Thus Spake Who? 
A Study in Received Opinions

by Li Min Hua (a.k.a. Louie Crew)

First appeared in Arizona English Bulletin 29.3 (1987): 49- 56.
© 1987 by Arizona English Bulletin; © 2004 by Louie Crew

Written while Li/Crew directed the Writing Program of Chinese University in Hong Kong, 1984-87.




Beware of the Bible! Do not let its author(s) fool you (91%). Its reputation cannot save it (84%). UnHoly! (71%) Protect teen-agers from it (56%). Mind its pornography (36%). Not great literature (20%), but dirty (20%).

Thus argue, in other words, 55 University students, 78 percent of whom describe themselves as at least partially religious.

When I asked our first-year English majors to evaluate love lyrics from the Song of Solomon (see Appendix), I told only half of them the source:

Survey Regarding a Textbook for Hong Kong

The Urban Council plans to adopt one anthology of English literature for all students in secondary schools. One anthology being considered contains the following passage from the Bible, and we would like to know your opinion:
I changed key terms when I introduced the passage to the others:

Survey Regarding Pornography in Hong Kong

The Urban Council plans to adopt one anthology of English literature for all students in secondary schools. One anthology being considered contains the following passage about sex, and we would like to know your opinion:
Students overwhelmingly agreed that a "famous writer...does not justify it as good literature" (91%) and that the fame of the book "should not influence the...decision" (84%). Evidence suggests, however, that much besides quality of the text influenced the students' own views.

The Bible's reputation seems to have pressured some. For example, on the five statements about the quality of the text, those told that the passage came from the Bible gave the passage an average of 11.6 points benefit over those not told (see Tables 1 & 2).

The tables chart the responses of the non-religious as well as the religious. In some ways, the religious waffled even more. For example, 60 percent denied that the passage was "great literature" when not told the source; and only 20 percent of these registered "no opinion." Yet when told the source, only 14 percent of the religious dared disagree with the claim "great literature": thirty-six percent affirmed the passage, but half retreated into "no opinion." Apparently many cannot yet forge their own views when received opinions conflict.

Some Tentative Conclusions

This study does not address the quality of the Biblical passage, but it does address the quality of the students' judgments. Can they yet think for themselves?

More saw dirt when told the passage was about sex than when told the source. No one saw the passage as holy unless told the source. When "received opinions" conflicted, many lost conviction.

These students will soon influence public taste as privileged members of the society. Clearly the University needs to challenge them to think more rigorously for themselves.

         Table 1:  Possible Mitigation Via the Bible's Reputation

       P=Those not told the Bible as source      B=Those Told 
       |================|====================|=================|100  
       |                |                    |                 | 90  
     % |                |                    |                 | 80 
       |                |                    |                 | 70
     A |                |                    |         B(50%)  | 60     
     G |                |                    |  P(41%)         | 50
     R |                |                    |          XXXXXX | 40
     E |                |             B(23%) |  XXXXXX  XXXXXX | 30
     E |       B(12%)   |   P(17%)    ______ |  XXXXXX  XXXXXX | 20
     I |       ______   |   xxxxxx    XXXXXX |  XXXXXX  XXXXXX | 10
     N | P(0%) XXXXXX   |   XXXXXX    XXXXXX |  XXXXXX  XXXXXX |  0
     G |================|====================|=================|
       |The material is | The material is    |  The material is| 
       |holy.           | great literature.  |  beautiful.     |
       _________________________________________________________

                Table 2: More Possible Possible Mitigation 


       P=Those not told the Bible as source      B=Those Told 
     % |===========================|==========================|100  
     D |                           |                          | 90  
     I |                           |                 B(65%)   | 80 
     S |                           |                          | 70
     A |                           |     P(52%)     xxxxxxxx  | 60     
     G |                           |                XXXXXXXX  | 50
                                      ________
     R |                 B(35%)    |  XXXXXXXX      XXXXXXXX  | 40
     E |                xxxxxxxx   |  XXXXXXXX      XXXXXXXX  | 30
     E |  P(17%)        XXXXXXXX   |  XXXXXXXX      XXXXXXXX  | 20
     I |  xxxxxxxx      XXXXXXXX   |  XXXXXXXX      XXXXXXXX  | 10
     N |  XXXXXXXX      XXXXXXXX   |  XXXXXXXX      XXXXXXXX  |  0
     G |===========================|==========================|
      The material is pornographic.|  The material is dirty.  |
     __________________________________________________________
                                   
                                 Appendix


                 The passage, gleaned from Song of Solomon



                    Your lips are a scarlet thread
                    and your words enchanting.
                    Your cheeks, behind your veil,
                    are halves of pomegranate....
                    Your breasts are two fawns,
                    twins of gazelle,
                    that feed among the lilies....
                    Your navel is a bowl well rounded
                    with no lack of wine,
                    your belly a heap of wheat
                    surrounded with lilies....
                    In stature, like the palm tree,
                    its fruit-clusters your breasts,
                    'I will climb the palm tree,' I resolved,
                    'I will seize its clusters of dates....'



                            The 55 Respondents



                    Told the source  29 (53%)
                    Not told         26 (47%)

                    Males             6 (11%)
                    Females          49 (89%)

                    
                    Religious (the respondents' own estimate)

                    Extremely         1 (2%)                
                    Quite             8 (15%)  29  (53%) = The Religious             
                    Moderately       20 (36%)  
                    ______________________________________ 
                    Not very         14 (25%)             
                    Not at all       20 (20%)  25  (45%) = The Not-Relig.


