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Americans on Sin, Part 2

By Mark D. Roberts | Friday, March 14, 2008

In my last post I noted new survey results released by Ellison Research of Phoenix, Arizona. Ellison studied American views of sin (or something rather like sin, at any rate; see my last post for the distinction). I’m not going to go over the results here. You can find them at the Ellison Research website. Rather, I want to note a few things I found interesting in the study results.

The List of Possible Sins, According to Ellison Research

Using “hard” drugs such as cocaine, heroine, meth, LSD, etc.
Not saying anything if a cashier gives you too much change back
Having an abortion
Homosexual activity or sex
Not reporting some income on your tax returns
Reading or watching pornography
Sex before marriage
Homosexual thoughts
Sexual thoughts about someone you are not married to
Smoking marijuana
Doing things as a consumer that harm the environment
Getting drunk
Not taking proper care of your body
Telling a “little white lie” to avoid hurting someone’s feelings
Using tobacco
Not attending church or religious worship services on a regular basis
Watching an R-rated movie
Playing the lottery
Being significantly overweight
Not giving 10% of your income to a church or charity
Drinking any alcohol
Working on Sunday/the Sabbath
Spanking your child when he/she misbehaves
Making a lot of money

See anything missing? What about worshiping something other than God? Idolatry? Dishonoring your parents? Murder? Stealing? Lying? Coveting? By my tally, not even half of the Ten Commandments make it onto Ellison’s list. I wonder how this skews their results.

The Top Eight Sins, According to Americans

Adultery  81%
Racism  74%
Using “hard” drugs such as cocaine, heroine, meth, LSD, etc.  65%
Not saying anything if a cashier gives you too much change back  63%
Having an abortion  56%
Homosexual activity or sex  52%
Not reporting some income on your tax returns  52%

These, by the way, are the only sins that made it above 50%. Everything else didn’t rank as sinful. Note that 13% of those who answered didn’t think anything was sinful, because they rejected the concept. Even so, it’s striking to reverse the statistics:

19% of Americans do not think adultery is a sin.
26% of Americans do not think racism is a sin.
35% of Americans do not think hard drug use is a sin.
37% of Americans do not think it’s a sin to steal from a store if
a cashier makes an error in your favor
etc. etc. etc.

The Bottom Eight Sins According to Americans

Playing the lottery  18%
Watching an R-rated movie  18%
Being significantly overweight  17%
Not giving 10% of your income to a church or charity  16%
Drinking any alcohol  14%
Working on Sunday/the Sabbath  14%
Spanking your child when he/she misbehaves  7%
Making a lot of money  4%
Dancing  4%

Of course Ellison didn’t specify whether we’re talking about all dancing, or dancing poorly.

I find it interesting, but not surprising, that working on Sunday/the Sabbath ranks so low. 86% of Americans do not think it’s wrong to break the Sabbath, even though keeping the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments. It’s not hard to think of what this says about our workaholic/shopaholic culture.

Who Believes in Sin and Who Doesn’t

It’s no surprise to learn that 100% of Evangelical Christians believe in sin (even the watered down version of the Ellison study). I was surprised to see a significant disparity between Blacks (97% believe in sin) and Hispanics (80% believe in sin). I noted with interested the difference between political conservatives (94%) and liberals (77%). The gap between Republicans (93%), Democrates (85%), and Independents (86%) is less pronounced. I was surprised to see a relatively small gap between people over 55 (88%) and people under 30 (83%).

What Many People Do Not Believe is Sin

I was struck by the behaviors that people who believe in sin don’t consider to be sinful. Among those who think that sin exists, the percentages noted do not regard the following as sinful:

37% Watching or reading pornography
40% Gossip
42% Sex before marriage
44% Sexual thoughts about somebody you’re not married to
46% Getting drunk
52% Not taking care of your body
69% Not attending church or religious services on a regular basis
73% Working on Sunday/the Sabbath

When you add the 13% of Americans who don’t believe in sin, this means that every one of these activities is considered to be “not sin” by a majority of Americans. This is striking because the Bible teaches that every one of these activities is sin.

