The Times must be off its rocker?

by Richard on September 28, 2005

Peter Glover (aka Wires From the Bunker) is vexed about the standard of journalism in the British media. The latest focus for his ire is an article in The Times reporting an American researchers claim that religion causes crime, describing the article as “anti-Christian, anti-American propaganda”.

The sad state of the British mainstream media (MSM) has been the focus of a few postings here recently and is a constant cause for concern in the Blogosphere generally. But I have yet to read anything that matches the unadultered piece of anti-Christian, anti-American bilge in The Times yesterday.
According to an American ’social scientist’ belief in God in the USA and UK - which in both cases means primarily the members of the Christian church - are directly responsible for “higher rates of homicide, juvenile and adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion”.

I haven’t looked up the reasearcher’s actual claims — life’s too short, frankly — but I did read the Times piece. Peter’s criticism of The Times (not a paper for which I have any particular affection seeing as it’s owned by Rupert Murdoch) is that it reports the research without comment and implies that “American and British Christians primarily … are the people directly responsible for the higher rates of murders, higher mortality, teen pregnancy and abortions in both nations.” The article is anti-American because it includes the reasearcher’s claim that “The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.”

I have two problems with how Peter is treating this article. First, (and this is ironic, given Peter’s concern for journalistic standards) it doesn’t actually do what he says it does. What the article actually says is

RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.

According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems. (emphases mine)

That’s a good deal less strong than Peter is claiming, whatever the researcher’s intention may have been. In any case, the journalist’s job is surely to report the facts of a story. It isn’t for the journalist to tell me whether or not the researcher in question is a loony. I can make my own mind up about that.

Secondly, Peter merely dismisses the research because he believes its author has an agenda of which he disapproves. In doing so, he fails to engage with the really serious issue it raises, namely why it is that rates of violence, sexual promiscuity, suicide, abortion and the other ’social indicators’ which the researcher used do not appear to be affected by rates of reported religious devotion. I do find it disturbing that the ‘more Christian’ nations are not less violent, promiscuous and syphillic (can that be a word, I wonder?) than the more secular, and I venture to suggest that every Christian should find it so.

Whatever the agenda of those who bring these things to light, what should our response be? Given that our calling is to be ’salt and light’, how is it that the societies which have proportionately the most Christians are measurably less salty and more dark? Of course, it’s possible that the research is false, that the figures it reports are distorted or plain untrue. If that’s the case, a journalist of Peter C. Glover’s calibre can no doubt quickly produce the refutation. And I’ll be glad to join him in making that refutation known because, God knows, I want this researcher to be wrong.

But supposing the data reported is an accurate reflection of reality. What then? Do we scream that The Times shouldn’t be reporting this stuff, like children who don’t want to hear a bad school report.

Or do we take the time to ask ourselves and God how it could be that we’ve failed so badly.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Bene D 09.28.05 at 10:37 pm

I’ve been asked to do an article on 10 random bloggers that use the MSM for most of their posts and bash media, claiming that blogs do a better job or will replace MSM.

Frankly, it isn’t an assignment I’ve even attempted to start simply becuase as you pointed out shooting the messenger seems to be the starting point.

2

J 09.29.05 at 5:05 am

Haven’t seen the study, but the article cites correlation, not cause. Is it possible that God places Christians where they are needed most?

3

Richard 09.29.05 at 7:24 am

I That’s one possible explanation - but I’ll confess that it doesn’t seem a very likely one to me.

4

Rob Smith 09.29.05 at 8:07 am

By “religion” the article seems to mean very specific beliefs about creation:

“He said that most Western nations would become more religious only if the theory of evolution could be overturned and the existence of God scientifically proven. … The non-religious, proevolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator.”

Most Christians in the UK see less of a dichotomy between the existence of a moral creator, with consequent moral imperatives for society, and scientific explanations of our biological history — as you highlighted in the “Reclaiming a Voice” post.

5

Peter C Glover 09.29.05 at 8:30 am

I am afraid that you appear to have missed not just the main point of this citing but a plethora of sub-points, in your attempt to water-down what The Times and its Religious drivel Correspondent Ruth Gledhill (ever read her assessments of church worship? How God is to be worshipped, according to her, is a matter for us. The Bible however makes it constistently clear that we worship according to the principles he lays down if it is to be acceptable worship. In other words, sincerity is not enough. Obedience is what God desires of us - especially in worship practice. But I digress.)

You rightly say the uses the words ‘can’ and ‘may’ cause. But this is pure flim-flam language to get the researcher of the hook of saying it ‘does’ almost always impossible to say whenver research is brought togehter. If he uses the ‘it does’ line, it is no story (too incedniary) and doesn’t get published. But whether he uses these words or not is irrelevant anyway. Because he is saying his research ’shows’ or ‘reveals’ that this IS the case. Therefore it ‘can’ or ‘may’ (ie. depending on individual societies) becomes fair enough. It does not however change the core assertion.

