Jerry Falwell, George Barna and Hysteria-Related Activities
Jerry Falwell’s latest column is getting sent around the blogs as a way of raising the alarm about the creeping evils of “secular humanism.” Christine at TalkWisdom reacts to Falwell’s column this way:
The following article truly indicates why we need more Biblically-based Christian culture warriors. Do we want secular humanism to take over the hearts, minds, souls and spirits of our children and grandchildren? Or, are we willing to “fight the good fight” for their sakes?
What is the news that convinces Christine the “secular humanists” have captured her children? She cites Falwell’s column, which reads:
I read with interest late last year a Barna Group report on “the 12 Most Significant Religious Findings from 2006 Surveys.”… The very important report also found that “three out of every four teenagers have engaged in at least one type of psychic or witchcraft-related activity.”
“Psychic or witchraft-related activity” isn’t secular — it’s alternative supernaturalism. So here, Falwell seems to really be complaining that the competition is making inroads on his turf. But putting that aside — wow! Isn’t it amazing to hear that “three out of every four teenagers have engaged in at least one type of psychic or witchcraft-related activity”? Let’s learn more by going right to the source: George Barna, who writes the humbly named Barna Report himself.
The survey being referred to is not actually a 2006 survey, strictly speaking. The survey was conducted in 2005, and results were reported nearly a year ago, on January 23, 2006. What was this survey’s methodology? All the report’s summary page will tell us is that “The report, called Ministry to Mosaics: Teens and the Supernatural, is based upon three nationwide studies conducted among more than 4,000 teens by The Barna Group.” There’s no mention of a survey being representative — that is, based upon a random sample of the population of teenagers — and my guess is that with three separate studies being involved, the end result probably isn’t representative, but instead simply exploratory. To confirm these studies’ research method, I’d have to shell out $20 to pay for the full report — which isn’t the typical non-profit research approach, and adds to my suspicion that something other than a representative survey was carried out here.
But we don’t really even need to extend our concern to the method of sample collection in order to address the hairy-scary claim that “three out of every four teenagers have engaged in at least one type of psychic or witchcraft-related activity.” Look at that phrase carefully: “psychic or witchcraft-related activity.” The first issue is the use of the word “or.” Very few teenagers studied could be involved in psychic activity if a number were engaged in “witchcraft-related activity”… and yet one could relay the impression of a number of teenagers getting involved in psychic play by making this “or” connection. And then there’s the phrase “witchcraft-related activity.” It’s very much like George W. Bush’s “weapons of mass destruction related activity.” Bush wanted us to think he meant “weapons of mass destruction” had been found, but no: all he found were “related activities,” like… people in Iraq talking about them, somewhere, some time. The same thing’s going on here. If you read a little more closely, you find that “witchcraft-related activities” include watching a movie or reading a book that has magic in it. Like, oh, The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.
Three out of four kids watching The Lord of the Rings or reading Harry Potter? Not at all surprising, and not really threatening. Three out of four teenagers “engaged in at least one type of psychic or witchcraft-related activity” sounds much more impressively frightening, and is much more useful to someone like Jerry Falwell in drumming up the hysteria (and bringing in the donations to “fight the good fight”).