December 26, 2014

Lies, Damn Lies, and [Church Divorce] Statistics

social-media-marketing-statisticsWhile the phrase did not originate with him, Mark Twain once quipped, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Statistics have always been an interest of mine, and it was my offer of statistical support for Michael Spencer’s “Coming Evangelical Collapse” that resulted in me starting to write for Internet Monk.

Mark Twain wasn’t off by much in his quote. Statistics can be easily misinterpreted by the well meaning, or twisted to fit an agenda. Regardless of intent, much of what you will hear or read when it comes to statistics should be taken with a grain of salt. There is no better example of this than Church Divorce Statistics.

The most common mistake that I run into, is that people fail to realize that correlation does not imply causation. Or to put it more simply, just because two sets of information seem to move in tandem, does not mean that one caused the other. The best silly example of this, is the inverse correlation between the number of pirates and global warming. As the number of pirates has decreased over the centuries, the world temperature has gone up. Correlation? Yes. Causation? What do you think is more likely? That a decreasing number of pirates has caused global warming, or that an increase in world temperatures has led to a decrease in piracy? Of course we realize that both are ridiculous claims.

So here are two more claims of causation which have been made because of correlations. They too should also be taken with a large pinch of salt.

1. Living together before marriage leads to higher rates of divorce.

2. Increased church attendance results in lower divorce rates. (You may have recalled this one from last Saturday’s ramblings.)

It is a statistical fact that those who live together before marriage (co-habitation) have higher divorce rates than those who do not. I have heard this mentioned in several sermons: “You may have heard ‘Try before you buy’, but let me tell you that not only is living in sin wrong from a biblical perspective, it also increases your likelihood of divorce when you do get married.” I would always do a mental face-palm when I heard this, because this is a classic example of correlation does not imply causation. Is there something inherent in living together that causes higher divorce rates later, or is it, as I surmised, that people who have difficulty committing to each other before marriage have difficulty committing to each other after marriage?

Well we finally have an answer to this one. It turns out that neither the Pastors I was hearing, nor my assumptions were correct. It turns out that the age at which you move in together for the first time, whether before or after marriage, is the only significant predictor of divorce rates. Those who live together before marriage do so at a younger age than those who wait for marriage. The older you are when you start living together the less likely your marriage will end in divorce. Once you adjust for age, there is no significant statistical difference in divorce rates between those who live together before marriage, and those who wait until they are married before they start living together.

As for the relationship between Church attendance and divorce, here is what was written here last Saturday (and trust me, I am not trying to pick on Daniel here, it just happens to be the most convenient example):

How many times have we heard that, “Christians divorce at the same rate as non-Christians”? Not true at all, at least if you define “Christians” as those who actually go to church. One sociologist found that that 60 percent of those who claim Christianity but do not attend church have been divorced. Of those who attend church regularly, 38 percent have been divorced. Another prominent sociologist adds, ”‘active conservative Protestants’ who regularly attend church are 35 percent less likely to divorce compared to those who have no affiliation. Nominally attending conservative Protestants are 20 percent more likely to divorce, compared to secular Americans.” His other findings: Active Catholics are 31 percent less likely to divorce than secularists, while nominal Catholics are only five percent less likely. The biggest difference active faith makes (in this area) concerns Jews. Active Jews were 97 percent less likely to divorce than secular Americans, while nominal Jews were 53 percent more likely to do so. (Emphasis mine)

Did you note the causation conclusion that is being drawn? Those who attend church are “less likely” to divorce. Here is the problem with this statement. I would argue that these sociologists have the causation backwards. That is, it is much more likely that divorce causes a drop in attendance, rather than a drop in attendance causes divorce.

Think about it. You and your wife both attend church faithfully. You have your marriage difficulties and get divorced. The chance of both of you still attending the same church are pretty much nil. It is much more likely that one or both of you will stop attending church altogether. So, when they survey church attendance and those who are divorced, you no longer fit in the regular church attender group. I have seen this happen over and over again. (I should warn you though that citing examples, like I have just done, is another statistical faux pas. Just because I can name x number of couples who have stopped attending because of divorce, doesn’t make it statistically significant. The examples illustrate my point, they do not prove it.)

What does help prove my point is the Jewish statistics. “Active Jews were 97 percent less likely to divorce than secular Americans, while nominal Jews were 53 percent more likely to do so.”

If your worship options are limited because you live in a small community or belong to a smaller ethnic group, then divorce will have a much larger impact on attendance than if you have a church on every corner. In communities with a single synagogue, you have two choices, attend the same worship center as your former spouse or don’t attend at all. The result, active Jews who divorce become nominal Jews. So, active Jews will be shown to have a much lower divorce rate than nominal Jews, and the differences will be much more extreme that seen in the general population. This is borne out by the data.

