28 May 2012

A Glimpse into Western Values

by Dr Mark Keown

The results from this year’s annual US Gallup beliefs and values survey are intriguing (see http://www.gallup.com/poll/154799/americans-including-catholics-say-birth-control-morally.aspx).

The first thing that stands out is general acceptance of birth control by Americans (89%–38%). This suggests that adherents to Christian groups and denominations that reject birth control (e.g. Roman Catholicism, 25% of Americans), do not toe the party line on this issue.

The decline of a traditional Christian perspective on marriage is reflected in half to two-thirds of Americans approving of divorce (67%–25%), sex before marriage (59%–38%), gay and lesbian relations (54%–42%) and having babies outside marriage (54%–42%). The stats from the last decade indicate that all of these are trending in the direction of a liberal ethic, with around 40% of Americans what we might call socially liberal.

Against this trend however, adultery remains roundly out of favour with only 7% in favour, while 89% reject it. It seems personal sexual commitment and fidelity within a “committed relationship” is still valued. Of course, the definition of such relationships is now fluid. Pornography (31%–64%) is also out of favour – one can watch others having an affair, but shouldn’t have one. Polygamy is still roundly rejected (11%–86%). With these stats, the US soaps, comedies and dramas with their liberal sexual ethics are no surprise, but Big Love is still going against the trend.

On life and death issues the results are interesting and indicate more favour for the traditional Christian perspective, except where the death penalty is concerned. The US government continues to go against its people on abortion with only 38% consider abortion morally acceptable while 51% see it as wrong. Does this suggest that eventually, the pro-life position will prevail in the US? At the same time however, medical research using human embryos remains favoured (58%–33%). This may indicate a lack of understanding of the relationship of abortion and embryo stem-cell research. Support for euthanasia (doctor assisted suicide) is pretty evenly split with slightly more rejecting it (45%–48%). Yet, personal suicide is roundly rejected (14%–80%). This seems a little bizarre – a person shouldn’t kill themself by their own devices, but it is ok if you get a doctor to give you a hand. Is suicide ok or not or must it be assisted? Is that murder? Complex stuff! Favour for the death penalty remains strong (58%–34%), but for the first time in ten years less than 60% accept it. Does this indicate that Americans shifting on this? Personally, I hope so, but I sense it is unlikely. Thankfully, cloning humans is not popular (10%–86%). So in sum, it seems it is not ok to clone a person, mostly ok to kill a killer, not ok to kill yourself but ok with the help of a doctor and mostly not ok to kill an unborn child. What would Jesus say on all this?

Where animals are concerned, medical testing on animals (55%–38%) and wearing animal fur (60%–35%) are favoured by the majority, while cloning animals is rejected (34%–60%). The reasonable closeness of the stats concerning human and animal life perhaps indicates the blurring of the line between humans and animals in moral terms; a result of the on-going penetration evolutionary perspectives? Gambling, once so violently opposed by many evangelicals in particular, is now not seen as a problem by about two–thirds of Americans (64%–31%).

I find this sort of stuff fascinating. I am encouraged by some signs of progress in terms of pro-life attitudes (abortion, capital punishment), but saddened by the decline of a traditional Judeo-Christian perspective especially on marriage and parenthood – time will tell what the social implications of the breakdown of the traditional marriage will be.

I wish NZ had a similar annual poll to give us deeper insight into these and other beliefs New Zealanders hold. I suspect that we would find that we are more liberal than the Americans. What stands out to you?

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