Saturday, April 07, 2007

Crazy: yes. Dumb: no.

Since I had nothing to do last night (see previous post) I tuned in for Close Up at Seven on TV One, because it had an Easter special examining whether we are a Christian country. And who did I find on the multi-faith panel of pundits postulating on this question? None other than Dr Bill Cooke of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists (Inc), that's who, preaching the gospel of Humanism. Which reminds me, I must tell you the story of how I was trespassed from Rationalist House. Soon.

In the meantime, I have been looking at the poll which TVNZ commissioned for the Easter special and wondering why they wasted our money on this crap. The main question asked was "Do you think New Zealand is still predominantly a Christian society?" 51.3% agreed; 45.6% disagreed. Fair enough, but that doesn't mean much. During the later years of the Cold War, polls found that a majority of young people thought they would die in a nuclear holocaust. Although some commentators at the time took this to mean that said holocaust was inevitable, polls are not lethal.

What the poll failed to discover was anything about how much religious observance was conducted by those polled or what were their attitudes to their religions. Previous research has shown that about ten to twenty percent of the population regularly attend religious services. Unfortunately, these pollsters did not think that a question worth asking. Which is a shame because that answer and the proportion of the non-observant who shape their lives according to their religious beliefs would give a much more clear indication of how religious is our society.

One question the survey did ask was "if we are not a Christian society, what are we?" The pollsters' interpretation of the results says a lot about the poll, none of it good. Here are some excerpts:
* Atheist and undecided. Many people who call themselves Christians call themselves that because it's easier than saying that they don't believe in, and because that's how they were brought up - not because it accurately reflects the beliefs that they act on a day to day basis
* If we aren't atheists for certain, we are on the brink of being non-believers in God. Science has made us think more deeply about 'the great explosion' and why would a God allow such a belligerent society continue to exist. Why the religious wars throughout the ages if we believe in the same God? What is the difference between a Roman Catholic God and a Christian one. Why are Iraqui people so divided when basically they are members of the same religion?
Has science made you think more deeply about the Great Explosion? Are you concerned about the standards of thinking and grammar in polling firms? Does this make any sense whatsoever?

It is even worse for the agnostics:
* Mainly agnostic and uninterested and use the excuse we are too busy
* Agnostic, consumer driven society following generally the values espoused by the major religions (e.g. respect, family based etc)
As TH Huxley once said, we are all consumers now.

Meanwhile Iain Middleton of the Humanist Society of New Zealand (yes, in this little country of ours we have a Humanist Society of New Zealand and a New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists) talks about the big questions to Salient .

And here, making much more sense than any of the above, is The Mint Chicks:


Anonymous said...

Simon Cunliffe wrote a good critique of the quality of polling in a Press column recently. It appears that some polling organisations just recycle existing opinions, a bit like replay talkback radio.

Anonymous said...

Why do you have a problem with Dr Bill Cooke participating? Surely his viewpoint and input to these sort of questions are valuable.