A couple of weeks after reading sociologists Christian Smith’s excellent piece on horrendous number-crunching by evangelicals, I come across this trite, strident piece of garbage on my Yahoo! front page. Apparently, evangelical Christians aren’t the only ones playing fast and stupid with numbers, or questions. To ask, “Is America too religious?” (as the people behind this poll/blog by Yahoo and ABC News did) is extremely problematic, divisive, polemical and, let’s face it, bigoted.
I’m sure we could all think of different ways to phrase that question that would expose what a fraudulent way of thinking that is.
The problem with such polemical questioning is multidimensional. At its base, firstly, it’s a yes/no, either/or, question, offering a simplistic take on such a wide-range over-laying topic. You either side with religion or you don’t, the question assumes. It’s almost mathematical, a type of modernist dilemma. In-or-out, true-or-false. But religion is a man-made construct, a vehicle, if you may. It’s like asking, ‘are there too many comedies on television’ (with the assumption that they’re all Two and a Half Men, without acknowleging a Cosby Show, a Seinfeld, a Simpsons), ‘are there too many websites on the internet’ (with the assumption that most of them are hokey or pornographic, without regard to many useful blogs, uploaded literature and resource pages), ‘are there too many books in the world’ (with the assumption that they’re all Harlequin romances) – without regard to the quality or diversity of those in question.
Secondly, the question is constructed (even with the bottle-neck yes/no at its apex) too broadly. Is the issue at hand related to politics (as suggested in the introduction – the fear of some sort of unchecked theocracy falling upon the American public by the current incarnation of the Religious Right in the White House)? To the morality struggles played out in public (think of an outed mega-church pastor and leader being ‘cured’ all of a sudden)? To the effects that religious morals have had on our laws and ethics (or, as Dwight Eisenhower has said, “I don’t care what religion America has, we just need one.”)? To personal and communal piety performed in the public square (the Amish response to the madman killer)? To daily offices? To liturgical practices? To eschatological views (Left Behind anyone? Please?)? To ecclesiology (should the nation be concerned about who are the new and next pastors?)? To ecumenicalism (the gathering of various faith-traditions)? To the perceived threat of holy wars? In other words, what aspect of America is under seige here, is under the possible threat of being too religious? And secondly, what is meant by the term ‘religious’? This general vagueness is a sort of double-threat. And I could understand why people may read and respond to this vagueness in a defensive manner – whether pro or con.
Thirdly, I can’t help but see the phrasing of this question as being anti-Religious, whatever that may mean. Try rephrasing this question with another topic in mind. “Has America become too terrorist-friendly”? “Has America become too baby-killer friendly”? “Has America become too racist”? “Has America become too…?” What? If the term that you imagine isn’t already negative, it becomes a negative by way of association. A sort of triple threat, I suppose.
The real question should be, Are there too many idiotic and inept questions proffered by the mass media?