STARING into a mirror at one’s image is as dangerous for institutions as it is for individuals. It can be helpful, up to a point, to discover what people think of you; but the temptation to become obsessed with this pimple, that wrinkle, needs to be resisted. Yet another poll has emerged in which members of the public are asked what they think about Christians and Christianity in general. A ComRes survey of 4087 adults, commissioned by Hodder publishers, suggests that the paranoia of some UK Christians is unfounded: most people have had a positive experience of Christians and Christianity; few people see Christians as a negative force in society.
If the Christian Church were a troubled teenager, its parents would now be telling it: you see, hardly anybody hates you, and you’ve got lots of friends. As a troubled teenager, however, it would ignore its parents, with their bigger, rosier picture, and focus on the least attractive details. Those looking for pimples might notice that, whereas 51 per cent of people aged 18 to 24 had had a positive experience of Christians or Christianity, only 38 or 39 per cent of those between the ages of 45 and 64 reported the same. Or that 13 per cent of men regarded Christians as a negative force as opposed to eight per cent of women. Or that, whereas just three per cent of regular churchgoers actively disagreed with the statement that they had had a positive Christian experience, only 81 per cent actively agreed; i.e. virtually one fifth of churchgoers, given the chance to record a positive experience of their faith, declined to do so for some reason. Or that 12 per cent of people in the AB socio-economic group see Christians as a negative force, higher than those from the lower income and class groups. Or that noticeably poorer scores are given to Christians by those in the DE socio-economic bracket. Or that twice the number of people in London think of Christians as a negative force (14 per cent) than people in the north-east (seven per cent). Perversely, in answer to another question, three times the number of Londoners reckon that they would have more fun socialising with a Christian than with an atheist (12 per cent) than those in the north-east (four per cent).
As is often the case, neither the reassurance of the parents nor the obsessions of the teenager touch the real issue, which is that people on the whole are not that bothered. This can be seen in this survey and others like it. Looking across the ten questions asked, an average of 42 per cent neither agree nor disagree with the statements suggested to them. In other words, a sizeable proportion of those questioned had not encountered Christianity in such a way as to have an opinion on it, either positive or negative. Or, to quote a Leonard Cohen song most familiar to the ABC1 55+ age bracket: “That’s all, I don’t even think of you that often.”