Losing trust in religious leaders

I recently reported the data from our last census showing the decline of the numbers of Christians in New Zealand, and the associated increase in people declaring they have no religion (see Census 2013 – religious diversity). It’s interesting to consider the consequences if the trend continues. As the graph below shows, the”crossover point” (when the number of Christians = the number of No religion) will occur in 2016 – only 2 years away. Christianity itself will decline even further so that in about 20 years it will likely have only  20% of the census responses.

census-trend

I think most people now accept that secularisation in the modern pluralist, democratic societies is a fact. (Although Christian apologist WL Craig still clutches at straws to deny this – see Philosopher reveals his predictions for the future of Christianity in America). Only the reasons for this are debated.

Of course, there is not going to be just one factor – life is never that simple. But one that interests me is changes in the way we perceive the representatives of religion. In my younger years I was quite happy to respect religious leaders – and give to religious charities. Despite my rejection of their beliefs I still held a certain amount of trust in those leaders. But not any more – and I think I am not alone in this.

Gallup recently released results of their latest poll of American’s attitudes towards professions (see Honesty and Ethics Rating of Clergy Slides to New Low). The poll asks people to rate the honesty and ethics of people in different fields. Gallup reported:

“Americans’ rating of the honesty and ethics of the clergy has fallen to 47%, the first time this rating has dropped below 50% since Gallup first asked about the clergy in 1977. Clergy have historically ranked near the top among professions on this measure, hitting a high rating of 67% in 1985.”

The graph below demonstrates this decline of trust in clergy.

honesty

Again, the decline in rating of the honest and ethics of religious clergy will probably have multiple causes. Sex abuse in the church will be a significant cause. As will attempts to promote outdated and inhumane attitudes on moral issues.

For me another strong cause of declining trust is the way that prominent Christian leaders and their news media will flagrantly misrepresent science –  particularly evolutionary science .  I agree, those specific leaders  might not be representative of all Christians (who is), but these other Chrsitians seem unwilling  to criticise them.

How can one maintain trust in people who knowingly misrepresent well established scientific facts and ideas? And how can one maintain trust in their associates who remain silent about that misrepresentation?

Credit: The honesty of clergy, car salesmen, and politicians.

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41 responses to “Losing trust in religious leaders

  1. Interesting, and not unexpected by Premillennialists.
    “When the Son of man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

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  2. RossN, the quote from your magic book is a question and not a statement of expectation. No wonder you guys require clergy to translate its contents.
    (Richard Christie 08.01.14)

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  3. I think the decline in trust in clergy probably reflects the general decline in trust of anyone in any kind of public role – politicians, scientists, civil servants, doctors, etc.

    I don’t think this is necessarily a reflection of clergy in itself.

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  4. Matt Briggs wrote an interesting piece on evolution and the belief or lack thereof within America

    http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=10885

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  5. However, it’s cute rationalisation. The more Christians spread the faith or raise their children as Christians; the more that repeals Him from coming back.
    Kinda like a vampire with garlic.

    “So I’m pumped up to make my big comeback now….oops…too many believers.
    Darn it!
    Better set the watch back another 500 years and try later.”

    Seems legit.

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  6. Stuart Mathieson

    I notice the downward trend for Christian affiliation is continued as a straight line extrapolation. While it seems to be the case thus far I don’t think we can assume that to be the case of religion in general on a global scale. Our experience with non scientific opinions suggests a residual community of religiously inclined people is likely to persist in spite of secular scientific reasoning. There seems to be evolutionary and even epistemological reasons why we retain a capacity for core beliefs that are resistant to rational argument. There are plausible arguments to suggest reasoning is instrumental rather than value defining. Reason as Hume postulated is rationalising not motivating. Modern cognitive scientists are finding the same. Core beliefs seems to be the product of community indoctrination but with a strong bias toward proximal welfare which makes evolutionary sense. Moral development seems to be proxima-distal but religion seems to be essentially selfish and exclusive. For that reason it is likely to persist. Afterall, it’s all about personal salvation is it not?

