According to Gallup Poll, Clergy Members Are Trusted Less Than College Professors

There’s hope for the future. Just a bit.

A new Gallup poll focuses on the trustworthiness of various groups of people. The headline and media coverage will inevitably focus on the low approval ratings given to members of Congress, whose “honesty and ethical standards” rank just a notch above car salespeople.

But I have to admit I’m amazed by something else on the list:

College professors rank higher than members of the clergy?! Educated people are deemed (ever-so-slightly) more reliable than the people who just make things up!? People in the science fields are hovering around the top of the list?!

Progress.

Minimal, in-many-cases-not-even-covering-the-margin-of-error progress.

It feels good.

(Thanks to Erik for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    I wonder how much the view of clergy ethics is affected by sex scandals, such as have been publicized for catholic priests.

    • pagansister

       I tend to think that the known misconduct (to put if very mildly) that has come to light in the Catholic church would have influenced the poll…

  • C Peterson

    That’s interesting, but what I find more so is the conspicuous absence of “scientist” from this list. Given the deliberate vilification of science and scientists in the U.S. by certain political and economic interests, and the major ramifications that has for society, I think tracking trust in scientists is very important.

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

       I found it interesting that the TOP most trusted professions are sort of all in the sciences (medical sciences for nurses/doctors/dentists/pharmacists) and toss in the engineers (which for many people probably means something like a scientist, or at least someone focused on the technical world, rather than the woo/supernatural world).

  • JoshEvolved

    It bothers me that people trust clergy more than psychiatrists. That is a serious indictment of our culture. Clergy are not bound by anything, save an intangible thread, to being ethical.

    Sure there are some psychiatrists that have done unethical things, (like romantic relationships with clients, planting false molestation memories, and divulging private information), but that pales in comparison to the utter vileness of the clergy. When a psychiatrist violates their ethical bounds and are caught, they go to jail and lose their license; when a clergyperson does the same their deeds are swept under a rug and they get whisked away somewhere else to help cover up their actions.

    It is wholly pathetic that our culture trusts clergy so much. Just pathetic.

    • WoodyTanaka

      “Clergy are not bound by anything, save an intangible thread, to being ethical.”

      It’s even worse.  By their very nature, clergy are many times bound by their mind-viruses to be unethical. 

      • nakedanthropologist

        Agreed.  Many of the clergy see the promotion of their church as the most important priority, regardless of who or what they hurt in the pursuit of that promotion.

  • machintelligence

    That difference can’t be statistically significant. Sorry to rain on the parade.

    • RobMcCune

       If anything it’s disturbing that in the mind of the public science and religion deserve nearly equal trust.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QPVVPRJ7QKLPU6TF5B4IZTENTI No

        It’s evidence that speaks to how far the political right and its intentional alignment with organized religion have been able to push anti-intellectualism and policies that inhibit science and its pursuits directly. I think if this poll were taken in the late 1940s or early 1950s, there’d be a much greater disparity.

    • Guest

      You can’t know if it is statistically significant without knowing the sample size.

      • Gus Snarp

        Actually, you can know. Just follow the link to the original source where you can find a sample size of 1,015 and compute significance yourself. But it’s even easier, you can also find that they report a margin of error of ±4 percentage points, greater than the difference between clergy and professors, which means that it is not statistically significant.

  • advancedatheist

    The clergy has lost a lot of status as a career in modern times. Until fairly recently, society’s most capable men could either serve the ruling class as warriors, enter the practice of law or go into the church. Because of the restricted options, by default the church wound up with a lot of excellent men.  That explains the preponderance of clergymen as intellectuals, educators and community leaders in America’s colonial times. 

    Now, however, the most capable men can go into business, finance, law, government, science or academia, which leaves the church to mostly second-rate men who can’t compete for the higher-status careers. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/cyndi.simpson Cyndi Simpson

       There are a few of us women in the clergy field…and we are not all Christians, nor are all clergy Christians. It is disturbing to see the conflation of clergy with “male” and “Christian” here. Some of us might actually think we have some degree of capability in our profession.

      • Eric D Red

        You’ve got capability, but not recognition.  I suspect if their were more of you in the churches you currently aren’t part of, their might be fewer of the problems we’ve seen.

        • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

          Don’t know about that. Many Pentecostals allow female clergy, and they’re one of the more harmful groups around! You don’t need to be male to be a fire-breathing fundamentalist.

      • Ibis3

         advancedatheist is a misogynist, so women clergy are likely beneath his notice.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Since these are national averages, I wonder if Gallup can compare regional results from the same sample. The U.S. has become two very different countries, “Coastland,” split between the northeast and far west, and “Jesusland” in the middle and south. 

    I suspect that in Jesusland, the clergy would rank at or close to the top, and college teachers would be down just below lawyers and insurance salespeople.

    The U.S. could also be seen as another pair of very different countries, “Urbania” made up of the major cities, and “Bumpkinistan,” the sum total of all the small towns.  I suspect the survey results of these two countries would be similar to Coastland and Jesusland.

    • Blacksheep

      Great points about regional results.

      And not to be prejudiced (well maybe a little) I would love to see what the results would have been if “Catholic Clergy” were in a seperate voting box from “Clergy.”

      Many former Catholics that I know are active Christians but have lost respect for the RCC for various reasons.

      (And if you seperated out “televangalists” they would go way down in ranking).

  • Marco Conti

    Another very disturbing piece of data is that Chiropractors, purveyors of almost absolute bunk, are in a virtual deadlock with psychiatrists. The latter may not be deserving of much respect either, but certainly more than Chiropractors. 

    Fun fact: Horse Chiropractors are denied access to racehorses in many places as they deem it “unfair advantage”. 