However, for either the sociologists’ or my claims to be validated, we would need a longitudinal study that followed people over time. That way, we could see the actual results of attendance on divorce or divorce on attendance. Until then, when your Pastor quotes statistics from the pulpit, just remind him or her that there are “Lies, Damn Lies, and [Church Divorce] Statistics.”

Post Script: My undergrad degree was Economics, where one of my favorite text books was “How to Lie with Statistics.” An interesting read, and I see it used all the time!

Comments

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      One of the problems with the marriage-lifespan data is that it does not disambiguate living alone from those not, regardless of marital status. Long term living alone does carry health risks [and (kind of obviously) has correlation to social isolation – a significant health risk].

      • Good point

      • One of the interesting things she points out about these studies that say married people supposedly live longer than singles is that the studies only interview happily married couples. They never mention the people who were so miserable in marriage that they divorced, which skews things.

        Adam said,
        “One of the problems with the marriage-lifespan data is that it does not disambiguate living alone from those not, regardless of marital status. Long term living alone does carry health risks [and (kind of obviously) has correlation to social isolation – a significant health risk].”

        That’s all interesting and everything, but I don’t recall a Bible verse off hand stating that explicitly, or advising people marry to avoid that.

        The Body of Christ is supposed to serve as a person’s family – but married Christians too often put their spouse and kids before people in the church. Your married Christian couples don’t usually invite the singles, widows, etc, over for a cup of tea.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > That’s all interesting and everything, but I don’t recall a Bible verse off hand
          > stating that explicitly, or advising people marry to avoid that.

          I don’t follow; I was not suggesting anyone do so. I was pointing out that living-alone is a significant variable, regardless of marital status. People live alone, or not, for all manner of reasons.

          > The Body of Christ is supposed to serve as a person’s family

          I simply do not believe this; this is true only in the most vague sense. The Body of Christ is [probably] comprised of hundred of millions of people. They are not my “family” in any way that most people use the term “family”.

          > but married Christians too often put their spouse and kids before people in the church.
          > Your married Christian couples don’t usually invite the singles, widows, etc, over for a cup of tea.

          I do not think this is true; or it is a very [sub-]cultural fact. Middle-class suburban Protestant America is *extremely* ghetto-ized[1] and self-exclusive to people like-themselves . But this is not true in every place or [sub-]culture. I do not have any idea if this correlates, or not, to “Christian”; my gut / anecdotal sense is that it [inhospitality] does indeed correlate to Protestantism and especially to Evangelicalism [2].

          [1]Although they certainly do not see themselves as such.

          [2]However, I have no doubt that some exceptions exist.

  1. Richard Hershberger says:

    My favorite example of correlation without causation is that the universe is expanding. So is my waistline.

  2. I liked your pirates/global warming analogy, Mike!

    • It’s from the FSG mythos. But is the number of pirates really declining? There are still quite a lot of them…

    • Actually piracy and global warming show no correlation, inverse or otherwise. Since the mid-90’s world-wide piracy has been on the rise while global warming has been pretty flat. But still, we get the intended point.

  3. But what does this topic have to do with projector screens in churches?

    Seriously, thanks for the statistical bucket-of-water-in-the-face this Friday morning, Mike.

    • Because projector screens can show pretty PowerPoint slides displaying statistics that show you should not live together before you get married. ;) (And I say that as a PowerPoint AND statistics fan.)

  4. Just for the record, Twain was quoting Benjamin Disraeli.

  5. Klasie Kraalogies says:

    Reminds me of the old quip: Statistics is like a bikini. What it reveals is suggestive, what it conceals is vital. :)

  6. Good article, though, Mike. Thanks for the lying lesson ;o)

  7. I always find that statistics are hard to swallow and impossible to digest. The only one I can remember is that if all the people who go to sleep in church were laid end to end they would be a lot more comfortable. – Mrs. Robert A. Taft
    Then when people invite God’s involvement, God has a habit of disrupting all our carefully planned statistical research results.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > God has a habit of disrupting all our carefully planned statistical research results

      Do you have any data to back that up? Because, if it was true, God would be easy to spot: see this point where all the correlations fall apart…. those points are *very* hard to find.

      Statistics indicate that if/when God does something he tends to do it very slowly.

  8. I am troubled by the author’s motivation in writing this article. It seems written by a secularist/atheist who wants nothing more than to put a wet blanket on some news that actually supports the idea that Christians could actually live differently than the rest of the world. In fact, Mike Bell argues his point with nothing more than his own opinions and theories – forget about empirical evidence or statistics! Why is it so hard to believe that someone who calls Christ their Lord could possibly be more likely to honor their marriage vows and love and forgive their spouse or this earthly life?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Why is it so hard to believe that someone who calls Christ their Lord could possibly …

      I do not have any problem believing that this is true; in fact, I do believe this to be true.

      But it does not make misapplication of data not a logical error, nor does it make cherry picking or otherwise wrangling data anything other than a lie.

      Priests should have the highest standards of ethics concerning what they say from in front of the alter – they should not have the loose guidelines of a political operative or a propagandist.

