Why christians are big fat liars (well, at least sometimes).

I was reading the polls at gallup.com as I often do (they’re interesting) and I found one on the subject of religious folk and charity.  They had polled people who considered themselves “less religious” and “more religious” asking them if they had given to charity or volunteered in the last 30 days.  The self-identified “more religious” group said yes to each significantly more often.  So the conclusion was that the more religious you are, the more charitable you are.

Except…  They forgot that people tend to lie to pollsters if there is a social expectation on them to answer a certain way.  Imagine if you polled “more religious” and “less religious” people and asked them if they’d masturbated in the last 72 hours.  Think many of the “more religious” crowd would say yes?  Of course not, they answer the way they think they ought to answer regardless of the truth.  A really religious person is expected to act a certain way, and that includes everything from not masturbating to being more charitable and kind and christlike in every way than the average person.  So they lie.  Well, some of them do.

If you’re not convinced, this can be proven with hard data as well, I did some digging and turns out the dept of labor statistics keeps records on how many people volunteer each year.  26.4% americans volunteer for charity in a 1 year period.  According to the poll 39% of “more religious” people in the americas say they volunteer for charity each *month.*  So either americans volunteer for charity way less than people in poorer countries (every other country in north and south america is poorer than us) or the statistics are grossly inflated.

For years, decades, polls asking americans if they’ve been to church in the last 7 days showed that 40% said yes, they have been to church this week.  Then it occurred to someone to do some math and they figured out that there aren’t enough churches to hold nearly that many people.  So they instead did a study where they went around to all the churches in various towns and did manual head counts.

The actual figure?  20% attend church weekly.  For decades consistently when asked if you’ve been to church in the last week, 50% of the “yes” respondents were lying.  Fifty percent.  Big error.

So the next time you hear a poll that republicans have better sex lives or christians are nicer to kittens or something, remember that polling is an imperfect science.


Gallup poll:


Dept. of Labor Statistics:


Church attendance:


About agnophilo

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17 Responses to Why christians are big fat liars (well, at least sometimes).

  1. We should hook them all up to a polygraph for these polls. Thanks for this, very enlightening.

  2. Anonymous says:

    yep this is an ongoing challenge for social scientists, thanks for pointing it out!

  3. agnophilo says:

    @Loonsounds – Thanks : D  Though gallup never wrote me back : (If they do I’ll post it.

  4. this is an interesting argument, but could you please provide some sources?  I’m not saying it’s not true (and i’m not trying to pick a fight).  Interestingly, i would say that average church attendance is probably about 2/3 of the members of a church on any given week among my denomination,  but that’s an observation, and I wouldn’t know for sure what the statistics are.Also, 26% of our population would not be 100 million people, it would be closer to 75 million (given that our population is right around 300 million in the US). (source – http://www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html)

  5. agnophilo says:

    @JadedJanissary – Well I just was rounding it, 26% is roughly a third.  But you’re right, it’s closer to 1/4, so I should have said 75 mil.  Sorry, I’m horrible at math.So far as sources, I just looked up the articles and I got some of the figures wrong.  I was going by memory, I guess I shouldn’t have done that. I corrected it, and gave sources for the charity/volunteering stats at the bottom.

  6. @agnophilo – I appreciate it very much.And, I have trouble with math too.  The only reason I know the pop of the USA so well goes back to a very embarassing conversation I had with a Jordanian and 2 germans while i was in switzerland where I gave the wrong number (I was way too low)

  7. agnophilo says:

    @JadedJanissary – I knew it was 300 million, it was the 26% I didn’t think about.  When I count change I count quarters as 20 cents.  I’m really horrible with math unless I have a pen and paper.

  8. @agnophilo – ahhh.  yeah, there’s that too.

  9. niikhita says:

    Interesting post really, I guess all polls are flawed in that case. Everyone wants to look good.

  10. echois23 says:

    the dept of labor statistics keeps records on how many people volunteer each year.  26.4% americans volunteer for charity in a 1 year period = my first question how do they know? I don’t get paid for volunteer work, I don’t pay or recieve tax breaks for it. There is no way they could possibly have a record of the time I spend volunteering… I agree that statistics are skewed for lots of reasons with people not telling the truth being top of the list. another problem So they instead did a study where they went around to all the churches in various towns and did manual head counts. The actual figure?  20% attend church weekly.= going to church weekly most churches have multiple services thoughout the week. Did they count them all seperately keeping careful records so as to weed out people who might have attendedn more than one service.. No, most likely they simply did an at the door count of who went in on a Sunday Morning. So the number could have been skewed to be much lower due to only counting one service or skewed to be much higher due to some of the same people attending 6 services a week…… My point is that there is really no way to prove whether the people lied about either thing above given the limited ability to collect such information…… and like you said that is true of all such surveys…

  11. agnophilo says:

    @echois23 – Multiple studies were done, they a) used church’s own statistics, then b) did head counts at multiple churches in all masses for several months, and another study was done where they asked people where they’d been in the last 24 hours, saying they were interested in what chemicals they might have been exposed to, and told people to write down in diaries everywhere they go, then checked the diaries to see if they attended church.So yeah, they basically checked it pretty much every way you could.http://www.religioustolerance.org/rel_rate.htm

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