Context-free zone: New York Times disses Christians using Pew survey; RNS does better

Just about a week after New York Times top editor Dean Baquet concedes many of his reporters “don't quite get religion,” a Times-man (as they used to be called) does his level best to prove Baquet correct.

Sigh: “Christians in U.S. Are Less Educated Than Religious Minorities, Report Says,” the Times trumpets online

With that we’re off to the (same old, same old) races:

Religious minorities in the United States are far more likely to have attended college or a vocational school than members of the Christian majority, according to a review of census and survey data from 151 countries released on Tuesday that found wide gaps in education among followers of the world’s major religions.
The review was based on data from 2010 and was conducted by the Pew Research Center, which also found an education gap between men and women within religious groups. The researchers said the educational differences among the faiths were rooted in immigration policies that favor the educated, as well as in political, economic and historical factors.
There were 267 million Christians in the United States when the data was collected, but only 36 percent of them had a postsecondary education, including college or a vocational school, the researchers said. That made them the least-educated religious group in the country.
Jews in the United States were more than twice as likely as Christians to have a postsecondary degree, and Hindus were almost three times as likely, Pew said. Buddhists, Muslims and those who said they were religiously unaffiliated were also more likely to have a college degree than those who identified themselves as Christians.

Note the words “Christian majority,” if you will. 

While there’s no doubting that the majority of Americans claim a “Christian” affiliation (however loosely that may be defined and/or practiced), the two words have taken on a rather freighted meaning after Nov. 8, when evangelicals helped propel one “middle of the road” Presbyterian named Donald J. Trump to the Oval Office.

Coincidence? I somewhat doubt it.

There’s just no context to the Times presentation, no mention of any source other than the Pew Research Center, nothing other than a recap of the data Pew spewed. (Apologies, but I just could not resist that coupling.)

Of course, leave it to GetReligion emerita M.Z. Hemingway to distil their disdain in under 140 characters (with a reference in the mix about a classic media-bias case study from the past):

That's the journalism point right there: Instead of finding someone, somewhere who can offer some perspective, we're just given the message that Christians aren't as well-schooled as others. Perhaps it's my own sensitivity, but as Hemingway notes, this is reminiscent of that odious Washington Post assertion, quickly retracted by that paper.

John Daniel Davidson, a colleague of Mollie's at The Federalist, helpfully points out that the non-Christian groups in the U.S. with higher educational levels largely comprise immigrants who largely come here for the educational opportunities. 

Many of them arrive here for the express purpose of earning a graduate or medical degree. That’s why Hindus in America are three times as likely as Christians to have a postsecondary degree, yet globally Hindus are tied with Muslims as the least-educated religious group in the world.

Ironically, the question of Christians, particularly evangelicals, and higher education, in the United States, at least, has been one of the more studied and commented-upon topics in recent decades. Yes, decades, because, as Wikipedia notes, the subject of "religiosity and education" has been "studied since the second half of the 20th century."  And  "religiosity" very much includes Christians as well as evangelicals.

One of the more interesting, albeit older, surveys in this regard is a 2002 study by Gallup, which finds that both those with a "high school education or less" and those with postgraduate degrees were just about equally likely to be both members of a church and to have attended worship services within the past week. There are some nuances here, but if both the non-lettered and the very-lettered are on a par in these two areas, what does that mean for the overall question of education and affiliation? Perhaps not as much as the screaming Times headline would suggest.

At least Lauren Markoe of Religion News Service goes after another key point in the survey and provides some context from an authority in the field: 

Jews are more highly educated than any other religious group, while Hindus and Muslims are the least educated, the first-ever global study of religion and education shows.
Jews go to school for 13 years on average, and Muslims and Hindus for six years, according to the report, released Tuesday (Dec. 13) by the Pew Research Center. The study shows vast gaps among religious groups in educational attainment. But education levels globally are rising, and no faith group is left behind. ... 
As for the particularly high level of educational attainment among the world’s 13 million Jews, “there’s a culture of literacy that predates modernity,” said Steven M. Cohen, a professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College who advised the Pew researchers on the study.
Jewish tradition, at least among men, has demanded literacy from its adherents, not just its religious leaders. “Jews need to learn Hebrew in order to pray -- they need to pray from a prayer book,” Cohen said. “Jewish prayer services are just much more participatory. They require more familiarity with the text, as opposed to reserving the study of sacred text for an elite.”

Now, that’s not so hard, New York Times, is it?

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