Survey says: It's all good!

bouguereau.jpgCharles Blow fills a niche so precise that The New York Times is one of the few daily papers that could maintain it in these lean times. He is the Times' "visual Op-Ed columnist," which means that Blow, drawing on his long experience as graphics editor and then graphics director for the Times, supplements his concise remarks with graphics. In his visual op-ed about a survey from the Pew Forum, Blow's graphic and his insights leave much to be desired. Regarding the graphic: Shouldn't a survey about people's beliefs regarding the afterlife look like something other than a digital audio board? What would Nigel Holmes do?

Regarding the insights: Blow clearly is pleased that the Americans in this survey express beliefs that are, for all practical purposes, universalist. That's his prerogative, of course, both as a visual op-ed columnist and as an American.

What's frustrating is Blow's glib tone in describing the historic teaching of the Christian church, which the church, in turn, draws straight from the Gospel of John:

In June, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a controversial survey in which 70 percent of Americans said that they believed religions other than theirs could lead to eternal life.

This threw evangelicals into a tizzy. After all, the Bible makes it clear that heaven is a velvet-roped V.I.P. area reserved for Christians. Jesus said so: "I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." But the survey suggested that Americans just weren't buying that.

Exactly what was it, though, that Americans just weren't buying -- what Jesus said of himself? How Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches have understood those words for centuries? The Studio 54-style elitism that Blow imposes on those words?

To his credit, Blow consults with Alan Segal of Barnard College and John Green of the Pew Forum to help interpret the data. But then he closes with another casual dismissal of foundational Christian doctrine:

But I don't think that they are ignorant about this most basic tenet of their faith. I think that they are choosing to ignore it ... for goodness sake.

I know that Blow's work involves taking dull statistics and making them more interesting with drawings and charts. Still, doesn't such a weighty matter as eternity deserve something more than the written equivalent of a stickman?

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