      If the truth is the truth, it can stand as such.

      The author is correct – only longitudinal data can answer these questions statistically; but longitudinal is expensive, and thus scarce.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      Sheesh!

      In other words, how dare you take my precious illusions away!

      We have a right to our own beliefs and opinions. Facts are a different matter.

    • kerokline says:

      Perfect example of Poe’s law. I was slow clapping and my wife gave me a weird look.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        This. Were I forced to bet, I would go with parody. But I wouldn’t be comfortable with the bet.

    • Well, we are called to live differently. But we aren’t guaranteed that this will lead to awesomeness* in this life. In fact scripture says we will likely endure suffering for doing so.

      * awesomeness – a technical term
      (the three rings of marriage – the engagement ring, the wedding ring, and the suffering ;P )

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Don’t you know if your life isn’t Total Victorious Awesomeness from the moment you Said The Magic Words(TM), it’s because (1) You Weren’t Really Saved/Didn’t Say The Words Right or (2) There’s Some Secret Sin In Your Life (which *I* Discern as…) or (3) You Need To Receive The Holy Spirit And Speak In Tongues Tongues Tongues….

        And after going through the process time and time again and ending up back where you started time and time again, you wonder whether it’s all been BS.

    • Peace From The Fringes says:

      ** why is so hard to believe that someone, etc., etc.*

      I’m at a loss for the correct word to use to describe how this question makes me feel. “Insulted” isn’t quite right. Maybe “bemused” comes close? Dunno. While a Christian may well be an excellent spouse, an agnostic or a Muslim may be equally outstanding. In some cases, lines could be drawn to their faith or lack thereof. In other cases, there would be no discernable correlation.

      I’m aware that anecdotes are statistically irrelevant, but I can’t help myself. My husband of 24 years has kept a healthy and active distance from formal religion. (Thank God!) His kindness, loyalty and passion toward me are stunning. Never once in all these years has he raised his voice or spoken a cruel or hurtful word. The smile on his face when he sees me makes me feel like something in this world is worth striving to deserve.

      Please don’t tell me Christians somehow make better spouses. I’ve known too many Christians.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Please don’t tell me Christians somehow make better spouses. I’ve known too many Christians.

        Just look at Wartburg Watch, Spiritual Sounding Board, Christian Monist, Homeschoolers Anonymous, No Longer Quivering, Hester’s Scarlet Letters, and all the other Spiritual Abuse watchdog blogs.

      • Peace From The Fringes said,

        Please don’t tell me Christians somehow make better spouses. I’ve known too many Christians.

        Exactly.

        There are examples daily to weekly of Christian married men (on occasion women) who are arrested for spousal abuse, child molesting, drug abuse, harassment / stalking of exes, and constant articles about the raging porn addiction among married Christian men (and it’s on the rise among married Christian women).

        I’ve seen stories of preachers – married preachers – who have HIV, who have had affairs and infected their mistresses.

        Google for the following (these are all married Christian men or women, and some of these people are parents, they have biological children):

        – Arthur Schirmer, Pennsylvania Pastor, Gets Life Sentence For Murdering Wife Betty Schirmer
        – Pastor [Brent Girouex] claims sex with boys gave them ‘sexual purity in the eyes of God’
        – Reverend Terry Greer, Pastor Charged With Killing Wife, Suffered Personal, Job Woes
        – Statement from Eddie Mallonee, Pastor Accused of Plotting to Poison Wife [with help of his mistress]
        – Pastor [Brent Girouex] claims sex with boys gave them ‘sexual purity in the eyes of God’
        – Cops: Pastor [Richard Shahan] murders wife to marry his boyfriend
        – Pastor Craig Davis Sentenced To 10 Years For Knowingly Exposing Women In Congregation To HIV
        – “Focus on the Family,” glass houses, a Philanderer [Mike Trout extra marital affair] and an “Ex-Gay” Gay
        – Mesquite pastor [Matthew D. Jarrell] accused of West Virginia sex assault commits suicide
        – Florida Pastor [Carlos Feliciano] busted in a prostitution sting
        – Reverend [Henry Price] charged with promoting prostitution
        – Burnside pastor [Kenneth Keith] faces triple murder charges in pawn shop murders
        – Jack Schaap Sentenced: Indiana Pastor Gets 12 Years For Sexual Relationship With Teen Parishioner
        – Tim Lambesis: As I Lay Dying singer pleads guilty to attempting to hire a hitman to murder estranged wife
        – Wife [Mary Winkler] who killed preacher set free
        – Wheaton prof [Donald Ratcliff] charged with child porn specialized in children’s spirituality
        – Sex offender Chad Curtis says his victims are lying and he’s a “Christian servant”

    • Yes—how dare you tear down my false beliefs, without offering something equally stupid to replace them!

