Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A matter of faith

Far-right christianists spread all sorts of pathological nonsense about gay people. For example, they declare us all to be “anti-Christian” or “anti-religion” or “godless”. It suits their political, fundraising and recruitment tactics to make these absurd pronouncements, but what’s the truth?

The short answer is that the best research to date indicates that GLBT people generally are religious, spiritual or not in roughly the same proportion as the general population, especially when matched for race, class, location, etc. GLBT people may be somewhat less likely to follow an organised religion, especially those churches that are openly hostile to GLBT people (which explains why there are few openly gay Christian fundamentalists), but even this can’t be proven conclusively.

The problem with research into the attitudes and beliefs of GLBT people is that there’s a kind of reverse sampling bias: GLBT people select themselves out of surveys. The reason should be obvious: Faced with the real threat of discrimination, harassment and even violence everywhere in America, including major cities, many GLBT people will refuse to self-identify as such when a researcher rings them; there aren’t that many people who will take a risk with an anonymous voice on the phone.

Which doesn’t mean that such research is impossible or without merit, it just means that the results must be viewed with a healthy dose of scepticism. Research that combines a variety of techniques is probably more valid than those that rely on only one (and telephone-only research is likely to be the least valid).

I was thinking about this today because I read about a recent study on the religious attitudes of gay people. The link was sent to me by my "e-friend" LordByron who thought it was interesting. It was, but that’s all I can say about it because the study contains this footnote:

Copyright Disclaimer: All the information contained on [this] website is copyrighted by [the folks who did the research]. No portion of this website (articles, graphs, charts, reviews, pictures, video clips, quotes, statistics, etc.) may be reproduced, retransmitted, disseminated, sold, distributed, published, edited, altered, changed, broadcast, circulated, or commercially exploited without the prior written permission from [the folks who did the research].

Got that? The folks post their results online, complete with snappy quotes from the head of the company, but no one is allowed to quote anything from it. Why bother posting anything at all? Copyright in the digital age is evolving, but this seems like dramatic overkill to me.

So, I won’t discuss that study or link to it, since the company wants it to be online but secret, nor will I even comment directly on it, lest I inadvertently shed light into their hidey-hole. That’s why I removed all identifiers in the quote above. Instead, I’ll just say that any comments I might have on the validity of the study can be inferred from what I said earlier in this post. Too bad: This topic desperately needs more rational discussion, not more lights under bushels.


LordByronIL said...

And the nameless researcher charges a hefty penny to mainline religious judicatories to give them the results of their research. I must say, however, that much of their demographic research is pretty 'right on' - at least in the areas of Illinois where I have lived.
Like you, I wondered how they got their sample of GLBT persons but even at that it could give the Christianists something to chew their cud over. :-)

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

I think that's an excellent point, actually, because even though I suspect that the methodology may be inherently flawed, the results they got still demonstrate yet again how wrong the right wing is about the religious views of gay people.

I should add that Pew Research does a lot of credible research in this and similar areas—and all their research is available for viewing AND commenting on.

liminalD said...

It's a fascinating area... and I think you're quite right about queer people selecting themselves out of studies on religious views, most LGBT that I know will keep their religious and spiritual views to themselves out of frustration at being constantly criticised and condemned in discussions about these topics. Grr!! >:(

Roger Owen Green said...

Hey, e-mail me the link; I'll print it because such inconsistencies warrant further exposure, nott to mention the underlying data. There is still something called fair use.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

liminalD: I suppose in some ways, GLBT people are similar to liberal religious people or agnostics/atheists who all may want to avoid discussing religion to avoid being, as you put it, criticised and condemned. That's a shame especially because it just reinforces fundamentalists' delusions that they're the majority. Still, I can't criticise any GLBT folk who want to remain, let's say, circumspect about revealing much about themselves in order to remain safe.

Roger: As you know, New Zealand has no fair use provision in its copyright law, and it's just not worth it to me to go there.