Saturday, February 28, 2009

Christianists Love Porn? Sure, but…

The following is a good example of how information is simplified and consequently misinterpreted as it is passed along even by the most reputable of sources. It shows the importance of going to the source, and looking at the broader context.
Andrew Sullivan says that “[t]here's a significant correlation between consumption of online porn and Christianism.” To back up that claim, he gives us the following excerpt from the New Scientist article:
Eight of the top 10 pornography consuming states gave their electoral votes to John McCain in last year's presidential election – Florida and Hawaii were the exceptions. While six out of the lowest 10 favoured Barack Obama. Residents of 27 states that passed laws banning gay marriages boasted 11% more porn subscribers than states that don't explicitly restrict gay marriage...

States where a majority of residents agreed with the statement "I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage," bought 3.6 more subscriptions per thousand people than states where a majority disagreed. A similar difference emerged for the statement "AIDS might be God's punishment for immoral sexual behaviour."
But the study by Professor Benjamin Edelman that the New Scientist goes a little deeper than that. Specifically, Edelman controls the data set for income, age, education, and marital status and comes up with a slightly altered ranking according to each state’s “difference in subscribers per thousand home broadband users relative to subscription rates predicted based on demographics”. In this new list, McCain’s lead over Obama among top online-porn prescribing states decreases to seven to three, while the two are tied at five each. In short, take out the effects of demographics, and the political significance of online-porn subscription becomes less evident.

But what about the positive correlation between online subscription and Christianist views? After all, “[s]tates where a majority of residents agreed with the statement "I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage," bought 3.6 more subscriptions per thousand people than states where a majority disagreed”, didn’t they? Not quite. It is obvious that this figure from Edelman’s study is merely a statistical hypothesis (albeit a highly robust one), that is, the “difference, in subscriptions per thousand broadband households, between a hypothetical state where all residents disagree with the quote versus one where all residents agree with the statement.” There’s definitely a positive correlation, but its dimensions are exaggerated by the simplification in the New Scientist article.

More important, there is more to porn than online websites. A table in Edelman’s study shows that in 2006 “adult entertainment” on the Internet brought in 2,841 million in “adult entertainment” retail sales. That’s a lot of money, but it was still only one-fifth of the 12,815 million for all “adult entertainment” retail sales. If stores and clubs that provide adult entertainment as well as porn-friendly shelf space in otherwise respectable establishments are, as I suspect, harder to come by in conservative states, then it stands to reason that some of that business is going to flow to online providers. Without more information, there is no way on knowing whether Christianists are more lustful than their less literal-minded bretheren, heathens, and, to quote Barack Hussein Obama, “non-believers.”

Christianists like porn. Now it’s reassuring to know that they are human, just like the rest of us. But does that make them hypocrites? Not necessarily. It certainly makes them sinners (in their own eyes—I could give a hoot), but that’s what they have churches for, I suppose.

9 comments:

Zach Baran said...

Christians are sinners (in God's eyes) regardless of whether they subscribe to porn or not. If a Christian, or for that matter a 'Christianist', cannot admit that, than the whole meaning of the faith is lost on him/her.

I'm not familiar with the term Christianism, but it sounds like that is the bigger sin in this story.

The statistical side of the story seems somewhat dodgy, and leaves me asking, "So what?"

Janne Morén said...

The question has some small relevance - as does statistics on infidelity, family violence and crime - because a small but vocal subset of Christians argue very loudly against atheism with the argument that religion is necessary for moral behavior, and atheism should be branded as immoral (even illegal) for that reason.

In order to answer such a charge it is helpful to have statistics looking at the correlation between faith and morals. As expected, there are no significant correlations - we're all human and all much the same no matter what beliefs we happen to carry with us.

Zach Baran said...

Janne, I disagree that statistics (even in their correct use) are helpful in answering "such a charge", and that is mostly because I don't think there is a need to answer such a charge in the first place.

Statistics and religion have the commonality that, when abused for a particular agenda, can lead large amounts of people in the dangerous directions.

Janne Morén said...

"..and that is mostly because I don't think there is a need to answer such a charge in the first place."

Any baseless charges need to be answered, and especially when they can cause a lot of personal suffering. There's already a distressing number of people who actually believe such things, and people do fall victim to modern-day witch-hunts because of this.

Zach Baran said...

And manipulating statistics (again, these are statistical results, not meaningful figures) to answer those baseless charges makes for a fairly lousy dialog overall, Janne.

That is my point. I am a big fan of both statistics and religion, but I hate to see them used and abused against each other like this.

Jun Okumura said...

I agree with Janne on the broader concern regarding facts and religion, which is actually closely related to Sullivan's original post. I am making a different point regarding the integrity of public discourse. I usually go after the mainstream media, but The Daily Dish is as big as anything out there.

Zach Baran said...

I agree that integrity is important in public discourse, but now two degrees removed from the actual source study, we (read: you) are still using correlation as causation and personifying states as "buying more porn" than other states, and "giving their vote to McCain". I have yet to see the conclusions that Christians or Christianists (self-proclaimed or otherwise) are the ones responsible for the significant statewide differences in porn consumption.

If Christianists who insist that being Christian is the reason that they are living life, to quote Paul's letter to the Ephesians, with "not even a hint of sexual immorality", then they are hypocrites, Jun.

However, let's not get to that conclusion until we have a slightly more pithy argument, with or without statistics.

Jun Okumura said...

we (read: you) are still using correlation as causation and personifying states as "buying more porn" than other states, and "giving their vote to McCain".

Certainly not me (read: me). You'll have to take your complaints to Sullivan, who is the subject of my criticism.

anca said...
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