    • I think if you read my review of Bradley Wright’s book: Christians are hate filled hypocrites and other lies you’ve been told you will get a sense that I try to be balanced and fair about this. I should note that I am much more likely to be called a right wing fundamentalist than a secular atheist!

    • “Someone” said,

      Why is it so hard to believe that someone who calls Christ their Lord could possibly be more likely to honor their marriage vows and love and forgive their spouse or this earthly life?

      Because it’s not true.

      Red states, blue states, and divorce: Understanding the impact of conservative protestantism on regional variation in divorce rates

  9. I’ll still maintain that the divorce rate would be much higher in conservative Christian circles if it were an option culturally. Abuse, love him/her into repentance. Lack of communication, we all have crosses to bear. “Divorce is one of the ways the world knows we are different. It is a testimony of our salvation.” (A little guilt with your morning shame.)

    My in-laws haven’t lived under the same house for 5 years (and partially before that). My father-in-law lives in a camper in the side yard. They barely speak. But they can’t get a divorce. What would the world think?

    I know many others from my youth whose marriages were ice. But for the sake of their cultural world view…

    It does bear out the statistics – many were married young – especially the girl-women.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      That implies another linkage to (and fallout from) the Chrsitianese dogma “Salvation by Marriage Alone” and tribal custom of Marriage of Continence (by 18 at the latest) that’s been covered both here and on other blogs.

  10. Also, 87.324% of all statistics cited on the internet are made up on the spot.

    • Peace From The Fringes says:

      This made me snork my coffee. Thank you.

    • brianthedad says:

      I know that’s true because Abraham Lincoln said it. And he cannot tell a lie. Especially when he posts it on Facebook… Or was that Washington…?

    • Rick Ro. says:

      83.77% of all statisticians say you’re wrong. ;)

    • “Also, 87.324% of all statistics cited on the internet are made up on the spot.”
      - said Abraham Lincoln in 1883

      • Oh shoot, that was supposed to say 1863, not 1883.

        And I didn’t see the other guy’s Abe Lincoln comment up thread until after I posted mine.

  11. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    Part of what I do for a living is beat-up on data; my personal rule #1 in data analysis – “Everything means less than you think it does”.

    Rule#2 – a real signal should express itself in multiple data sets (be apparent from more then one perspective). If a signal only appears in one set you are very likely misinterpreting it.

    When a signal actually survives the scrutiny of #1 & #2, then you need to ask someone else to look a it.

  12. Correlation vs causation: I remember a graph for years ago that showed all kinds of increase in violent crime, divorce, asassinations, etc., right after compulsory prayer was banned in public schools.
    More recently, people have been correlating the rise and drop in violent crime (as adults) with previous exposure to lead (as children).

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > I remember a graph for years ago that showed…after compulsory prayer

      This a great example of cherry picking. I’ve see that one. It throws out all other data sets, including ones that have an established correlation to crime rates [economic hardship, segregation,…]. Those same trends used in that graph overlap [to some degree] with data [not presented] which has an established correlation to crime rates.

      > rise and drop in violent crime…with previous exposure to lead

      I have seen a presentation on that correlation. At least at that time it seemed like a rather strong signal; they found it in multiple ways. It also is not hard to believe given the overwhelming scientific consensus about lead exposure. Of course there were some other rather ugly aspects of society that concentrated a bit at those times as well.

      Aside: I was always told never to let the animals graze alongside/near the roads due to the amount of lead accumulated in the plants & soil from the car exhaust. Those old farmers were on to something.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Correlation vs causation: I remember a graph for years ago that showed all kinds of increase in violent crime, divorce, asassinations, etc., right after compulsory prayer was banned in public schools.

      Followed immediately by God Is Punishing Us, Put God Back In Our Schools, Take Back America, Christian Nation, Send Money, Culture War Without End, Amen.

      • There are times when scripture flat-out tells us a causation, apart from any statistical analysis. “From whence come wars and fighting among you?…” begins a litany of cause-and-effect in James 4:1-10. Yet how easy it is, even those who hold a high regard for scripture, to abandon that straightforward explanation to search for correlation and causation amongst issues like prayer in schools.

        • There is already data to challenge the “straightforward” assumption that praying for 1 minute at the beginning of the school day makes any difference. Specifically, whites in many parts of the South abandoned the public school system en masse in the 1960s for a parallel private system where not only could they be among likeskinminded people, but they could even pray as much as they want.

          These same states continue to remain on the bottom rung educationally and economically.

      • HUG said,

        “Followed immediately by God Is Punishing Us, Put God Back In Our Schools, Take Back America, Christian Nation, Send Money, Culture War Without End, Amen.

        Although I still consider myself a social conservative, I’ve burnt out on a lot of it. I was a Christian since I was very young.

        By the time you get to your late 30s or older, you realize how futile it is to rail against the same things over and over.

        Then I see someone like actor Kirk Cameron (he’s around the same age as me, might be a bit older), he’s right wing too, and he didn’t come to Christ until several or more years after me, so he’s not as had as long to burn out on it, and he is still going.