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  7. Agreed. People are hard-wired to believe in superstition. It’s a by-product. Critical thinking skills are not natural. They have to be taught. So, in the meantime, gut thinking fills the vacuum.
    There will always be a fox in the box. It’s what comes naturally.

    The Power of Belief with James Randi 1

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  8. My critical thinking skills leads me to the conclusion that arguing about religion indicates that you do indeed have a vacuum problem – in your head. How about having a debate on personal faith and individual beliefs, that may be a bit more informative and productive?

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  9. Come on then, bojangels. Let us have that debate. You kick off.

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  10. Hi Andy,

    I wasted a few minutes of my life reading the article from the link you posted.

    Matt Briggs says “…But evolution is different. Here belief is mandatory, the very mark of civilization. Understanding is beside the point.”

    Perhaps he was right about the mark of civilization…

    so…presumably its OK not to believe in Theory of Gravity or Germ Theory?

    But like most of the biggies, Evolution is elegant and beautiful.

    Whether you like it, accept it, dislike it, believe it or have faith in it, hate it, or prefer coffee to tea is irrelevant. It exists regardless of you or your thoughts.

    But belief is not mandatory – anyone can be an idiot and also believe a man in the sky created the universe in seven days or world is flat or that sickness is caused by blockages of a life force called Chi, or…or…or…or…the list is endless.

    Irrespective of you or anyone else who chooses not to “believe”, it is one of the most important Theories the Human Race has developed.

    To compare Evolution with understanding “protein folding” is embarrassing (and logically flawed)

    Nope, sorry Andy, your link was not interesting, if you want something interesting have a look at;

    http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/scientific-experiments/10-scientific-laws-theories.htm#page=1

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  11. Hi Mr Bojangles,

    So you want to have a debate on personal faith etc?

    A bit broad…but…how about you let us know what your head is filled with?

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  12. ….when what is really interesting is how many people believe in evolution.

    I don’t “believe” in evolution. I accept evolution.
    It would be nice to live in a world where I could believe in evolution but, sadly, I can’t.
    I accept that asprin works.
    I accept the Theory of Relativity.
    I accept the internal combustion engine and cell phones etc.

    One day, I’d like to be able say that I believe in those things and have native speakers of English grasp my meaning and move on.
    Only that’s not possible.
    It’s not possible because of “gotcha” morons like Matt Briggs.
    Behold…

    A: Do you believe in Evolution?
    B: Yes, I believe in Evolution.
    A: AHAH!!!! …belief is mandatory, the very mark of civilization. Understanding is beside the point. Ye must have faith, and public faith at that.(…)Proselytizing atheists…

    (…awkward silence…)

    And that’s why I accept evolution and never “believe” in it.

    The demand belief because it is their contention that evolution does away with God and religious explanations of the role of mankind. To a PA, to say you believe in evolution is equivalent to saying you disbelieve in God.

    Pure bullshit. There’s no nice way to say it.
    Strawmannery at it’s most shameless.
    What do you do with a strawman, boys and girls?
    You knock it down and declare victory.

    This is absurd. And false. And blah, blah…

    Yep. Set it up yourself and knock it down yourself and then do your little dance of victory. Seen it a thousand times.

    But you have to hand it to the proselytizing atheists. They managed to goad a small segment of protesting Christians (mostly evangelicals) into agreeing that if evolution is true then God is defunct. The PAs created so big a stink that many Christians were tricked into putting more emphasis than they otherwise would have on certain peripheral views.

    We really are dealing with morons here. The evangelicals deny basic science, not because of their religion, but because of those mean atheists that forced them into it?
    Right.
    Sure.
    That’s what really happened.

    People have many false but harmless beliefs. Why is it so important to correct beliefs about evolution above all others?

