Things got a little crazy yesterday, with Greta headed off to VSS and the kids needing to be at three different places at once, so I’m presenting this week’s Casual Friday results on Saturday.
Last week we asked our readers who their most important mentors were. We didn’t mention it at the time, but the survey was inspired by the headlines that week about Barack Obama’s pastor’s seemingly unpatriotic sermons, and how those sermons reflected on Obama. Do pastors really have a huge influence on people’s lives? Can we actually evaluate a presidential candidate based on something his pastor says?
By asking our readers who their most important mentors are, we thought we might get a better picture of what the actual role of a mentor is. Of course, our readers might not have the same religious background as the average American, so we also asked about religious preferences. Here are the results:
Less than a quarter of our respondents indicated being a part of a monotheistic religion, and almost 60 percent say they are atheist or agnostic. A quick search online shows that result to be dramatically different from the American population, which is generally reported to be about 85 percent Christian and less than 1 percent atheist/agnostic. Nonetheless, as a highly educated law-school graduate, Obama could be considered to be more like our readers than the general population, so perhaps our results do have some relevance for how we might expect his pastor to influence him. So let’s take a look at who our readers think their most important mentors are.
We asked our readers to rate the influence of their most important mentors across three different dimensions: career, personal, and moral. We also broke the mentors themselves into several different categories. In each case, the mentors were rated on a scale of 1 (not important) to 5 (extremely important). Here are the results:
As you can see, clergy rated at the bottom of the chart in each dimension of mentoring, significantly lower than even “other,” when averaged across all of our 302 respondents. Our respondents rated teachers highest as career mentors (though not significantly higher than “colleagues”), friends highest as personal mentors, and parents highest as moral mentors.
But perhaps it’s not fair to include atheists and agnostics in the results. Let’s consider just the respondents who indicated having a monotheistic religion:
Clergy rated a little higher, but still were among the least important mentors in every dimension, even Moral. Five of the nine mentor types were rated as more important than clergy for morals, and four of these differences were statistically significant. The most important mentors for religious people were the same as for atheists/agnostics: Teachers were the most important career mentors, friends the most important personal mentors, and parents the most important moral mentors. This pattern is also the same when we look at atheists and agnostics separately.
So what does account for the differences in mentor importance? We also asked our readers about their level of education, and once again found the same pattern of most-important mentors. However, the relative importance of some mentor types did change as education level changed:
The lower your level of education, the less important teachers are as mentors, and the more important clergy is. But even at the lowest levels of education, teachers were significantly more important as mentors than clergy for our readers.
We also took a quick look at gender. Friends and teachers were more important as mentors for women than for men. In general, women seemed to value mentors more than men, even though there were no education or religious belief differences between women and men.
Finally, some readers were curious about the question where we asked about strength of belief. Some atheists and agnostics were reluctant to say they “believed” in those philosophies. So here is a graph showing the relationship between religion and strength of belief. I’ll let you come to your own conclusions.