America's Moral Renaissance Continues

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Anyone who watches television or goes to the movies is aware that traditional moral standards are out of place in Hollywood’s version of America. Television shows like Desperate Housewives and The Sopranos, and films like Brokeback Mountain would make you think traditional standards of fidelity, honesty, and sexuality are as out-of-step with 21st century America as horse collars and mechanical adding machines. But do Hollywood’s products reflect cultural values in the real world?

According to the latest research, the answer is a resounding “no.” For example, in February 2006, the Pew Research Center asked a representative sample of 1,502 Americans to listen to a list of 10 behaviors, and then answer whether they found each behavior “morally acceptable, morally wrong, or not a moral issue.”1

According to the responses, the percentage of people who believe that it is morally wrong to engage in the following behaviors are as follows:

  • Cheating on one’s spouse, 88 percent
  • Cheating on one’s income taxes, 79 percent
  • Drinking alcohol excessively, 61 percent
  • Having an abortion, 52 percent
  • Engaging in homosexual behavior, 50 percent
  • Smoking marijuana, 50 percent
  • Telling a lie to spare someone’s feelings, 43 percent
  • Having sex between unmarried adults, 35 percent
  • Gambling, 5 percent
  • Over-eating, 32 percent

Surprisingly, the researchers did not find any connection between a person’s gender or marital status and their attitudes about the behaviors. However, as you would expect, the researchers found that there were differences in the responses when they broke them down according to age, income, religion, and political party.

People who believed that at least eight of the behaviors were morally wrong tended to be from the following groups: political conservatives, people who attend church regularly, white evangelical Christians, and people aged 65 and up.

Not surprisingly, attitudes toward morality are split along political lines. Most Republicans believed that seven of the 10 behaviors are morally wrong. This makes sense since they tend to be politically more conservative and they attend church more regularly. But, over half of the Democrats and independents agreed that adultery, cheating on taxes, and drinking to excess are morally wrong.

Contrary to the picture painted by the mass media, this research indicates that Americans still broadly acknowledge moral absolutes...

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