So far I’ve put up two posts (#1 and #2) on the recent Ellison Research study of American views of sin. Today I’ll wrap up with a few more observations.
Differences According to Religious Perspectives
Ellison distinguished different views on sin according to one’s religious perspective (Born Again; Not Born Again; Evangelical; Not Evangelical; Attend Protestant Worship; Attend Catholic Worship; Attend Other Worship). Most of the differences are predictable. For example, the vast majority of Evangelicals consider homosexual activity (93%) and sex before marriage (92%) to be sin, whereas non-Evangelicals disagree (homosexual activity – 47%; sex before marriage – 39%). The widest disparity between Evangelicals and non-Evangelicals, curiously enough, was found with gossip (98% to 41%) and getting drunk (90% t0 35%). Only two behaviors were considered sinful by more non-Evangelicals and Evangelicals (spanking children – 8% non-Evangelicals to 3% Evangelicals; making a lot of money – 4% non-Evangelicals to 1% Evangelicals).
The Ellison Study pointed out discrepancies between church teaching and individual belief. One sees this especially for Catholics, who differed from official teaching on abortion (28% of Catholics didn’t view as sin), homosexual activity (51% not sin), sex before marriage (53% not sin).
You can see interesting differences between Evangelicals and Catholics over certain types of behavior:
Homosexual activity (93% Evangelical to 49% Catholic)
Gossip (98% Evangelical to 45% Catholic)
Sex before marriage (92% Evangelical to 47% Catholic)
Smoking marijuana (80% Evangelical to 38% Catholic)
Getting drunk (90% Evangelical to 28% Catholic)
Gambling (65% Evangelical to 15% Catholic)
Spanking your child (3% Evangelical to 11% Catholic)
Obviously, we’re seeing the impact of cultural differences, as well as a tendency among Evangelicals to be more strict in applying biblical teaching to moral judgments.
Differences Owing to Gender, Age, or Ethnicity t
By and large, there are not major demographical differences in views of what constitutes sin. For the most part, people think about sin in the same way without regard to age, gender, or ethnicity. There are a few curious exceptions:
Adultery (White – 80%; Black – 94%; Hispanic – 74%)
Sex before marriage (White – 43%; Black – 55%; Hispanic – 36%)
Getting drunk (White – 40%; Black – 55%; Hispanic – 27%)
Differences Owing to Geography
Does where you live impact the way you think about sin? No doubt there are certain differences among cities. San Francisco, California, for example, would be more accepting of homosexual behavior than, say, Abilene, Texas. And Las Vegas, Nevada, at least along The Strip, glories in what other people consider sin. But are there significant regional differences as well? (Photo: The Las Vegas Strip: Plenty of sin happening down there, though the rest of Las Vegas is not at all like the Strip.)
For the most part, no. There are slight regional differences, but nothing unexpected. In general, the South and the Midwest are more strict about sin than the Northeast and the West.
As someone who recently moved from the West (Southern California) to the South (South-Central Texas), I was not surprised to see the South generally more apt to regard questionable behavior as sinful. There were only a couple of behaviors which reversed the trend:
Not taking proper care of your body (35% – South; 36% – West)
Being significantly overweight (17% – South; 17% – West)
Working on Sunday/Sabbath (12% – South; 15% – West)
Spanking your child (6% – South; % – West)
The body related “sins” make sense, given the tendency for folks in the South to enjoy eating large quantities of unhealthy foods. And the spanking difference, however slight, would reflect general cultural moods. I can’t quite figure the difference with respect to the Sabbath, unless the survey had more Jewish people in the West than in the South.
There’s much more in the Ellison study than I have summarized here. If you visit their website, let me know your observations.