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 and cuddly space alien.

Gandhi is the perfect hero for a post-Christian culture. Putting aside his quick temper and beastly treatment of his family, he emulates certain Christian virtues (but remains a lifelong Hindu); he leads his people through a standoff with British imperialism; he dies from an assassin's bullets; and he makes a pithy observation about Christians bearing insufficient resemblance to their Lord (it was their fault, you see, that Gandhi chose not to become a Christian).

Ask silly questions, expect silly answers. Driving a wedge between Jesus and the church he established is jolly good fun, especially for people who have felt wounded by the church.

If pollsters set their minds to it, they can help the Silent Majority formulate all sorts of transforming new revelations for post-church Christians.

This is strictly guesswork, but we can imagine the self-contradicting messages—or the bewilderingly high percentages—that might ensue: 34 percent of evangelicals consider evangelism unspeakably intolerant; 29 percent of Trinitarians believe that Jesus might be a Wiccan today; 61 percent of theologians say that only Hitler and Stalin will go to hell (if it exists); and 37 percent of Christians believe they would do a better job than God of presiding over a just and righteous universe (in which, to quote C.S. Lewis, "It might truly be said at the end of each day, 'a good time was had by all'").

We're thankful, in an odd way, for the knowledge gatekeepers at NOP and other polling organizations. Their findings remind us, if nothing else, how much evangelistic work remains for those of us who believe that God's truth is not subject to a straw poll, a plebiscite, or even a vote-by-mouseclick on our own Web site.

Related Elsewhere:

Neither NOP Research Group nor Hodder & Stoughton have anything posted on the survey.

Learn more about Mother Teresa, George Carey, Mahatma Gandhi, and Billy Graham.

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