What Do Political Liberals and Atheists Have In Common?

According to an August 2008 poll by Barna Group, they are both far more likely than conservatives and evangelical Christians to engage in behaviors such as unmarried sex, viewing pornography, lying, getting drunk, and gossipping.   These results, sadly, are not surprising to me, as previous poll data and personal experience have proven these facts true over and over.

With regard to liberals vs. conservatives, here are the statistics when respondents were asked what behaviors they engaged in during the previous week:

On average, adults who describe themselves as “mostly liberal” on sociopolitical issues were twice as likely as those who describe themselves as “mostly conservative” to participate in activities that conflict with traditional moral perspectives. In particular, liberals were five times more likely to participate in unmarried sex (20% vs. 4%), more than three times as likely to view pornography (30% vs. 8%), more than twice as likely to lie (21% vs. 8%) and to get drunk (17% vs. 7%), and twice as likely to engage in retaliation (13% vs. 6%) and gossip (17% vs. 9%).

Atheists and agnostics don’t fare much better when compared to evangelical Christians:

Examining people’s faith perspectives revealed that evangelicals were the group most likely to follow traditional morality while atheists and agnostics were the faith segment most likely to reject those ways.

Among evangelicals, profanity (16%) and pornography (12%) were the most common transgressions. Fewer than 5% of evangelicals had engaged in gossip (4%), inappropriate sex (3%), gambling (2%), lying (1%) or drunkenness (less than one-half of one percent).

In contrast, among skeptics (atheists and agnostics) participation in the eight behaviors ranged from a low of 11% (retaliating) up to a high of 60% (using profanity). While evangelicals averaged 6% participation in each of the eight behaviors mentioned, skeptics averaged five times that level (29%). Other common acts among skeptics included exposure to pornography (50%), gossip (34%) and drunkenness (33%).

What to make of these results?  Although it is possible for atheists to live moral lives, they often do not, when compared to strong Christians.  Again, there is no surprise here for those of us who have come from non-belief to belief, as adults.  We remember how we were before Christ changed us from the inside out.  If Christ does not live inside you, you face an impossible battle.  Rather than gloat, as believers, we should humbly thank God for what He’s done for us.  The atheist lives just like we would without God’s grace.

22 thoughts on “What Do Political Liberals and Atheists Have In Common?”

  1. Maybe the reason that evangelicals score lower is that each is less likely to be honest about their behavior. If you believe that certain behaviors are sinful, you will be far less likely to admit that you engage in any of them, even if the poll is based on anonymity (because you refuse to admit to yourself that “you’ve fallen”).

    Many years ago I was a social worker in the Midwest. One of my responsibilities was investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect. In my experience, abuse and neglect cut across all lines. Conservative Christians as well as their more mainstream brethren as well as atheists abused and neglected their children. The main difference between all the various groups was that the conservatives seemed to think it was their right to beat their kids as much and as often as they pleased (i.e., “spare the rod, spoil the child”).

  2. If it’s a poll, I think it’s just that they’re more likely to admit it and not feel shameful about it.

    If Ted Haggard’s drug induced prostitute enjoyment tells us nothing else, it’s that.

  3. Rambling,
    Evangelicals also believe it’s a grave sin to lie, so lying to a pollster would also cause them a lot of discomfort. By your logic, they shouldn’t be lying to the pollster because it will remind them of how they’ve fallen.

    I’m not sure what would convince you. If Christians claim to not engage in certain behaviors as much as atheists, you claim they are lying. If they admitted to behaving just like atheists, would you then say that they are telling the truth? If so, I’m not sure what evidence would convince you.

  4. morsecode,
    Are you saying atheists feel less shame about umarried sex, viewing pornography, lying, gossipping, and getting drunk? Is that something atheists should be proud of?

  5. For some of them, yes.

    Unmarried sex, viewing pornography, certain types of lying (telling your mother she looks good in a dress even when it’s untrue, for example) and getting drunk on rare occasions are all nothing to be ashamed of.

    Gossiping is always negative (at least I can think of no situation in which it wouldn’t be negative), and so I would think religious and non-religious would be equally shamed by doing it.

  6. “If Christians claim to not engage in certain behaviors as much as atheists, you claim they are lying.”

    Not at all. There is a difference between lying and avoiding telling the whole truth. And depending on the wording of the answers, it is quite easy to lie to yourself. The bias, if any, of the pollster or polling organization should also be taken into account. And I’m not saying that Barna is lying. But I would like to see similar polls taken by, say, a more liberal Christian group, a Jewish group, and an atheist group. If all their results matched up, then I would have no objections.

    It would also not be beyond a Christian to see themselves and their high moral character, or perceived high moral character, as an attraction to non-Christians in hopes of converting them. So, if that moral character was not as high as it might be, wouldn’t it make sense for a Christian to fudge the truth slightly, if for no other reason than to aid them in bringing people who might be reading these polls closer to what they think the truth is? (That was a run-on sentence, and I apologize for that. Hope it still made sense.)

  7. Wow, what would your mother think if she saw your comments? Viewing pornography is nothing to be ashamed of? Do you really believe that? There’s not even a hint of shame? If you had a young daughter, would you truly want her to date someone that thought that?

  8. Oh, certainly, there are hints of shame. I was raised Catholic, after all. But, since I grew up, I realized it was no longer shameful. A conclusion a good 90% of the population comes to, I would bet.

    While I wouldn’t want to think of anything sexual in relation to my family, I wouldn’t have a problem if a daughter of mine was with someone who viewed pornography. If I have a daughter, that probably will happen, assuming she’s heterosexual, since most males watch pornography.

