase the number of Christians by just under 2%.  It simply matters to me, a Mormon and a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

But before I could properly get my panties all in a wad, I had to admit that even using statistics regarding Mormons was validating.  So the half star I planned taking off from my review for my own tantrum, I will grudgingly return half of the half back.

Completely enjoyable read.  Easy to understand charts and statistics, not dry at all.  Funny and a little sad.  The man spent his 47th birthday working on his book.  A far cry from the scowling, disco-shirt-too-cool-to-care attitude.

4.75 stars

*FTC Disclosure:  Usual stuff that nobody paid me for this review.  I read it of my own free will, although Bethany House sent me the book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Jim.

1 comment:

Kim said...

Sounds really interesting. Have you read Nurture Shock yet? Also very interesting book regarding myths about children. I bet you'd like it.