Enough for now. I’d be interested in your observations. You can check the Ellison Research results here.

Topics: Sin |

8 Responses to “Americans on Sin, Part 2”

  1. Evan Says:
    March 14th, 2008 at 9:39 am

    Some of the many issues you mention fall under a fairly nuanced theological discussion about the “Law of Christ” mentioned in Romans and Ephesians replacing the “Law of Moses.” I have never seen any prominent Christian spokesman explain, while referring to Scripture, just how they arrive at what is “in” and what is “out” in the Mosaic Law. It really opens up a can of worms, (not to mention a Diet of Worms, heh.)

    While I have arrived at my own conclusions, 1) I am a rank layman and 2) such a conversation (of necessity) ends up being voluminous in the extreme. It is pretty much at the heart of the Reformation, but it is rarely mentioned today.

    Let’s just leave it at that! :)

  2. Mark D. Roberts Says:
    March 14th, 2008 at 10:31 am

    Evan: Yes, indeed. A fine comment. You’d find lots of nuanced (and not so nuanced!) discussion about things like gambling, drinking, smoking, etc. For some folks these are just about the worst possible sins; for others they are things that can be enjoyed within certain limits.

  3. Dante Says:
    March 14th, 2008 at 11:58 am

    As I was thinking about how I would respond to this survey, any answer in the affirmative would have to be absolute. For example, I would not consider that the elderly person no longer able to physically attend services to be sinning. Neither would I consider it sin for a nurse or doctor taking care of the sick or injured on a Sunday. Therefore I would have answered no for the last 2.

    Of course, much of the list is a reminder of how easily we transgress. Thanks be to God for sending His Son, so that our personal list of transgressions could be nailed to His cross (Col 2:14).

  4. Mark D. Roberts Says:
    March 14th, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    Dante: Yes, you’ve pointed out a real problem with the survey. Even if we affirm that there is such a thing as sin (absolutely), it may be that certain actions that are usually sinful (skipping church) are in some cases not sinful (skipping church because you’re sick; skipping church in order to help a person in need, etc.). Thanks for the insight.

  5. chutedent Says:
    March 14th, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    The problem with dealing with sin is that today we can not distinguish between deceived christians and gentiles. because the bible say a sinner is someone that does not believe in Jesus period. This is why the apostle Paul called himself a chief sinner while he did not committed any of those sins you listed above. As a matter of fact, Paul say that according to the law he was blameless , and we all know that sin is the breaking of the law. if anyone is serious about serving Jesus , he has to look at the way that God prescribe in his word how to live a sinless life, Yes I say to live a sinless life. I have 2 verses for you but there is a whole lot more about the antidote for sin and it is easy . let face it if God love us and save us from sins why would he give us something harder than what we were doing . it is like someone that rescue you out the pacific ocean and drive you cross country to drawn you in the atlantic ocean. now here some of the antidote for sins: 1John 1:5″this is the message we have heard from him and declare to you,that God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all” clearly God don’t hang out with sin at all because darkness is sins. 1John 2:10″He who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” there is the antidote for sin ;love your brother. God is faithful if God says that if you love your brother there no cause of stumbling , there no cause for stumbling , regardless what some strange pastor might tell you or some survey. the problem is that the church says today that it is impossible to love your brother. the reason no power no holy spirit.

  6. James M. Arlandson Says:
    March 14th, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Greetings, Evan:

    Here’s a little something I threw together, addressing the complex relation between Mosaic Law and the New Covenant:

    It ain’t exhaustive at all. But it clarified things for me, at least.

  7. Mark Roberts Says:
    March 14th, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    Thanks, James. That’s very helpful.

  8. Jason Craft Says:
    March 16th, 2008 at 9:56 am

    The Sabbath isn’t Sunday. Maybe most of the people who were asked about it knew that, and think it’s okay to work on Saturday.

    And the New Testament says nothing about working or not even on Sunday.
    In fact, the only command we’re given about church attendance is a “do not forsake” command, which doesn’t come close to a command to be in church every Sunday, not to mention the other church gatherings that may occur other times.


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