                              The Statements 


  Hong Kong secondary students should be exposed to this material.


                           Overall:

                           Agree:    22%
                           Disagree: 56%
                           No Opin.: 22%


                 Males:                   Females:     
                                                       
                 Agree:    17%            Agree:    22%
                 Disagree: 33%            Disagree: 59%
                 No Opin.  50%            No Opin.  19%

                   

                 Source Not Identified:   Source Identified: 
                                                         
                 Agree:    28%            Agree:    15%  
                 Disagree: 55%            Disagree: 57%  
                 No Opin.  17%            No Opin.  28%  


                 Religious:               The Not-Religious: 
                                                             
                 Agree:    21%            Agree:    24%      
                 Disagree: 52%            Disagree: 60%      
                 No Opin.  27%            No Opin.  16%      

                                 Religious

                 Source Not Identified:   Source Identified:      
                                                                        
                 Agree:    27%            Agree:    14%                 
                 Disagree: 47%            Disagree: 57%                 
                 No Opin.  26%            No Opin.  29%                 

                               Not Religious

                 Source Not Identified:   Source Identified:

                                                                        
                 Agree:    29%            Agree:    18%                 
                 Disagree: 64%            Disagree: 54%                 
                 No Opin.   7%            No Opin.  28%                 


                  This material is great literature.

                           
                           Overall:

                           Agree:    20%
                           Disagree: 40%
                           No Opin.  40%


                 Source Not Identified:   Source Identified:
                                                         
                 Agree:    17%            Agree:    23%  
                 Disagree: 59%            Disagree: 19%  
                 No Opin.  24%            No Opin.  58%  


                 The Religious:           The Not-Religious:       
                                                                   
                 Agree:    28%            Agree:    12%            
                 Disagree: 38%            Disagree: 44%            
                 No Opin.  34%            No Opin.  44%            

                                 Religious

                 Source Not Identified:   Source Identified:      
                                                                   
                 Agree:    20%            Agree:    36%            
                 Disagree: 60%            Disagree: 14%            
                 No Opin.  20%            No Opin.  50%            

                               Not-Religious

                 Source Not Identified:   Source Identified:
                                                                             
                 Agree:    14%            Agree:     9%                 
                 Disagree: 57%            Disagree: 27%                 
                 No Opin.  29%            No Opin.  64%                 


     The fact that a famous writer wrote it does not justify it as good 
     literature.

                           Overall:

                           Agree:    91%
                           Disagree:  9%
                           No Opin.    %

                 The Religious:           The Not-Religious:
                                                            
                 Agree:    93%            Agree:    88%     
                 Disagree: 7 %            Disagree: 12%     
                 No Opin.    %            No Opin.    %     

     The fact that a famous book contains it should not influence the          
                            Council's decision.


                           Overall:

                           Agree:    84%
                           Disagree:  9%
                           No Opin.   7%


                 Source Not Identified:   Source Identified:
                                                       
                 Agree:    84%            Agree:    81%     
                 Disagree: 10%            Disagree:  8%     
                 No Opin.  6 %            No Opin.  11%     



                 The Religious:           The Not-Religious:  
                                                              
                 Agree:    78%            Agree:    88%       
                 Disagree: 10%            Disagree:  8%       
                 No Opin.  12%            No Opin.   4%       


                     The material is beautiful.


                           Overall:

                           Agree:    46%
                           Disagree: 35%
                           No Opin.  19%


                 Source Not Identified:   Source Identified:
                                                          
                 Agree:    41%            Agree:    50%   
                 Disagree: 41%            Disagree: 27%   
                 No Opin.  18%            No Opin.  23%   


                 The Religious:           The Not-Religious:
                                                            
                 Agree:    58%            Agree:    32%     
                 Disagree: 28%            Disagree: 40%     
                 No Opin.  14%            No Opin.  28%     

                        The material is dirty.

                           Overall:

                           Agree:    20%
                           Disagree: 58%
                           No Opin.  22%


                 Source Not Identified:   Source Identified:
                                                       
                 Agree:    28%            Agree:    11%
                 Disagree: 52%            Disagree: 65%
                 No Opin.  20%            No Opin.  24%



                 The Religious:           The Not-Religious:
                                                            
                 Agree:    17%            Agree:    24%     
                 Disagree: 59%            Disagree: 56%     
                 No Opin.  24%            No Opin.  20%     



                   This material is pornographic:


                           Overall:

                           Agree:    36%
                           Disagree: 26%
                           No Opin.  38%


                 Source Not Identified:   Source Identified:
                                                       
                 Agree:    52%            Agree:    23%
                 Disagree: 17%            Disagree: 35%
                 No Opin.  31%            No opin.  42%



                 The Religious:           The Not-Religious:
                                                            
                 Agree:    41%            Agree:    36%     
                 Disagree: 24%            Disagree: 24%     
                 No Opin.  35%            No Opin.  40%     


                       This material is holy.


                           Overall:
                  
                           Agree:     6%
                           Disagree: 71%
                           No Opin.  23%

                 
                 Source Not Identified:   Source Identified:
                                                       
                 Agree:      %            Agree:    12%
                 Disagree: 86%            Disagree: 54%
                 No Opin.  14%            No Opin.  34%



                 The Religious:           The Not-Religious: 
                                                             
                 Agree:    10%            Agree:      %      
                 Disagree: 67%            Disagree: 76%      
                 No Opin.  23%            No Opin.  24%      


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