|Photo for illustration purposes only|
“If Jesus is God, how could he create the world
if he wasn’t born yet.”
—Girl, age 7
It will be
a while until this 7-year-old passes through the stage of concrete operations
and begins to pull apart various mental constructs in a serious fashion. Along
the way she’ll pick up many metaphors, including those that unravel men’s
thinking about God hundreds of years ago. And all sorts of other metaphors.
are known for being religious and in particular, for being Christian; however,
as is commonly said, the devil is in the details.
In this post, I look at religious survey items to make a point about being careful when writing and interpreting survey items containing concepts with a range of meaning.
keeps tabs on Americans’ views on God. In an interesting article, Hrynowski (2019)
reveals a different response rate for beliefs in God depending on how the
question is asked. Specifically, they asked the question about belief in God three
simple question, “Do you believe in God?” gets the highest response—86 to 89%
in recent years.
2. When given
a few options the percentage of belief drops to 79% in recent polling.
asked if they are convinced that God exists and given other options, the
percentage of believers in God falls to 64%
after Jesus life on earth ended, religious leaders argued about his nature and
formulated statements essentially saying Jesus is both God and man. For
Christians, the widely accepted doctrine of the trinity declares God to be “Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit.”
In 2020, the
State of Theology survey asked
Americans about Jesus by presenting a statement: “Jesus was a great teacher,
but he was not God.” Survey participants could select five options representing
levels of agreement. Only 28% strongly agreed. Another 23% chose the “agree”
option. So if you combine the two levels of agreement, you get 52% and if you add
the opposite two choices of strongly disagree (27%) and somewhat disagree (10%)
you obtain a level of disagreement of 36%.
evangelicals? Despite the difficulty in defining who is and who isn’t an
evangelical, the researchers analysed the results to see how those participants
who identified as evangelical answered the question. It turns out, 30% agreed.
comes to Christians’ ideas about God and Jesus, it’s reasonable to turn to the
source material. Thus, the researchers asked participants their beliefs about
the Bible. As with all surveys, how the question is asked can make a
difference. Here’s the Statement of Theology survey statement:
“The Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of
ancient myths but is not literally true.”
other items, participants selected from the range of strongly disagree to
strongly agree. The strongly agree level for the US population is 20%.
suggests a dichotomy that ignores an understanding of truth revealed in
metaphors. Can you rewrite the statement?
like Marcus Borg (1995)
attempt to help Christians deal with various conundrums by pointing out the biblical
metaphors about Jesus. So, some writers refer to Jesus as the Son of God. But
Jesus is also presented as a lamb and the word.
many words in the Bible about God. A dominant presentation is that God is a
male figure. Sometimes God is presented as a husband (e.g., Isaiah 54:5)—even
a jealous one—and sometimes God is presented as a Father (e.g., Matthew
6: 9-13). But the Bible also refers to God as a Spirit (John 4:24). And in Christian
teaching, people lose their distinctiveness as male or female (Galatians 3:28).
point is, are these descriptions of God just reflections of men using metaphors
that made sense to people living in male dominated cultures thousands of years
ago or must we view God as a man to have a correct understanding? Surely, if Christians
do not think metaphorically, the idea that God is like a man is rather
there are many religions besides Christianity in the world and those religious
people understand God or gods in ways that are different from the diverse views
of Christians about the God of the Bible.
results are interesting but I hope these examples show that people appear to
have different perspectives on the central person in their faith.
researchers expand the wording of survey items, the investigators may obtain more nuanced responses.
3. In some
cases, giving participants the opportunity to add a text response to a survey item can help
clarify nuances of meaning.
4. In some
cases, metaphors make a difference in interpreting the results of a survey. The
familiarity of the survey writer and participant with relevant metaphors can enhance
or obscure the meaning of the results.
5. When a survey does not consistently tap the same domain of knowledge, reliability is negatively affected to an unknown degree.
6. I once
examined the relationship between the intelligence of graduate students to the
results obtained when they administered and scored intelligence tests. I never
published those data. But I am left with a hypothesis related to this topic—
the intelligence of survey writers can affect not only the wording of the items
but the interpretation of the results as well. And of course, there is the
unknown factor of the intelligence of the people responding to a survey.
Creating Surveys on AMAZON or GOOGLE Worldwide
If a 7-year-old
girl can ask a thoughtful question about biblical literalism, imagine the
difficulty in ascertaining what thoughtful adults really think about a survey
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