        Cameron even has a new show on TBN about American politics and government (it comes on Saturday afternoons), and he has been releasing / selling new Christian movies that he’s been marketing on Facebook and Twitter.

        He usually waits until some national outrage takes place, like some Hollywood award show where they did homosexual marriages on stage, so the next day, he did this thing on Facebook saying, “How about Hollywood trashing our American, Christian values!, and hey, here is my new wholesome film, chock full of family values, here’s a link where you can buy it.”

        I don’t agree with a lot of left wing stuff and entertainment either, but, I’m also tired of fellow right wingers pushing their agenda, too. And using manufactured outrage to make a buck off their movies and books also makes me want to barf.

  13. Daniel Jepsen says:

    Michael, why are you picking on me? I thought Canadians were supposed to be nice???

    Actually, I think your analysis is spot-on. I was implying a causation that is not there (or at least cannot be deduced from the correlation). I think I let this slip by me because of wishful thinking.

    Thanks for needed correction.

  14. I also like how Christians in the public square play around with the definition of “Christian” to make their case: When wanting to show political strength, any attendance is counted (there are X Christians in this country and they vote). When talking marriage/divorce, it becomes frequent attendance. One group is not the same as the other.

    • Adam Palmer says:

      It’s the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. To wit:

      “In this form of faulty reasoning one’s belief is rendered unfalsifiable because no matter how compelling the evidence is, one simply shifts the goalposts so that it wouldn’t apply to a supposedly ‘true’ example. This kind of post-rationalization is a way of avoiding valid criticisms of one’s argument.

      “Example: Angus declares that Scotsmen do not put sugar on their porridge, to which Lachlan points out that he is a Scotsman and puts sugar on his porridge. Furious, like a true Scot, Angus yells that no true Scotsman sugars his porridge.”

      (that’s from the invaluable site YourLogicalFallacyIs dot com)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I also like how Christians in the public square play around with the definition of “Christian” to make their case: When wanting to show political strength, any attendance is counted (there are X Christians in this country and they vote).

      They’re not the only ones.

      Why do you think the official incidence of homosexuality in the population is 10% instead of 3-5%? Because it was the highest estimate of the time, and Activists(TM) glommed onto it to increase their tribe’s apparent numbers and actual clout.

      And why blacktivists adopted the white-supremacist “one-drop rule” definition of being Black?

  15. Jesus never did get married. After he expounded his views on marriage and divorce, the consensus amongst his disciples was that it was better never to get married. According to a comment made in passing that may or may not reflect reality, Jesus was a regular church goer in his home town. That is, until the congregation became infuriated with him and tried their best to kill him. Common sense would say he did not continue regular attendance there afterwards, if he ever did. Jesus died at a relatively young age according to reports, tho likely not as young as commonly assumed. So I guess what Michael Bell says is true.

  16. What I would like to know is what is the success rate for those churches that provide supportive communities for struggling marriages. We know that conservative churches hold to a doctrine that discourages divorce, but how many help couples address the sin that is destroying their marriages? Then we might actually have data that demonstrates how our lives are transformed as Christians.

    • Peace From The Fringes says:

      Why assume that sin is what is destroying their marriages? Who sets the definitions? Who applies them? What do you do call all the things that end marriages, but aren’t sin? This seems like a dark and slippery place, ripe for squashing individuals into pre-set categories.

    • I have read that Judaism (probably mostly Reform Judaism) has a much higher than average rate of getting separate/divorced couples to remarry than is true of other religious traditions.

    • Brian said, among other things,
      What I would like to know is what is the success rate for those churches that provide supportive communities for struggling marriages.

      Why do churches do nothing to support adult celibates? We need it. Instead, most church time and money goes to funding the kiddos or the married couples.

      If you are a single past 30 who asks for practical help with getting married, as in, “Hey Preacher, pray for me, ask God to send me a spouse,” or “Hey, Sister Betty, set me up on a date with and cutie single Christian men you know” the adult single will get the following responses:

      – stop making marriage into an idol
      – be content in your singleness
      – Jesus is your spouse
      -can’t turn church into a meat market
      -nope, refuse to help you because if God wants you to marry he will magically send you Mr. Right on a cloud from heaven

      There is a big issue in Christianity with single ladies who WANT to get married but they are not
      1. meeting single Christian males their age and 2. not getting marriage proposals if they do meet one.

      You have a mountain of singles over 30 who want marriage but they are still single against their choice or preference.

      Churches don’t care, however. They just cry and whine about divorce rates being too high, or griping about why are kids delaying marriage. You have all these 35, 40 year old women (such as myself) begging for practical help and prayer in this area, and we get told to “shut up and be content.”

      Your problem is not divorce it’s a ton of singles who are dying to get married, but are finding themselves single past their mid 30s.