  9. If they tell the pollster that they did not do something the previous week, and they know they did do that thing, then they are lying.

    I can see some self-deception taking place with a question about lying. But there surely can’t be self-deception when it comes to questions about sex, pornography, and getting drunk. Those are all cut and dry things that only a rare few could deceive themselves about. I think the poll is more or less correct, and I suspect that you do, too. I have seen many other polls with these kinds of results. Check out this post I wrote a little while back which features another poll along the same lines.

    I hope you would consider forging a relationship with Christ. I think it might change your life for the better!

  10. So you think 90% of the population is pro-pornography? I don’t think so. I’ve “grown up,” just like you, and I don’t view pornography and haven’t done so in over 10 years. If you are married to a beautiful wife whom you love, pornography only destroys your relationship. It’s fake, and why mess with fake when you have the real thing?

  11. “If you are married to a beautiful wife whom you love, pornography only destroys your relationship.”

    Wrong. If you are married to a woman you love and then view pornography, hide it, lie to her about it, you destroy the relationship. If you don’t hide behind medieval shame and actually talk about your feelings and desires honestly, she may understand, or you may change your mind.

  12. Since we all suffer from foibles and shortcomings, I would guess that an evangelical would consider a little lie told to a pollster to be a small price to pay to avoid admitting that he/she was a drunkard, pervert or a violent SOB. While being dishonest might well be considered a sin, it’s a much lesser sin than confessing that one likes to pleasure him/herself while viewing degrading sexualized photos that objectify other human beings.

  13. Why do you need pornography if you are happily married? What possible reason could there be? And I can tell you that there are precious few women in the world who would like for their husband to look at pornography. We should try and dig a poll up on that!

  14. Rambling,
    I guess your bottom line is that evangelicals are liars when it comes to polls about their behavior. So, in essence, no matter what the data said, you would hold that they lie and that the polls can’t be trusted. I don’t see where else to go with this, because you probably think I would lie to prove I’m right on this issue. After all, I’m an evangelical, and everybody knows how much we lie…

  15. Rambling,
    By the way, morsecode, another atheist commenting on this post, thinks there’s nothing wrong with pornography, so you might want to address your comments to him about “sexualized photos that objectify other human beings.” I happen to agree with you, but he does not.

  16. For me, what it boils down to is the belief in the concept of sin. Since most atheists don’t view human behavior in this manner, they would be more likely to be candid about their behaviors. It is precisely because evangelicals believe in the concept of sin that each would be far less likely openly to admit what sorts of lascivious behaviors they engage in. To be honest would cause them to feel guilty for “falling down on the job” and most people don’t like to feel bad about themselves in this way. So, the easiest thing to do is to deny that you engage in such behavior — that way you don’t have to do any kind of self-assessments.

  17. These results are not surprising to me. Evangelicals claim to have a moral absolute that is beyond their control (God’s Word). Others can decide what they want their moral code to be, and change it if they fail to live up to it. If you are setting your own code, you can decide that pornography is just fine. I know many people who see nothing wrong with gossip or profanity. Many see no problem with unmarried sex. It would be interesting to see if the respondents considered their actions wrong, and by what standard.

    As for the argument about Christians lying to the pollster, why would they? They do not know the pollster, and the results are anonymous. I could see people lying to their friends or family, but what is the drawback to being honest with an anonymous pollster?

  18. Wes,
    I agree. There is no reason to lie to a pollster. Some of the previous commenters tried to argue that Christians are ashamed of their behavior, so they lie about it to pollsters. The problem with this line of reasoning is that when they lie to the pollster they feel even more ashamed, so it’s not helping their situation at all. All this poll reflects is that when you have a strong moral compass that is ingrained in your worldview, you will tend to better behave yourself. When you believe that all morality is relative and that each person decides what is right and worng, you tend to not behave yourself. Not so complicated. Of course, I can only make these statements about good behavior and bad behavior because I actually believe in an obejective moral law….

  19. Haven’t evangelicals already admitted their shortcomings? Isn’t that one reason they evangelical after all? They have admitted their “shortcomings” AKA sin in the Ultimate Poll taken by God. One who we freely go to and confess our sin and the need for Jesus to redeem us. Being evangelical we have already admitted that we have sin, it is through Christ that are behaviors have changed and we are continuously being sanctified. Which means we are not perfect, but have a changed behavior. Wouldn’t that also follow with the data from the poll? Please let me know what you think.

  20. Ben,
    Thanks for the comment. I think that we Christians are certainly more aware of our sins because of our emphasis on confession to God and asking for forgiveness. We think about good and bad, right and wrong, more than people who believe in no moral absolutes. We compare our moral behavior to a morally perfect person, Jesus Christ, and we constantly find areas where we can improve, with his help. If a person (such as an atheist or agnostic) is only comparing his moral behavior to other sinful human beings, then they become convinced that they’re pretty well behaved! It is always easy to find people who sin more than you do.

    God bless,

  21. As Christians we still have a sin nature. Its just that the sin we engage in now if we do is anything but enjoyable. As a non believer we can sin with impunity and not feel a thing (although I believe that many times the Holy Spirit is convicting a person of their need for Christ at these times with many non believers). As a believer we can still engage those sins when out of fellowship but the end result is MUCH more painful as we now have injured our fellowship with the Father (1st John 1:9 is for this purpose) and God can and potentially will discipline the believer who falls into this (Hebrews 12). But any idea that we are free of these issues by being a Christian once and for all is not scriptural- the warnings would be needless if this were the case.

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