I sometimes think statistics have become the modern-day equivalent of Bible verses.
Both statistics and Bible verses are handy for proving almost any point. There are people who have a barrage of Scripture passages on the tip of their tongues ready to provide substantiation of any viewpoint. Quotations from the Bible have been used to defend all kinds of crazy things including……..the earth is flat, human beings never walked on the moon, women should be silent and education is bad. I read a story in the New York Times about an American pastor using Scripture to justify his advice to administer corporal punishment to babies.
Statistics are often used like Bible verses. Pick a cause or an idea and you will probably be able to find a statistic to back up your opinion of it. It can be unsettling for people of faith when Biblical quotations are used to defend radically different ideas. Statistics can be equally unsettling.
Take marriage for example. A Canadian statistical study on marriage looked at what factors lead to divorce and which indicators give couples a better chance to have a lasting relationship. Looking at them I can’t figure out whether my marriage has a good chance or not.
My husband and I did not live together before we were married. This is in our favor since 35% of Canadian couples who cohabitate before marriage get divorced compared to only 19% of those who don’t live together.
I got married at the tender age of 19. My husband was 20. According to statistics, this makes it three times more likely we will end up in a divorce court compared to if we had waited until we were over 30 to marry.
We attend church regularly and this is a statistic in our favor since it improves a couple’s chances of staying married.
Another statistic would suggest shaky ground for my marriage. Women who work outside the home, as I have always done, have a higher rate of divorce.
So which statistics should I take seriously, the ones that say my marriage has a good chance of surviving or others that say it doesn’t?
I won’t be using Scripture either to predict the success of my marriage. “Those who marry will face many troubles,” says Saint Paul in the seventh chapter of 1 Corinthians.
“It is not good for people to live alone”, says the narrator in the second chapter of Genesis.