I shouldn’t be astonished by absurdity at this point in my life. Okay, I’m not. But idiotic surveys tend to strike my absurdist bone pretty hard, and that can be a painful experience. Take for example, this survey, as highlighted on the Friendly Atheist, which demonstrates that White Evangelicals Prefer Teaching Children Obedience Over Curiosity, Creativity, and Tolerance. See, it’s always grand to mock White Evangelicals [or Evil Progressives if you're of the opposite camp] by putting together a disingenuous survey in which the answers will in no wise be accurate.
Let me explain why the answers won’t be accurate. The people who put surveys together are like lawyers and/or judges. They alone get to create the questions and the parameters for how the questions must be answered. Here is a classic courtroom scenario [very similar to one I witnessed]: judge insists the man on the defense only answer with a yes or a no.
Then he asks what he considers to be the pertinent question: Did you yell at your wife that you were going to run her down with your vehicle?
Man on stand splutters, Yes, but…
Judge trumpets, You may only answer with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’!
And the restraining order stands…even though the factual answer was, Yes, but my brakes failed and she was standing in the middle of the road. I yelled at her to get out of the way or I would run her down. I didn’t want to run her down, despite that we’re going through a nasty divorce; that’s why I yelled at her.
Pollsters and survey-takers care about as much as a bored judge in a divorce court for nuanced responses. And rating competing values on a scale of most important to least important requires nuanced answers. Well, the answer is actually that one CAN’T rate values on an ascending and descending scale in the first place. That’s not how the world works, owing to the nuance of human interaction. If you’ve ever stood behind somebody while they’ve tried to honestly fill out a survey, you will have noticed the reluctance of many people to answer within the parameters. Except for their pet issues (e.g. religious faith for Evangelicals and a dislike of manners for liberals), the values presented are on the same plane. And people intrinsically understand that even if they wouldn’t recognize subtlety if it bit them in the face.
But going back to the damning accusation of the Friendly Atheist’s headline, let’s examine why Evangelicals would rate religious faith and obedience higher than curiosity, tolerance, and creativity. They’re operating under the worldview that man must be right with God first. That means, what they actually value is obedience to God. For Evangelicals, all other values stem from a right relationship between God and man. This is, of course, most of the time a head value, and it’s the right answer for Evangelicals to put on a survey. However, the reality is much the same for conservative Evangelicals as it is for nonreligious liberals: they are humans, which means the vast majority of them are conformists, which means the vast majority of them are obedient to their fellow men and their culture first and foremost, despite that both groups would pretend otherwise.
If the survey-makers were to leave religious faith off the list of values to remove the obvious (i.e. that religious people are religious and nonreligious people aren’t), you would be left with a group of values that balance each other out. Empathy balances independence; obedience balances curiosity; responsibility and hard work balance creativity. Manners and tolerance are outward values that mimic empathy, and they are a way to keep society civilized when there’s an imbalance in the value scales. It’s fascinating that conservatives prefer one term, while liberals prefer the other–when they both mean the same thing in practice. That’s the nuanced answer that most absurdly stupid humans understand once they grow up to be mature adults. But no survey-maker is going to allow for such nuanced responses because then the point of the survey has become null and void. Why make a survey unless it will produce the end political result of dividing people through mockery and disgust? I mean, really, what would we do without our two-party political system of hatred for the other side?