By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published January 4, 2007
Public opinion is a powerful authority in our society, and we have developed a number of official ways of measuring this potent influence in our world. Gallup, Zogby, The Harris Poll, and CARA are just a few of the names of services that have come to command respect for their ability to determine with great skill the public’s opinion regarding many and varied issues.
People can and often do use these services to support or to refute a position that they might hold or might oppose. Politicians, businesses, educational institutions, governments—even the Church—frequently seek advice from these services in helping them to understand what public opinion may be regarding a wide range of issues.
There are limits to public opinion, however, and those limits are not always recognized nor even acknowledged.
Public opinion can be skewed, or imperfect, or just wrong. Take, for example, the public opinion that may support a lack of reverence for the inviolable dignity of the gift of human life. Even though polls may suggest that abortion on demand, or embryonic stem cell research, or euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, or capital punishment may enjoy a majority percentage in the public’s opinion, that majority does not make those matters moral and neither does public opinion render the contradictory judgments wrong.
Public opinions can be and inevitably are influenced by many extenuating factors—including those forces that impact the way that people look at issues and make decisions.
As we begin a New Year, we probably all have seen some of the polls that were taken at the close of 2006 regarding 2007. Some of them were pretty dismal, pessimistic and frightening. Some of those polls suggested that Americans anticipated another terrorist attack on these shores. Some predicted even more natural catastrophes like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita or another tsunami. Some people believe that 2007 will be the year that the Lord Jesus would return in glory.
Public opinion regarding the future seems a bit apprehensive to say the least. Public opinion certainly cannot make any of those things occur or not occur, but it does suggest that we are beginning this New Year with heightened anxiety.
The geo-political landscape is very fragile, as we all know too well. Yet with God’s grace and humble and honest human dialogue, even those “hot-spots” can be defused and justice and peace can reign.
The natural disasters that we have recently witnessed have made us all aware of the fury and the unpredictability of nature. Our anxiety about the prospect of natural disasters will neither prevent nor cause such cosmic activity.
If the Lord is to come during this New Year, then we ought to live in such a way that we will welcome His return—even if He chooses not to return, that’s still pretty sound advice. If at the end of 2007 none of the events that we might fear at this moment has taken place, then our current anxieties will have been proven pointless—and public opinion will have been proven inaccurate. But if we live during the coming year as though the Lord really might come—it could be the wisest use of public opinion that any of us can make.