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Our Changing Moral Climate

Our Changing Moral Climate

One activity still rates universal disapproval

More Americans are finding certain behaviors morally acceptable that are nevertheless still widely considered unacceptable. In other words, approval (though still low) of these behaviors has been creeping up:

While a select few actions remain deeply taboo for much of the country, there has been an increasing shift to moral acceptability for some of these over time. Such actions include suicide (which 19% of Americans call “morally acceptable”), polygamy (16%) and cloning humans (15%).

Will they follow the route of once-disapproved-but-now-widely-approved behaviors such as premarital sex or gay/lesbian relationships? Or will they continue to remain in the dungeon like—and the low score of the following may surprise you, as it did me—adultery, which remains in the approval basement?:

On the other hand, “married men and women having an affair” has remained at the bottom of a list of 19 moral behaviors Gallup has measured, with only 8% considering it morally acceptable.

Not only is adultery at the bottom of the list, but I would wager it’s the most highly disapproved behavior that is most widely engaged in.

Or is it? Researchers have long had trouble gauging exactly how much hanky-panky is going on within marriage, but there are indications that it’s less widespread than commonly thought:

Taken together, in any given year, it looks like the actual likelihood of your relationship suffering from cheating is low — probably less than a 6 percent chance.

But over the course of your entire relationship, the chances of infidelity may rise to as much as 25 percent. Twenty-five percent — over the course of an entire relationship — is a far cry from the 50 percent number we hear from many so-called professionals and services trying to sell you something.

And to put cheating into perspective too, the relationship (or one of the people in the relationship) needs to be lacking in something.

Well, that’s a pretty low bar. Who isn’t lacking in something?

Another interesting fact is that these days, adultery is the only behavior on the list that is considered highly unacceptable (approval under 20%) by Americans 18-29; only 10% in that age group say it’s okay. That figure is similar to the disapproval rates in other age groups.

Most Americans now have no problem with out-of-wedlock births, at least in the moral sense (I’d guess there’s more practical disapproval than moral disapproval at this point, but the survey didn’t ask about that). This Gallup article from 2013 tracks some of the changes in a host of areas since around 2000, and it has been huge.

But most of the more recent changes in a 2014 poll have been among Democrats rather than Republicans. In other words, those who perceive that Democrats have moved more to the left, at least on the social dimension, are correct. The right has stayed surprisingly stable:

In the 12 years Gallup has asked this overall question, Democrats have become significantly more tolerant on many issues, while independents generally show a smaller shift in the same direction and Republicans’ views have changed little. The percentage of Democrats who say an issue is morally acceptable has increased for 10 issues, including abortion, sex between an unmarried man and woman, extramarital affairs, cloning humans, divorce, cloning animals, suicide, research using stem cells from human embryos, polygamy, and gay and lesbian relations.

In some cases, the change among Democrats has been substantial. For example, in 2003, 52% of Democrats said having a baby outside of wedlock was morally acceptable, and 40% of Republicans and 61% of independents agreed. This year [2014], 72% of Democrats, a 20-percentage-point increase, say it is morally acceptable. Meanwhile, Republicans have seen no change, with 40% still saying it is morally acceptable, although a higher 50% viewed it as morally acceptable last year. Independents have also not seen a change, with 60% saying having a baby out of wedlock is morally acceptable this year.

Republicans are slightly more accepting of gay and lesbian relations, sex between an unmarried man and woman, and divorce than they were in 2001, when these questions were first asked. Independents’ views on the first two issues (but not divorce) also have seen small shifts, but neither group has seen changes as drastic as those among Democrats.

I find that exceptionally interesting. However, we don’t know whether Republicans have toed the line, or whether those who used to call themselves Republicans but who shifted to the more accepting point of view have shifted their political allegiance to Democrat as well, leaving the more socially conservative within the Republican camp.

Generally, the changes have been among the old as well as among the young, so it’s not just the relentless drumbeat of the left in the school system that’s causing the shift.

If you were to track approval/disapproval of these things over a much longer time frame, my guess is that you would detect a slow increase (such as is now occurring with polygamy, for example) and then a sudden surge of approval, until it reaches a critical mass and the behavior is no longer considered a problem. That’s what probably happened with birth control, which now has the highest acceptance of all: in 2014, 90% had no moral problem with it.

Will acceptance of polygamy follow a similar sharply upward trajectory, or will it go the way of adultery, which has hardly changed in its approval figures over recent years?

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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“and then a sudden surge of approval, until it reaches a critical mass and the behavior is no longer considered a problem.”

You are seeing the power of propaganda, especially among Democrats. When the powers that be on the Democrat decided “gay marriage” was something they should support, they used their allies in the State Media to signal so, and the Democrat faithful follow suit.