  17. My undergraduate and some of my graduate work was in mathematics, with a statistics course thrown in there somewhere. My point is that I have some understanding of the error of mistaking correlation with causation. And your analysis, a good one, I would add, does not surprise me in the least.

    Still, the fact remains that regular church attenders show markedly lower divorce rates than non-attenders. This could mean, as you stated, that divorced Christian couples are more likely to stop attending church than those who remain married. If this is true then the other side of the statistical coin is also true, namely that married Christian couples are more likely to be regularly attend church.

    Now, none of this proves either that regularly attending church is the cause of remaining married or that not attending church is the cause of divorce.

    I reiterate, the fact remains that regular church attenders show markedly lower divorce rates than non-attenders. And I would think that it implies or suggests something symbiotic or complimentary in nature, namely that being involved in Christian fellowship is also factor in helping couples remain married. It brings to mind Hebrews 10.24-25,

    “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      You miss the point. Mike showed that the correlation is between “shacking up age” and divorce, and that there is an independent correlation between church people and later co-habitation. Thus the appearance of a correlation between church attendance and divorce rates.

      Then with divorcees preferentially culling themselves from the faithful, that appearance is further enhanced.

      You appear to acknowledge this, but then turn around and express the desire to believe that there “is still something in it”. I work a lot with geostatistics, and you run into this a lot – after you have demonstrated the grade and tonnage of a property, many a company executive wants you to include some wishful thinking in your report. Sorry, but it ain’t gonna happen.

      • I understand the “shacking up” thing; I was specifically addressing a different issue, that of the correlation between divorce and church attendance. These are two different issues.

        Yes, I am biased, “guilty as charged!” If everything–or most everything–in the Christian faith were to be determined or validated statistically then I suppose we could throw out Scripture and hire statisticians to teach on Sunday morning.

        Science, statistics being a discipline therein, explains the nature of things and Scripture the theology of things. Scripture does not show me how to do linear regression and statistics does not tell me why being in communion with God and other Christians in a church environment conducive to good marital relations.

        So, when I say that, “the fact remains that regular church attenders show markedly lower divorce rates than non-attenders” and then quote from Hebrews 4.24-25 I am mostly speaking in theological, not statistical terms. I should have made that more clear the first time.

        • Klasie Kraalogies says:

          Makes even less sense this way. Does calling something “theological” release one of accounting for the actual, demonstrable, provable facts?

          Sounds a bit mystic to me.

          • Not sure what mysticism has to do with it, but I’m not offended to be called a mystic.

            I’m sorry this does not make sense to you, but I can understand why. I majored in math and instructional technology, not English and communication & journalism. For this reason I write my sermons out and preach them as verbatim as possible in order to make as much sense as possible. So far I have not been fired and my church is growing. Go figure.

            As for your other concerns, please see my response to Marcus Johnson below.

          • What are these “actual, demonstrable, provable facts?”, exactly? Setting aside the cohabitation issue, Mike’s musings on the divorce rate are just speculation.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            See Marcus below. The facts here are correlations and demonstrated lack of causation.

        • Marcus Johnson says:

          Scripture does not show me how to do linear regression and statistics does not tell me why being in communion with God and other Christians in a church environment conducive to good marital relations.

          Partially true. Statistics cannot confirm what is true or “right”, but they can predict what is likely. That’s why states ban texting while driving and give tickets for speeding; statistical evidence proved a likelihood that those behaviors would lead to car fatalities. When the discussion turns from the deeper truths of the human condition to the likelihood of certain phenomena (e.g., divorce rates), the statistician has to take over.

          So, when I say that, “the fact remains that regular church attenders show markedly lower divorce rates than non-attenders” and then quote from Hebrews 4.24-25 I am mostly speaking in theological, not statistical terms.

          Actually, when you start a sentence with “the fact remains” and use the phrase “show markedly lower rates,” regardless of how you want to categorize it, you’re not talking theology; you’re talking statistics. This isn’t a phenomenon that you can explain using Scripture, although Scripture might illuminate the deeper meaning of the phenomenon in ways that data cannot.

          Also, if you’re quoting from Hebrews 4:24-25, you may be speaking in theological terms, but you’re not quoting from the Bible, as Hebrews 4 only has 16 verses. Just sayin’…

          • I meant Hebrews 10, not Hebrews 4. That was a typo.

            I think that you may be picking apart my statements too much and missing my point in the process. Sometimes I’m not very clear and I jump from one thing to the next. So let me see if I can say it more clearly…

            Hebrews 10.24-25 is Scripture and states the importance of meeting together, church attendance, we would say these days, in order to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” I believe that keeping a marriage intact would be considered “love and good works.”

            As for my statement that “the fact remains that regular church attenders show markedly lower divorce rates than non-attenders,” that is a statistical fact.

            So, would you say that this is a case where science and Scripture are in harmony?

