Disgraced archbishop's life dwindles away in Kansas: 9-6-19
What to do with pastors who are unfaithful in marriage? 9-9-19

Undefined terms 'religion' and patriotism' make poll useless: 9-7/8-19

About a month ago I wrote here about a survey that suggested Catholics either don't believe or don't understand what their church teaches about the sacrament of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion.

Politics-religionLater, Heidi Schlumpf of The National Catholic Reporter wrote about that survey here and, like me, raised questions about the relatively inept wording of the survey.

Such badly worded survey questions seem to be becoming a trend. For instance, The Washington Examiner recently reported about a new poll that purported to show that "nearly 80% of people aged 55-91 said being patriotic is important to them, while only 42% of millennials and Generation Z, or those aged 18-38, said the same. Thirty percent of millennials and Generation Z said religion was important, compared to the over 75% of baby boomers, with just over 30% of millennials and Generation Z saying it was important to have children."

My question: What were their definitions of patriotism and religion? The story didn't say and no other story I've read about the survey said, either.

That's a problem.

Your idea of patriotism might be the "love it or leave it" style that brooks no criticism of your nation. Mine, by contrast, considers it highly patriotic to point out what my nation is doing wrong and to make suggestions for how to get it right.

Your idea of religion might be fire-and-brimstone sermons that threaten people with hell if they don't adopt strict doctrinal positions. Mine, by contrast, includes a lot of room for open discussion of everything. It allows for expressing skepticism and doubts about historic statements of faith as the seeker tries to find something on which to depend.

The kind of questions asked in the religion-patriotism poll strike me as almost as useless as asking this question: "Do you think the media lean left?" How can you begin to answer that unless you carefully define what you mean by "media," by "lean" and by "left"? You really have nothing to talk about if you don't come to some understanding of what the questioner means by those terms.

That's not to say that the poll about patriotism and religion is entirely useless. Just mostly useless. It does seem to confirm what we already know from other sources and studies, which is that in the U.S. more and more people now identify as religiously unaffiliated. That may mean they don't think "religion" is as important as they once did.

But big deal. We already knew that. I'd rather know why many people seem to conflate religion and patriotism, by which I mean the belief that you don't really love America unless you describe yourself -- and act like -- a theologically conservative Christian. Let's see those survey results.

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In reaction to the poll about which I wrote above today, a staff writer at The Atlantic writes this in this piece: "What Americans young and old are abandoning is not so much the promise of family, faith and national pride as the trust that America’s existing institutions can be relied on to provide for them." There are good reasons to believe he's right. But the problem is he comes to that conclusion at least partly by trusting the results of this new poll, which is based on badly worded questions. Still, The Atlantic piece is worth a read.

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P.S.: I'm glad the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on Friday finally released its list of priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors. As this thorough Kansas City Star story from my former colleague Judy L. Thomas indicates, advocates for those abused by priests wonder why it took this long for the list to be made publish. It's a good question. Still, it's a step in the right direction, and my belief is that Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. is trying to do the right thing about this scandal.


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