Two people can observe the same incident but come away with different interpretations. Was it morally right? Who is to blame, if there is any blame to be had? Was that a helpful situation or a harmful one? Even parts of the New Testament vary a bit because different authors describe the same situation, but through their own lens. We are told that proves they were telling the truth, because if they wanted to sell a lie, they would have collaborated to create identical narratives.
Do You See a Monster or an Angel?
How do people see the same thig, but arrive at different, sometimes opposite, judgments? Sometimes we need to step back and take a broader look at issues.
The PEW Research Center follows trends across the spectrum of American life including media, social movements, science, and religion. As a Christian writer, I occasionally mine the site for blogging topics. Their reports can be fascinating and sometimes frightening.
How Do You Decide?
A while back, a PEW survey asked people if they believed there were clear standards of right and wrong or if right and wrong depended on the situation. The results for New York State showed that 26% believed in absolute standards for right and wrong, while 72% believed determining right from wrong depended on the situation. I wondered if that ratio was unique to New York, so I checked the results for the western half of the United States. The numbers were larger but the difference mirrored New York: people relying on absolute standards were 32% while 65% of the people polled based their judgment of right or wrong on the situation.
The next poll asked people how often they read the Bible:
- read the Bible every week
- once or twice a month, several times a year, seldom to never.
The results jumped out at me. The percentage of people who read the Bible every week in New York State was 27% and those reading the Bible once a month to never, totaled 72%. In the West, the numbers were 32% and 65% respectively.
The results of the two polls amazed me.
New York Absolute standards of right and wrong Situational
Western states 32% 68%
New York Reading Bible every week Infrequently/never
Western states 32% 65%
It seems I stumbled upon a correlation. Unless I’m missing something (and I may well be), people who read the Bible seem to rely on absolute standards of right and wrong, while those who do not read the Bible that often, assess situations to determine their choices. It would seem people who turn to the Bible for daily guidance are in the minority. Popular response indicates a preference for assessing the situation.
But is God not powerful enough to guide his children?
“For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we, through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4 NKJV)
Very interesting! I wonder if there’s any data to see if there are any earlier studies to compare and pick out a trend. If people are reading the Bible less often, or if this is the way it’s a consistent trend.
Good question. The data is a few years back, so it would be interesting if the trend is consistent today.
I guess the question is also: Within the 27-35% who read the Bible, what is their definition of “wrong”? Most would say that “wrong” is represented by a vicious act designed to hurt a victim. I think we can all agree with that.
But…can we also define wrong as being the absence of good? When a video caught the Asian woman being attacked in NYC, there were doormen inside the nearest building who saw why was happening, then closed their door, failing to assist that poor woman. In the same city years ago, Kitty Genovese died, her screams for help heard, but ignored by neighbors. These are examples where others could at least have quickly summoned the police, if they did not want to confront the attacker. Or …they could have yelled and screamed to scare away the perpetrator.
Are these people guilty of “wrong”? You decide.
What would help me decide is Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan.
A Jewish priest and a Jewish Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan were experts in the law. They were proficient in the reading of the scriptures. “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Matthew 7:24 Wisdom without action is meaningless. In the not too distance past, white people had a picnic after church and entertained themselves by hanging black people.
They will know us by what we do and say……after reading the bible.