    You can’t pick and choose your science. You can’t accept geology but reject botany. You can’t accept chemistry but reject astronomy. It’s a package deal.
    Attack or belittle one branch of the sciences and you damage them all since they all rest on the same foundations.

    Why is it so important to correct beliefs about evolution above all others?

    Shall we start with HIV research or antibiotics? The derp is strong with this one.

    If it weren’t for evangelicals’ sharp and in many cases accurate criticisms, PA scientists would have become fat and happy with some egregious errors.

    Bullshit.
    There are no “PA scientists”. That’s just something you made up to please yourself. There are scientists.
    Evangelicals have made sharp and accurate criticisms?
    Really?
    Name them.
    Put up or shut up.

    …like the harmless but false proposition that the earth is only six-thousand-years old…

    Ignorance is not harmless. Wilful dismissal of scientific consensus and the work it represents to impose your own faith-based reality is dangerous and shames us all as a species.
    The Earth is not 6000 years old.
    It’s really not.
    Point and laugh openly at them. They deserve it.

    ***** 16. Evolution vs. Creationism: The Age of the Earth *****

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  13. The same trend is showing itself in the Muslim world but at a very low level for now. The clergy at our end are beyond dishonest. They outright encourage murder and mayhem at the expense of their own people to further their political goals.

    It is sickening and this week a 13 year old boy gave up his life in Pakistan to save his classmates from a Taleban suicide bomber. The clergy is silent and calls the Taleban “martyrs”.

    Religion is an absolute waste of time and human potential.

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  14. “Hi Andy,

    I wasted a few minutes of my life reading the article from the link you posted.

    I’m sorry to waste a few minutes of your live Christ
    Matt Briggs is of course a climate sceptic as well as being a statistician.
    Therefore you should ignore everything he says.

    Only stick to approved sources written by genuine people.
    By following this path you will find genuine enlightenment

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  15. Christopher, I’m sorry you found my link boring . I also found your how stuff works link tedious and patronizing. I knew this stuff decades ago.

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  16. “Christopher, I’m sorry you found my link boring”

    No need to apologize Andy. It’s just that…well…I do find it boring when I see people with an obvious ideological bent spout the same innane rubbish, repeating the same idiotic mistakes without actually saying anything.

    But this does raise the obvious question.
    What on earth did you find so interesting in Matt Brigg’s article?

    http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=10885

    “I also found your how stuff works link tedious and patronizing. I knew this stuff decades ago”

    And I’m sure the reason you found the 10 scientific laws/theories I suggested you look at so tedious is that…

    well…you think you know it all.

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  17. I don’t think I know it all. I find a lot of ideas challenging and am prepared to change my views on a lot of matters. Matt Briggs, for example, has had a lot of interesting feedback on the climate change debate, from a statistical perspective.

    However, for those who regard the science as “settled”, there is very little point in providing them links to articles like these, because they are not interested in science

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  18. But this does raise the obvious question.
    What on earth did you find so interesting in Matt Brigg’s article?

    What indeed?

    However, for those who regard the science as “settled”, there is very little point in providing them links to articles like these, because they are not interested in science

    Andy, if you think there’s an alternative to evolution then go for it.
    Yet surely, you can see how the idea of the Earth being 6000 years old is insane?

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  19. What did I find interesting in the article? That is an interesting question since apparently it is a waste of time reading the article

    So why waste time discussion an article that you find a waste of time?

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  20. Hi Andy,

    “The evolution wars haven’t been all bad. Evangelicals have been a blessing to evolution. If it weren’t for evangelicals’ sharp and in many cases accurate criticisms, PA scientists would have become fat and happy with some egregious errors. Much as the evolutionary psychologists have become. Belief in flying spaghetti monsters is more rational than embracing some of the preposterous propositions they cherish”

    You said,
    “However, for those who regard the science as “settled”, there is very little point in providing them links to articles like these, because they are not interested in science”

    So again…which sciency “ideas” in this article did you take a shine to?

    ah…not climate change…now, that would be a diversion wouldn’t it?

