Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Epic Survey Fail

I encountered a survey yesterday purportedly on "religion and spirituality" in this region. Given that we pagans are relatively few in numbers in this area (although there do seem to be a fair number of us around, enough to be statistically significant in a study like this), I figured I'd fill it out and help represent the pagans.

Yeah, not such a good idea. I've spent a good portion of yesterday and today being annoyed at the whole thing.

This particular survey is being done by the local University, and I happen to know the professor who's overseeing the project. And I must say, I'm disappointed; I know it's your grad students doing the actual survey, but it's your bloody job as the overseeing professor to make sure the study is being done right.

And. You. Have. Failed.

Despite the fact that it's advertised as a survey on "religion and spirituality," it's really a survey on "Christian, atheistic, and agnostic beliefs" in the community. The survey had such a western-monotheistic bias that they really can't justify calling it survey on "religion and spirituality." There was one - ONE - reference to any kind of polytheistic belief system. The one semi-polytheistic system they included was Hinduism; and that was in a question about how you think various religions/beliefs have a positive/negative/no impact on the world! The only other time they even came close that someone MIGHT have a view which falls outside of the western-monotheistic paradigm was when they said that "Higher Power" could be substituted for "God" (yes, "God" with the capital "G") "if necessary" . . . and that didn't happen until 90% of the way through the survey!

And then there were the questions on participating as part of a congregation. It quickly became clear that what they meant by "congregation" was "people who get together once a week, get preached at, and sing together." You're supposed to be academics! Do your damned research and figure out that congregation (in the religious context, anyway) simply means "a gathering, assemblage, or company" or "collecting in one body or mass" (not "Catholic mass" by the way). And that's according to the OED; religion doesn't even come into the picture until definition number SIX, and the way they're using it isn't until number SEVEN! And that's not even to mention the fact that MOST religions don't USE "congregation" - that's really only a Christian thing (and not even all forms of Christianity use it). Quit imposing your assumptions and understandings on the rest of us - or at the very least state them upfront so I know who/what I'm dealing with! Gah!

Here's the real problem - it's not they survey itself (although I'm still really annoyed at it; it's the underlying assumption that it reveals. And this particular assumption is one that I seem to be seeing a lot of recently (or maybe it's simply the fact that now that I've noticed, I can recognize it for what it is). It's the assumption that you and your family/friends are "normal", therefore most people are very similar to you. And if most people are similar to you, they think and act in similar ways. Sure, there are going to be differences, but when you look at it, most people are going to fall under the category of "normal." But since you're defining "normal" on your life and experiences, it's a hugely subjective standard - one which simply cannot hold up and is just . . . well, fucking wrong! Anyone or anything which falls too far outside of your frame of reference either gets marginalize or missed all together. It's not that it's ignored; to be ignored, there has to be at least some recognition that it's there to begin with. In the case of this survey, I'm guessing the thought process when something like: "Okay, since most people are Christian of some kind, we'll focus on them. But of course we want to include those of Jewish and Islamic faiths. And don't forget the atheists and agnostics. Who else is there? Oh, yeah, 'Eastern' religions - Hindus and Buddhists! Is that it? Yeah, I think that's about it."

See the problem here? Kinda missed a few religions here. Even if you don't want to go into all the various denominations and subgroups, you've missed several of the major religion/belief categories: the various forms of paganism, Native American beliefs, Bahai, Confucianism, Shinto, Jainism, Taoism, Vodun, Roma/Romani, Hare Krishna, Sikhism, Santeria, Scientology . . . should I continue? Or have I made my point?

I'm hoping it's that they simply stopped thinking; it's better than the alternative, which is they followed up "Hindus and Buddhists!" with "We don't have to worry about anyone else because there aren't enough to matter." If that was what they thought, I'm going to have to go get the cricket bat and "inform" them of just how much one person can matter.