Post-Modern Suspicion?

10 05 2008

I recently commented on this blog about truth being in short supply in these days and my post-modern suspicion of all things ‘modern’ has stumbled over a new source of question marks. I happened to be browsing through the Independent the other day and found that the word ‘report’ seemed to appear rather a lot. Now only last week I had cause to make some rather negative comments about the Times and a recent Rowntree Trust report on a minimalistic survey about modern social evils so perhaps my sensitivities was somewhat heightened at rather a lot of news that was based on this or that ‘report’.

Having been negative about the Rowntree report I was intrigued by the headline in the Times, “Churchgoing on its knees as Christianity falls out of favour” which led into an article about how Christian Research, an organisation I thought had fairly good credibility, brought out a report indicating rather large declines in church attendance in the UK. The article did observe that Lynda Barley, the head of research for the Church of England disputed the forecasts: “There are more than 1.7 million people worshipping in a Church of England church or cathedral each month, a figure that is 30 per cent higher [than the Sunday attendance figure used by Christian Research] and has remained stable since 2000. We have no reason to believe that this will drop significantly.”

I needed to go to another website to find a fuller picture where I found, “Christian Research points out that the shortcomings are to be found in the sensationalist interpretation of their data by The Times newspaper and others, not in the work they have published.” Tut! Tut! The Times at it again! And “head of Christian Research Benita Hewitt … told Christian Today e-zine: “The church statistics were looking at only Sunday attendance – and I completely agree with Lynda that it’s missing out those who attend less frequently than once a week, because increasing numbers are attending midweek and are attending less traditional forms of church. I agree all those things are missing,” which rather indicates the Times got it a bit wrong (perhaps!).

I find these things slightly perplexing because from where I stand numbers are going up, not down. Yes, I do know of a local Anglican church that was shut down but that was because it was right out in the country with few houses anywhere near it and so the few locals couldn’t sustain it financially. However I suspect there is a measure of truth about church going decline in traditional denominations, even though it is not true for the rest.

Another ‘report’ that caught my eye was in an article that declared, “Europe is facing a “demographic winter” as pensioners outnumber teenagers and birth rates fall, according to a report by the Institute for Family Policy.” The report was entitled, “The Evolution of the Family in Europe 2008.” If that one is accurate then we are living in a depressing era in that there is one marital breakdown every 30 seconds in Europe, the average marriage lasts 13 years and there are 1 million divorces annually. We’re obviously not very good at relationships – with God and with each other!

Another bunch of ‘report’ people who must be feeling rejected this week are the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). A report from the group said scientific evidence pointed to a “probable, but weak, causal link between psychotic illness, including schizophrenia, and cannabis use”, concluding that the health dangers from cannabis did not justify its inclusion in the higher category the the Government is going ahead with anyway. More suspicion of reports.

So in those three reports we find a) questionable data, b) unpleasant data and c) unpalatable data. I Keep finding my mind drifting back into the area of research integrity, or to be more precise, the lack of integrity that sometimes seems to flow around the world of research and assessment. It means, unfortunately, that there is a lot of skepticism floating around and the modern liking for knocking out research and research reports at the drop of a hat, only seems to fuel this skepticism. Perhaps these three reports I’ve cited today might be categorized as a) disputed, b) depressing and c) dismissed, none of which does a lot of good for the average punter looking for a lift in life!

Maybe it’s because I am a postmodern skeptic or maybe it’s because I am a Christian concerned about ethics in the twenty-first century, but however we look at these things we have to admit that we live in an age where truth is questionable. Is this information correct? Are these conclusions correct, or have we concocted conclusions to suit our presuppositions?

One of the things about all of this, it seems, is that in this period of history, despite all our information collecting, we are even more unsure about life. Many will even shout that there is no such thing as truth, until it comes to issues directly personal to them. There are no absolutes they say – but it is wrong for you to lie to me! We may not sack our politicians today for committing adultery, abandoning wives and families etc, but we will if they lie to us. We may have reduced our list of  ‘don’t do’ things, but we still have them and always will have them.  Our playing with research and reports, is a vain attempt to decide that is right and what is not, yet even as the report on drugs has shown, if we don’t like the report, we ignore it.

I look forward to the day – and it will come – when we will find society accepting that the best arbiter for right and wrong comes from “God said” but while people refuse to even examine the validity for that premise, that time may be a long way off. In the meantime we will continue to suffer reports telling us how bad the world is getting (meaning our lifestyles!), how God is not relevant (because we don’t like being told we’re wrong), and how this or that is bad for us – or not – we think – for the moment – perhaps – maybe!




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