  18. Adam Palmer says:

    “Numbers don’t lie, but if you torture them long enough, they’ll confess to anything.” –Gregg Easterbrook (paraphrased)

  19. For a post on reading statistics properly, at least half of this is just speculation. Yes, I’m sure some divorced couples drop out of the church (or synagogue, etc), but it seems to be bending over backwards to avoid the possibility that the teachings and practices of religious communities could also in fact have a positive effect in reducing the rate. It is probably a combination of the two (and of other factors as well).

    To be fair, Mike acknowledges at the end that he’s just speculating and going off anecdotal experience. But most of the comments here just take it and run with it as if something has been definitively demonstrated. I think the commenting base here is a lot more cynical than it used to be.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      Life has a habit of making you cynical – especially about promises of Nirvana. Sorry, but the Christians I’ve known in my life, evangelical, sectarian, Orthodox, Lutheran, Baptist, fundamentalist – were no more or less happy or successful than the non-believers at life in general.

    • CYNICAL is exactly the word that comes to my mind when reading the general comments here. I see no belief or hope here that the gospel can actually affect any real positive change in people’s lives. Truly sad. :(

      • The question is not whether the gospel has the power to affect positive change in people’s lives. Of course it does. The question is what we rely on and point people to. Another question involves how we view and treat people who struggle and don’t evidence the kind of change preachers insist upon.

      • I tend to agree with you, Someone. If belief in God and the life of the spirit do not make a difference in anyone’s actual behavior, then why in the hell are we talking here? Why bother? Is it just fun to throw around theological ideas, while giggling at the idea that they have any bearing on actuality?

        If “a real signal should express itself in multiple data sets (be apparent from more then one perspective). If a signal only appears in one set you are very likely misinterpreting it,” then most of Jesus’ teachings are discardable. The Good Samaritan’s behavior is a minority action (not apparent from more than one perspective), both in Jesus’ time and ours. Furthermore it’s logically stupid — spending all that money and time on a stranger leaves less for ones self. Equally minority-act and stupid, as well as not a parable but Real Life, are the actions of the Christian martyrs — good thing most “Christians” reneged and left the fools to face the wild beasts.

        So church attendance makes no difference to divorce rates. Isn’t that hilarious? Don’t we all join with our resident Cynic in smirking: “Yes—how dare you tear down my false beliefs, without offering something equally stupid to replace them!”

        Nobody here, as far as I can see, is saying, “Why is this? Is this the way it should be? What should we Christians do about this?” That would imply that the Christian religion really *ought* to make a difference in the major turning points of our lives — and how silly that would be!

        • “So church attendance makes no difference to divorce rates.”

          To be fair, I am not claiming this. In fact church attendance might make a huge difference in divorce rates. But divorce might be making a huge difference in church attendance. What I was trying to point out is that we can’t say for sure how much each one of these things effect the other. It could be that the driving factor could be church attendance 100% of the time. If could be that divorce could be the driving factor 100% of the time. The truth is somewhere in between, and the fact is we don’t know where in between that is.

          I didn’t provide a bunch of statistics for this post, because I didn’t disagree with the statistics that were already out there. What I was disagreeing with was the jumping to conclusions, where those conclusions were not necessarily valid.

      • I have no statistics to back any of this up but Cynicism could be a good thing… It can/could lead one to cry out to God for mercy and grace; to rely more fully on Him rather than human ways.

        I’ll happily admit to being a cynic – of american churchianity in all its vanities and posturing and striving.
        This does not, however, mean that I’m a cynic of God or His rule and reign. (I believe He’s real but His elusive/mysterious power/grace/love is here and active)
        It does not mean that I shun church attendance or gathering with other believers (even those who are less cynical than me)
        In my case this causation (cynicism = atheism) does not exist.

        IMO we need more cynicism in the church. It could or might lead to more repentance and humility; to more reliance on Jesus Christ/Spirit/God rather than our culturally approved rugged individualism/self-reliance; to more empathy of the other; to more authenticity. All combined might produce more resilient disciples of Christ, who follow Him no matter the circumstance or dashed expectation or misleading preaching/teaching or human failing…

  20. The result, active Jews who divorce become nominal Jews. So, active Jews will be shown to have a much lower divorce rate than nominal Jews, and the differences will be much more extreme that seen in the general population. This is borne out by the data.
    It could also mean that something about the Active Jews’ religious practice (maybe the teaching, maybe simply the presence of a support community) helps marriages stay together. I don’t think the Jewish statistic really support your speculation.

  21. An aspect of this which is yet unexplored has to do with why preachers quote these kinds of statistics and try to prove points by them, and why Christians are so quick to believe their interpretations.

    I have tried a few times, so far unsuccessfully, to put my thoughts together in a post about this — perhaps this discussion will inspire me to try again. I want to write about how I’m convinced that many of us are completely blind to the amount of time we spend trying to justify ourselves and our faith.