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  21. I thought you weren’t interested?

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  22. Pay attention man!

    In the article, no…nada…zip…nothing

    But I did ask YOU what you thought was so interesting that you needed to share it

    So for the 3rd time (4th if you count Cedric’s)

    …which sciency “ideas” in this article did you take a shine to?

    But don’t feel compelled to answer…if you can’t back up what you say that’s mighty fine by me

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  23. I saw it on Facebook, it looked babu key interesting, ie another angle on the evolution issue. I shared it.

    Normally people either read it or ignore it. I don’t expect an inquisition as to my motives as to why I posted it.

    Cat pictures to follow

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  24. Babu key? Why does autocorrect do that?

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  25. No inquisition…just like I said…,

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  26. There isn’t really anything of scientific interest in the article you are not interested in. It was more a reflection of societal norms with respect to what we are expected to “believe” in.

    Whilst evolution makes sense at many levels, there are unanswered questions related to the probability of life forming, which have been explained by various wacky “multiverse” theories. I think that is what Matt Briggs might have been referring to,

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  27. Andy, why do you consider “multiverse theories” “whacky?”

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  28. Why? Because there is no evidence for them.
    Just like God, really

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  29. Trouble is that why gods are stand alone ideas – take them or leave them, concepts like the possibility of a multiverse are logical consequences (even of not yet proved) of established physics.

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  30. They are consistent with Einstein’s field equations, yes.
    Einstein also said “God does not play with dice”, when referring to Heisenberg’s theories.

    yet the average Joe in the street just ‘accepts” all this, or is at least expected to .

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  31. Can’t understand your point, Andy. The multiverse concept is a perfectly legitimate postulation from well established modern physics. No, there is not (yet) definitive empirical evidence to support it. But that does not make it “whacky.”

    Evidence for or against the hypothesis, when it is found, will improve our understanding of reality.

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  32. I am presuming that Matt Briggs finds the concept of an infinite number of universes “wacky”

    I am sure a series of turtles stacked on top of each other, each containing a universe potentially capable of supporting life, could also be shown to be a perfectly reasonable model which is consistent with all known laws of physics.

    The important thing is that we “accept” the science, regardless of how unsubstantiated or outlandish it might appear.

    “We” meaning the great unwashed, that is

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  33. However, for those who regard the science as “settled”, there is very little point in providing them links to articles like these, because they are not interested in science

    (…but later…)

    There isn’t really anything of scientific interest in the article you are not interested in.

    Hmm.

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  34. There isn’t anything of interest in this article. Christopher said it wasted his life.
    yet here we are…

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  35. Don’t be silly, Andy. Your turtle theory is not a logical consequence of physics at all. And like gods it is also not an external idea which can subsequently be justified by known physics.

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  36. So for the 3rd time (4th if you count Cedric’s)
    …which sciency “ideas” in this article did you take a shine to?

    Clearly a hard question.

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  37. “…don’t feel compelled to answer…if you can’t back up what you say that’s mighty fine by me”

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  38. “The important thing is that we “accept” the science, regardless of how unsubstantiated or outlandish it might appear.
    “We” meaning the great unwashed, that is”

    Andy,
    What are you on?

    Which Science?
    What’s unsubstantiated? Surely not Evolution…which area?
    Outlandish…well yes…can be…but so is the Blob fish…so what?
    Who on earth are the great unwashed? You?

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  39. What’s unsubstantiated? Surely not Evolution…which area?

    The multiverse theory would be a good idea.
    Of course, we could ask someone from another universe.

    Paging the NZ Green Party…

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  40. I don’t think you understand the multiverse concept, Andy. But we do talk about people being from other planets which is similar. Looks like your mates would like to get to another planet to avoid paying their debts – disgusting isn’t it?

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