Friday, March 7, 2008
Perceptions of Christianity
A new book entitled unChristian (see it at)http://www.unchristian.com/ is the result of research by the Barna Group on how Christianity is perceived by young people. The ad for unChristian says:
Christians are supposed to represent Christ to the world. But according to the latest report card, something has gone terribly wrong. Using descriptions like “hypocritical,” “insensitive,” and “judgmental,” young Americans share an impression of Christians that’s nothing short of . . . unChristian.
Groundbreaking research into the perceptions of sixteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds reveals that Christians have taken several giant steps backward in one of their most important assignments. The surprising details of the study, commissioned by Fermi Project and conducted by The Barna Group, are presented with uncompromising honesty in unChristian.
Find out why these negative perceptions exist, learn how to reverse them in a Christlike manner, and discover practical examples of how Christians can positively contribute to culture.
So, let's get this straight. The Fermi Project is dedicated to facilitating a wider conversation on the topic of how to change these negative perceptions. May the Lord have mercy on your soul!
I am an educator and cognitive therapist trained in understanding how people perceive reality or mis perceive reality. As scripture says and cognitive psychology confirms, "The heart is deceitful..." Our hearts deceive ourselves and others without even half trying.
This does not mean that we nor unChristian is wrong for trying to shift perceptions. It is probably not a bad thing to market our faith to the world. It is, however, difficult if not impossible to accomplish.
Now read This
A new study about people who use an expensive brand name medicine versus others who use a generic cheap version shows that perception really matters. Those who knew they were using an expensive pill reported those pills were decidedly more powerful in relieving pain than the cheap pills. Both pills were made of sugar and had no chemicals in them to reduce pain.
This is called, "The Placebo Effect" and has a very powerful influence on our experience. The Bible calls it, "The Faith Effect" and says that our faith really does effect our experience.
The authors of unChristian did a "Research Study" about people's experience of Christianity. The faith as well as the past experiences of the people interviewed undoubtedly influenced their answers. The authors do not seem to understand that surveys reveal the top of the head perceptions of the people. They do not revel deep heart beliefs.
The book unChristian seems to take the perceptions, biases and frustrations of the respondents as facts. Now they set out to criticize "Christianity" based on those conclusions. Here is the rub. There are between 300 and 400 thousand churches in America. There are many preachers on TV and radio. All of them are different in style, theology and practice. To criticize Christianity is misleading. They seem to indicate that there is only one voice or one channel of communication in American Christianity.
I often read marketing magazines and management books about these issues. Several years ago I read that there are eight categories of males who drink beer. So Coors and Bud must develop and communicate eight different types of marketing ads to get guys to buy their beers. Eight different messages to market the same beer!
I am listening to the Fermi pod casts and they seem to assume that there is one, consistent, hateful and legalistic, right wing political message emanating for some central location in America. Their solution is for this little group to send a new message approved by the Left Wing of American politics.
They also seem to assume that they are the first generation to care for the poor and who are sensitive to minorities. They now will be able to change the perceptions of young people by going into prisons, doing ministry among the poor and so on. Since no one has ever done that before in America, others will finally see the light of Christian charity. As you can see, I am sceptical of their approach.
Instead of building on the shoulders of giants they must destroy the negative ideas built by former generations. Then a new Phoenix can arise from the ashes.
Such idealism and lack of real knowledge about both the good and bad of past generations is not unusual. However, it is misplaced and unhelpful.
The issues and opportunities facing Christianity are multifaceted, interconnected and massive. Their solution will require new cooperation, dialogue and prayerful interaction of all ages and groups. I am not convinced that the Fermi Project or unChristian is adding much to the progress.
By attacking other Christians the Fermi group can hardly build a new vision of love, grace and cooperation.