Where you personally are more correct is that much that cals itself ‘Christianity’ - ie. liberal Christianity - is paper thin and, in reality, changes no one’s life. Thus it becomes impoosible to distinguish the liberal Christain from the secular humanist. But that is nNOT the point being made here, either. Neither Paul nor Gledhill make any such distinction so the point is ruled out.

More appropriately is the fact that she describes him as a ’social scientist’. He’s actually a Paleantologist. His wntire purpose is to promote evolutionary theory as science fact (something I know you may warm to also). Gledhill attempts to give him a title and authority to which he has no right. Neither does she point out his real agenda. Which is this: in his attempt to crush the Creationist view (valid but not what he is doing here) he instead goes entirely out of his field, looks for a hatful of research to back his theory and INSTEAD discredits (or ‘may’ if you would prefer, discredity) the entire Judeo-Christian heritage inferring it and its members and their message ‘may’ be the chief cause of all societies evils.

Whichever way you attempt to cut this particiupoar cake, that is the story. He knows it. Gledhill knows it. The Times knows it.

I do think that the comment by ‘J’ above is much more near the mark.

But the reality that Christian and Jewish teachings (the root of the religion in society in the USA and US that Paul is referring to) ‘may’ or ‘can’ lead to a society aborting more innocent children is not only too absurd for words - but is a libel against both faiths.

Instead of Christianity ‘possibly’ causing society to commit social evils and Americans being dysfunctional, could it not be that the British MSM has become so infected with anti-Americanism, anti-Christian propaganda and poor journalism that it is The Times, the BBC (well-documented on its bias) et al that is becoming increasingly dysfunctional (just as the now liberal dominated churches have)?

6

Wood 09.29.05 at 8:32 am

To be honest, from what I can tell from the article, it’s really bad science. While you’ve got a very good point about Mr Wires’ reporting of it, I think we have to call BS on the article.

Rubbish is rubbish, whether it’s Christian rubbish or secular rubbish.

7

Peter C Glover 09.29.05 at 8:44 am

For Bene D above. I forgot to mention that my blog never has been a purely media-bashing blog (as I think Richard will bear out). Though heaven knows it would be perfectly valid if it were. Equally, quite a number of people have approached me conserning how we might make further in-roads into breaking down the ‘closed mind’ ‘closed debate’ approach on key social issues that the MSM constantly refuses - while asserting their own liberal values as true.

And I am a little mystified at the logic of Wood above. If its ‘really bad science’ and ‘rubbish is rubbish’ as he asserts - without backing up his assertion (while I back up mine) then surely it is illogical to to believe that Richard makes a ‘good point about Mr Wires’ reporting of it’. (Though to be fair, he wrote his comment without having seen my response which appears before it here)

Or do you really believe - and this perhaps is central here - that the British MSM is an open and level playing field for serious debate on social issues and for ‘conservatives’ and genuine Christians believers to be able to make their reasoned points?

8

Richard 09.29.05 at 9:48 am

I’m afraid I don’t follow your reasoning, Peter. I still think you’ve gone over the top in your condemnation of the story. All the journalist has done is report (fairly accurately, it seems) a piece of research that touches on her area of interest. Did the researcher have an agenda? Undoubtedly. And that’s brought out in the piece. I don’t have to have whar my response should be screamed at me. I can work it out for myself. It strikes me as absurd that religious believing could be cited as a cause of the social ills the researcher considered. Of course it is. But it is also a very disturbing thing, if it’s true, that higher rates of Christian believing are not reflected in society’s ‘behaviour’.

I’m afraid I don’t share your assessment of Britain’s media. Nor do I see how you felt I was saying “much that cals itself ‘Christianity’ - ie. liberal Christianity - is paper thin and, in reality, changes no one’s life” because I most certainly was not asserting any such thing.

One of the most absurd assumptions made by the researcher, and I’m afraid it is one you appear to share, is that genuine Christian faith means the rejection of evolutionary theory or the acceptance of creationism. That just isn’t so, though I can understand why an American palaeontologist might arrive at that conclusion. I dare say he’s had it shouted in his face for years. It’s still not true, though.

I apologise that your comments went into moderation. If WordPress doesn’t recognize you, it keeps you at the door!

9

Wood 09.29.05 at 10:44 am

Peter: You’re right. I did write my comment without having seen yours first, and yes, you point out exactly why it’s bad science in that comment.

But on the other hand, I agree with Richard, inasmuch as I don’t share your condemnation of the British media, and I also agree with him, inasmuch as I also find the assumption about genuine Christian faith = creationism frankly absurd.

10

Peter C Glover 09.29.05 at 10:48 am

I refer you and your readers who share a concern about the nature of truth in the british media to my fuller post on the subject this morning.

It ought to clarify precisely why this is bad science and bad journalism - because both the report and article deliver an unwarranted conclusion (when a perfectly feasible alternative exists) that amounts to propaganda, not news.

Worse, by a man, working out of his field, misrepresented as something he is not by Ms Gledhill and making the assumption that because a carrot and a lettuce exist in the same pot, the carrot must have ’caused’ the existence and growth of the lettuce.

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