Actually, I don’t believe we’re as morally lax as the media would have us think. And what “poll” truly knows what’s going on?? I DO believe that if the SC decides to change the definition of marriage, we will be forced to react and then perhaps the real war will begin. What rabbi or priest will tolerate being forced to perform these marriages?

You mention adultery. The practice has an interesting legal history and the word is rooted in “adulteration”, as in the adulteration of a man’s bloodline and “turning his inheritance away from his own blood”. Under ancient law and more recent state law (State v. Lash – N.J. 1838), only a woman could commit adultery because only she could bear a child which adulterates the bloodline of her husband. A man cheating on his wife may be a crime, but it’s not adultery. See: Adultery, adulteration, and the historical ‘married woman’ limitation. Bacon’s Abridgment (1736) reads:

Fornication and all other Lusts are unlawful, because Children are begotten without any Care or Preparation for their Education; and the Crime of Adultery receives this further Aggravation, that it not only intails a spurious Race [here, meaning offspring and their descendants -EV] on the Party, for whom he is under no Obligation to provide, but likewise destroys that Peace and mutual Endearment which ought always to subsist in the Marriage State.

It would seem that this same theory would also apply to gay marriage. It’s time the law once again reflected the biology of human beings.

    Juba Doobai! in reply to snopercod. | June 1, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    Since ancient and modern law is based on the Judaic law, then adultery has nothing to do with procreation but with the act of lust—whether physical or intentional—which breaks the spiritual marriage union of a man and a woman.

    Moreover, since a man lying with man has always been an abomination in the sight of God, there’ I no spiritual union between two men or two women, for just as woman was not made for woman, man was not made for man. Rather, there’s a sexual connection based entirely on idolatry (of the human form) and lust. Therefore, adultery is not part of the equation when two homosexuals fool themselves that they are married.

    Finally, love has nothing to do with it. For love is not a perversion of the created, natural order of things.

    When I saw this issue addressed recently, it was to say that an unmarried woman cannot commit adultery because she isn’t adulterating any man’s bloodline; she bears the costs and benefits by herself.

    This was before welfare, yes.

      platypus in reply to JBourque. | June 2, 2015 at 10:31 am

      Maybe it’s time to replace B.C. with B.W. and A.D. with A.W. (in the Year of our Holy Welfare).

      /sarc with a sprig of cynicism

What counts as “adultery”in a same-sex relationship? How exactly does one “consummate” a same-sex marriage? What counts as “virginity” or “monogamy” for homosexuals?

Juba Doobai! | June 1, 2015 at 7:43 pm

When we can publicly play with poo, order poo as a dish on a restaurant menu, then homosexual sex will be morally acceptable rather than perverted. Morality is not a matter of public vote. Since God is the source of morality, what we define as “morally acceptable” signifies the state of our relationship with him. Right now, we are living in the days of Judges: in those days, there was no king in Israel, and every man did that which was right in his own eyes.

In these days, we have lost our relationship with God and deceive ourselves that we are the masters of our own fate and can do what is right in our own eyes. God usually has an answer to that kind of idiocy, and it is not one that we will like.

    snopercod in reply to Juba Doobai!. | June 1, 2015 at 8:49 pm

    “Since God is the source of morality…” That would depend upon how one defines God. I like to think that morality is based upon human nature, but we would be in agreement if you believe that God resides within each of us.

In a post-normal, post-moral, post-science, post-fitness, post-logic world, pro-choice (i.e. selective inclusion/exclusion) doctrines are the progressive standard of the State-established Church (i.e. moral/behavioral consensus or dictatorial order).

Contrary to common misconceptions, secular incentives and rebukes, not religious/moral philosophy are the most effective, addictive opiates of the masses and “elites” that function to suppress integrity and conscience.

Coming soon is the problem of fitting a wedding band on a cloven hoof.

Not “equal”. Equivalence. Selective equivalence.

Not “no labels”. Labels. Too many labels.

Pro-choice doctrine has taken its toll on semantic euphemisms… and millions of [wholly innocent] human lives.

Pass the secular opiates.

I, too, think that polygamy will soon become a big issue. With the number of muslims rapidly increasing in this country (given our welcoming president), they bring with them polygamy. And we know how they make demands. Look at Britain- while polygamy may remain unlawful, who is paying for all of those extra wives the man brings with him (secretly as a “relative” or not)? The taxpayer! So, if the SC doesn’t limit marriage, where will that end? There will be no limit.

Perhaps the shift in moral values is more pronounced among Democrats and liberals because they are more other driven than inner driven? Political rallies and activism are common among those on the left, they enjoy these activities. The left seem to need the support of others for their values and react more emotionally. Republicans and conservatives seem to have a different culture. They are more inner driven in terms of their values and more data and fact driven. But, if the left is “more tolerant” of diverse moral values sadly this does not seem matched with greater tolerance by the left of diverse political opinion. For verification, just look at the suppression of free speech via free speech zones going on at left leaning college campuses.