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Survey Silliness

A poll of Christians says Jesus would skip church. Who are these people
2001This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.
When it comes to perceiving reality clearly, weighing moral issues, or determining spiritual truth, public-opinion polls are as relevant as a psychic's reading of chicken entrails. Nevertheless, some polls are so bizarre that they demand our attention.

For instance, a recent survey of 931 self-designated Christians in Britain reveals deep confusion about how Jesus would live in the 21st century. NOP Research Group (company slogan: "Knowledge Is Power") conducted the poll for the religious division of British publisher Hodder & Stoughton.

Only 40 percent of the respondents believed that Jesus would go to church—a generous number, actually, considering that 71 percent said they attend church only a couple of times per year. A similar number (43%) said the church harms, rather than helps, people's openness to Christian faith.

When these souls do attend church, one wonders what they are learning. The poll asked respondents to rank the Christian qualities of five world figures.

Undoubtedly to the great relief of her Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa won in a landslide of 53 percent. But then the results turn strange: George Carey (the Archbishop of Canterbury) and Mahatma Gandhi tie at 10 percent, singer Cliff Richard snags 6 percent, and evangelist Billy Graham wins only 3 percent.

If the results are to be taken seriously, they suggest that these adult Britons take a dim view of crusade evangelism. Like so many others of us, they admire the selflessness of Mother Teresa.

But most telling is the popularity of Gandhi. The poll respondents must have in mind the Gandhi of Richard Attenborough's epic film, a figure so mythical (and, indeed, so sanitized) that film critic Richard Grenier compared him to E.T., Steven Spielberg's wrinkled ...

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