    We look for whatever evidence we can find to show that Christianity “works,” that it is the “best” way, that its outcomes will verify its claims. Balderdash. This is a denial of justification by grace through faith in Christ alone. Our hope lies solely in Christ and God’s verdict of justification, and is not based upon whether his people are different, have better lives, and are therefore proven superior to everyone else in the world. We do not justify ourselves before God or the world with such nonsense.

    Yet this seems to be the Christian enterprise in these days. It is what is meant by “witnessing.” We keep calling everyone to look at us rather than to look at Jesus. The only thing they’ll conclude by doing that is that we’re a bunch of deluded idiots.

    • I agree, Chaplain Mike. It seems we too often think that if our “tribe” looks pretty cool to outsiders, or that we’ll have better outcomes in our jobs, marriages, and whatever else, they’ll want to join us. After all, who wants to board a sinking ship? So we do whatever we can to convince them, and us, that life really is better here, even if we have to bend the truth to make it so.

      I see it so often with parochial schools. Our kids are better behaved! Our kids do better on tests! Don’t you want to be one of us? We are much better than “those” people out there! No doubt these things are all somewhat true, but if your school had mostly kids with two parents who had the time, resources, and wherewithal to give a darn, and could move those that didn’t fit your business model along to other pastures, any other school would do just as well!

      It’s really tribalism at its best–or worst.

    • Brianthedad says:

      Yes. This! It’s as if we are not comfortable with faith, and have to move to proof to justify ourselves. At some point, we have to accept that we can’t prove to someone what we believe, apologetics notwithstanding. And if we resort to using ‘statistics’ to show our neighbor that he’ll have a better marriage, child, life, etc, etc, if he becomes a Christian, that neighbor will be sorely disappointed one day, and worse off. Why not join a local self-improvement club instead?

    • I agree that it’s wrong to quote these sorts of statistics as a sort of advertisement for Christianity or to use it as a foundation for Christian ethics in the pulpit. Especially since the rates are still high and hardly anything to be proud of.

      If someone says “Christians divorce more than other people”, though, is it wrong to point out that the rate is lower when controlled for church attendance? We need to be self-critical, but not flagellate ourselves unnecessarily.

    • I agree with you completely that we need not rely on statistics to defend the faith; race is no more contingent on statistics than it is or works of any kind, or it wouldn’t be “grace.”

      So I have a question for you… How do you respond–do you even respond–to those who use statistics for the opposite purpose, that is, to show that Christianity is irrelevant, at best, or detrimental, at worst?

    • Robert F says:

      CM,

      But large segments of the church that are not Evangelical, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, point to canonized saints as both models of what the faith can do in the believers life, and examples of how Christianity “works.” I presume yours would be the Lutheran perspective, not shared by our RC and EO brothers and sisters.

      • I don’t see that venerating saints for the grace of God given to them and the good works they did is the same as the apologetic of exceptionalism that I hear in today’s culture war Christianity.

        For one thing, the Churches traditional understand much more clearly their connection to all humanity. For example, look through this list of patron saints. It’s the difference between seeing the church as the exclusive community of the righteous and seeing her as the ark of salvation.

        • Robert F says:

          ” For example, look through this list of patron saints. It’s the difference between seeing the church as the exclusive community of the righteous and seeing her as the ark of salvation.” Yes, CM, this is a significant difference.

          My own experience, however, as a Roman Catholic child when I was growing up was that the Church held the saints up as models that we should all be able to emulate, if only we availed ourselves of the channels of grace offered in Confession and Holy Communion. But really they seemed impossibly removed from my own daily experience, like demi-gods rather than human beings, and the result was that I experienced accedia at an earlier age than I experienced puberty.

  22. Highwayman says:

    I’ve heard it said that 80% of statistics are made up on the spot…
    Probably more when preachers are trying to prove a point :-)

  23. The fine line between lies and propaganda is the party line; it’s all a matter of perspective from one side of the cultural war to the other. Either way, truth remains an inconvenience.

  24. Mike, I don’t buy into the standard line that “Christians have the same or higher divorce rate than the rest of society, which is 50%.” I’ve been a Christian for 20 years, and have attended church with several thousand people over that time. Only a few months ago was I able to count the number of divorces at my combined churches on two hands.

    That’s right, I’ve known of six divorces over 20 years among about 2500 people. And in 2010 and 2012 statistics showed that the Giants couldn’t hit.

    • And two thirds of the pastors at my church are separated or divorced.

      You may be right Steve, I would tend to agree with you. Just pointing out that we do have be careful with the statistics that we do use.

  25. If “active” Jews stop attending synagogue because their spose still does, BY DEFINITION, they are no longer “active” Jews. Homer Simpson would say, “D’oh!” even if he isn’t Jewish.

  26. Is there a name for the rhetorical fallacy we have often hear of someone saying that someone is “educated beyond their intelligence”? I only hear it from people who are upset that someone won’t automatically swallow as truth what they just said, so it must be a fallacy…

    Just like “you only think about yourself” is often thrown out when someone wants to control someone else…