    Horse chiropractors?

    • Guest

      Say what you want but I have seen first hand the benefits of Chiropractics on animals. My parents’ 10 year old dog, who is probably 12 pounds (though should weight like 8) was having severe disc problems and needed a 10,000 surgery that only might work. He couldn’t put any weight on his back leg, had to be constantly doped up on pain meds, and was confined to a tiny area of the house for months. He was completely miserable. My parents obviously couldn’t justify paying for the surgery that only might work on an older dog, and so they were debating putting him down. A family member, who is a vet, suggested using an animal chiropractor, and within a couple of months the dog was hopping and playing around with our other dog like nothing had happened. He still gets regular adjustments from this man, and I swear I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. This was last spring, and he is better than ever. The man who does this does horses as well, and he had to do special training for it. Apparently you can also do cats, too.

      • Deven Kale

        What you’re speaking of is spinal manipulation, not chiropractic. Spinal manipulation has been shown to be effective at clearing back pain and other similar issues. Chiropractic is the treatment of “subluxations,” which nobody can even define, much less treat. This is why Chiropractors seem like legitimate medical professionals, because a lot of them don’t even actually practice Chiropractic, but manipulate the spine.

        • NickDB

           If large parts of the world Spinal manipulation IS chiropractic. That’s the point of Chiros where I live. They spit at what the USA calls chiropractic.

    • C Peterson

      There are really two kinds of chiropractors- those that are essentially just physical therapists (and can therefore provide medically valuable assistance), and those who utilize manipulation to treat assorted diseases (AKA, quacks).

      But I think the overall positive score of chiropractors is the product of selection bias. Most people who don’t use chiropractors don’t know what chiropractic actually is, or just assume it’s physical therapy. So they’ll provide a neutral or somewhat positive assessment. Those who do use chiropractors usually think they are great, and better than physicians. It doesn’t matter whether it’s bunk or not, those people are going to place chiropractors in high esteem.

  • BeasKnees

    I find this kind of funny considering that Gallup was just accused of fraud.  Where would they rank on this list?

    http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/companies/management/story/2012-08-22/justice-department-joins-suit-against-gallup/57215932/1

    • Deven Kale

       I would hope that just being accused, and not convicted, of fraud wouldn’t change too many people’s opinions of a company. Personally, I trust them no differently now than I did before hearing about the accusation.

      Now if they’re actually found guilty, that’s a totally different story. That would greatly affect their credibility. Even though the fraud is only with regard to their billing, if a company is willing to perpetrate a fraud in one area that brings into question all other areas as well.

      • Gus Snarp

        You would hope, but accusation is generally enough to make people doubt, at the very least.

        • BeasKnees

          I agree.  I think the doubt is increased also because it was an employee of Gallup that brought the accusations.

          • Deven Kale

             For me that’s actually more reason to doubt the accusation. Disgruntled employees make false accusations all the time, just because they’re trying to “get back” at the company for some imagined slight that was done to them.

  • Slawdaq

    Hah, “Members of Congress” and “Car Salespeople” are right at the bottom.

    • Antinomian

      Hey! I resemble that remark!

  • TiltedHorizon

    So Nurses, Pharmacists, Medical Doctors, Engineers and Dentists rank higher than the College Teachers who instructed them? Go figure.

    At least Nurses are given their due credit.

    • Drakk

       I think it’s the “those who can’t do, teach” mentality showing.

    • Gus Snarp

      They do trust nurses more than doctors.

      But all of this is in keeping with a general current of anti-elitism in American society. A lot of people seem to think the religious right has created this, but it’s existed since colonial times when there were no colleges and all the educated elites came from Europe.

      It also misses the fact that many practicing doctors and engineers are also college professors. 

  • JohnnieCanuck

    Careless use of statistics, Hemant. 

    53% : 52% in favor of college teachers for the very high/high opinion.
    10% :  9% against college teachers for the very low/low opinion.

    Not only are these results within the 4% error 95% of the time claimed, but they contradict each other. A clergyman (clergyperson?) can claim with equal justification (none really) that theirs is the favoured group. 

    The Gallup PDF report shows that there is a hidden ‘No Opinion’ category which has 5% for clergy and 3% for college teachers. This is the source of all this fuss.

    They do show historical numbers in the PDF as well and the good news is that the general trend for approval of the Clergy is down from the high 50s in the late ’90s to the low 50s now. Unfortunately, the data for College Teachers is sampled less often but is vaguely similar in trend.

    One standout effect in the trends is that of 9/11. Almost every profession that might provide authority or compassion to the public reached an overall peak in their approval rating.

    Gallup PDF

  • Gus Snarp

    Let’s pretend this one point different in meaningful. It still doesn’t have much to say about any individual’s perception of their own clergy. The original question asks about “people in these fields”, which means clergy includes televangelists, Catholics, mainline Protestants, Fundamentalists, Mormons, the whole kit and kaboodle (I’m assuming most Americans only think of generally Christian clergy). Some people may consider this whole body consciously when evaluating trust. Some may not, but may be affected unconsciously by the general nature of the question. Those who attend church may be reporting less trust here than they would if asked specifically about their clergywoman/man. 

    I believe studies have been done similarly on the perceptions of Congress, where the vast majority of Americans say they are dissatisfied with Congress, a majority will say they are satisfied with their own congressperson.

  • Gus Snarp

    Let me just say that on a lot of these, I would be a serious outlier from the overall trend. My rankings would be quite different indeed.

  • Amos57usa

    It’s an error to accept the label “athiest” which was created by the people who created the gods. I am in the condition of being god free. when a god Thingy lands in my yard I will no longer be god free. I’ll wait here:)


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