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Saturday, April 01, 2006 

American Pragmatic Morality
Topic: City of Man

Reading: The The Puritanboard
Enjoying: that full feeling after a big dinner with your family
Listening: still Breaking Benjamin's "So Cold"

How do Americans view morality these days? That is what the Pew Report set out to learn more about when they conducted this poll asking Americans their views on a variety of ethical subjects. The poll and some reflection after the jump.


While the poll itself does not cover the most comprehensive range of issues, it is illuminating nonetheless. Dr. Gene Edward Veith, editor of World Magazine at Cranach, breaks down the information. (click here for chart)
Here are the results, with the percentage of people who considered the behavior a moral transgression:

1. Married people having an affair (88%) 2. Not reporting all income on your taxes (79%) 3. Drinking alcohol excessively (61%) 4. Having an abortion (52%) 5. Smoking marijuana (50%) 6. Homosexual behavior (50%) 7. Telling lie [sic] to spare someone's feelings (43%) 8. Sex between unmarried adults (35%) 9. Gambling (35%) 10. Overeating (32%)
The results are ranked, of course, starting with what a majority of Americans agree on as moral faux paus and ending with the least number of Americans thinking a particular behavior or action is immoral.

We at What the Thunder Said... find the results quite interesting. Its nearly laughable that eighty-eight people of every hundred think that affairs are immoral. It seems that a serious disjunct is occuring somewhere. How does a culture like ours thrive on an entertainment saturated polemic of Desperate Housewives and the latest Hollywood mish-mashes, and yet cite these types of statistics? One would presume that Americans in general celebrate an adulterous culture, not detest it. What is occuring here?

On the other end of the spectrum, gambling and "overeating" drew the least ire. This is interesting as well, as there is certainly biblical debate over the legitimacy of gambling, while overeating - known to the biblical authors as gluttony - is clearly marked as sinful. To the extent to which it may be a gray matter when someone has overeaten, we can sympathize. However, our suspicions lie in the corner of blatant disregard for biblical commands.

In the center of the pack, neatly dividing public opinion, lies homosexual behavior, marijuana use, and abortion. The first and last have serious political potential, while the marijuana issue, one could argue, will never attain a place on stage that the other two categories have generated. To the extent that these statistics are accurate, we can no doubt plan for a long and drawn out war concerning these two issues that will not be ended merely by legislation.

What is the common denominator? Pastor Joe Fremer noted that, for Americans in this poll, the less damage done to others, the less a behavior/act is immoral. A basic pragmatic philosophy lies behind this thinking, that so long as "nobody is getting hurt," an action is morally acceptable. This is also just a form of teleological ethics where the ends justify the means. The clearest instance of this is the general consensus on adultery (#1) vs. the general apathy concerning fornication (#8).

Do numbers 1 & 8 (sexuality), 2 & 9 (finances), and 3 & 10 (food intake) correlate? If they do, one factor this may highlight is the propensity for the people to follow the state in understanding morality. #1, 2, and 3 have clearly stated laws concerning them, while #8, 9, and 10 are the privatized versions of behaviors which do not have clear federal/state laws.

These are just a few random musings regarding these trends. If it is true that Americans in general are following pragmatic, state-led paradigms for understanding morality, what is the role of the Church? What other tendencies/trends do you notice? What does this spell for the future of America and, for us, American culture?

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Transplanted from the artic blight of Minnesota to the sunny paradise of SoCal, I am attending school and learning to say "dude." I like to think of myself as equal parts surf rash, Batman, heavy metal, Levinas, poetic license, and reformational. Other than creating blund blogs, I enjoy reading, sporting, and socializing with serious and funny people.
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