Stop Spreading the Articles That Claim “Evangelicals Are the Least Faithful” June 6, 2014

Stop Spreading the Articles That Claim “Evangelicals Are the Least Faithful”

According to clickbait headlines everywhere, evangelical Christians are not very faithful:

A new survey conducted by Ashley Madison — a dating website for people already in relationships — sought to discover the link between religion and infidelity by asking 105,000 of its members around the world about their religious affiliation. More than 60,000 of the respondents were in the U.S.

It turns out, one in four members who responded described themselves as “born again” Evangelist Christians. Catholics comprised the next largest group at 22.75 percent, followed by Protestants (22.7 percent).

Here’s what the actual breakdown was:

  • Evangelist 25.1%
  • Protestant 22.7%
  • Catholic 22.75%
  • Agnostic 2%
  • Mormon 1.6%
  • Muslim 1.5%
  • Jewish 1.4%
  • Atheist 1.4%
  • Jehovah’s Witness 0.5%
  • Hinduism 0.3%

As tempting as it might be to use the data to make generalizations about the hypocrisy of religious people, stop.

Just stop.

This “research,” like much of the PR Ashley Madison tends to do, is all about attracting attention for the site. It certainly doesn’t say anything useful about the correlation between religiosity and infidelity.

A few things to keep in mind:

This was a self-selected survey.

It’s about as scientific as the pages of Cosmopolitan. The people who responded were the ones who wanted to share their religious faith — not representatives of the population at large. Maybe evangelicals, already having an affair, were so proud of getting away with sin that they were more than willing to admit as much. Or maybe non-Christians figured they’d have some fun with the results by just checking off a super-conservative religious label.

Not even all Ashley Madison users took the survey.

[Note: Of course I would make a math error here… The issue isn’t that a small sample of site users took the survey — that’s perfectly normal in statistics — but that it wasn’t necessarily a representative sample. My apologies. Thanks to those who pointed it out. I’ve deleted the incorrect passage so it doesn’t confuse anyone.]

We’re talking about two ideas, religion and fidelity, that people frequently lie about.

I’ve mentioned on this site before that when professional polling groups ask Americans about their religious beliefs, the numbers skew hard in the direction of religion. A lot of people don’t want to admit they’re non-religious; they’ll just respond with the religion in which they were raised. So were the evangelicals in the Ashley Madison poll actually evangelicals? Or were many of them just claiming to be? Who knows. (We’ve already seen how Americans lie about their church-going.)

As for cheating? Even in other, more serious, studies, it’s been hard to make any connection between religiosity and infidelity because you have to rely on people telling you the truth. And it turns out honesty about infidelity is about as reliable as it sounds.

By the way, the Huffington Post had to update their article to reflect how unscientific the survey was:

A previous headline on this article suggested that Ashley Madison’s survey results were reflective of the general population, a conclusion that is not supported by the data. We regret the error.

There are plenty of good ways to show the hypocrisy of religious people. This isn’t one of them.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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