What people personally define as sin or sinful behavior…

Belief in the concept of “sin” (defined as something that is almost always

considered wrong, particularly from a religious or moral perspective)…

Most Americans believe in the concept

of sin, but differ widely on just what it is

(Original release date:  March 11, 2008)  Study results released from Grey Matter Research & Consulting (formerly Ellison Research) of Phoenix, Arizona show the vast majority of Americans (87%) believe in the concept of sin.  “Sin” was defined in the research as “something that is almost always considered wrong, particularly from a religious or moral perspective.”

 

The findings are from a study independently designed, funded, and conducted by Grey Matter Research among a representative sample of over 1,000 American adults.  Grey Matter Research is a full-service marketing research firm.

 

People who believe there is such a thing as “sin” were asked whether they would personally define each of thirty different behaviors as sinful.

 

The behaviors a majority of all Americans describe as sinful are:

 

· 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%

 

A number of other behaviors are considered sinful by a significant portion of all Americans, although not a majority.  These are:

 

· Reading or watching pornography  50%

· Gossip  47%

· Swearing  46%

· Sex before marriage  45%

· Homosexual thoughts  44%

· Sexual thoughts about someone you are not married to  43%

· Doing things as a consumer that harm the environment  41%

· Smoking marijuana  41%

· Getting drunk  41%

· Not taking proper care of your body  35%

 

Then there are behaviors that fewer than one-third of all Americans see as sinful:

 

· Gambling  30%

· Telling a “little white lie” to avoid hurting someone’s feelings  29%

· Using tobacco  23%

· Not attending church or religious worship services on a regular basis  18%

· 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%

 

A clear majority of just about every type of American believes in the concept of sin, although there are a few differences.  For example, 97% of Black Americans believe in the concept of sin, compared to 86% of Whites and 80% of Hispanics.

 

Not surprisingly, religious people are much more likely to believe in sin, but the concept is commonly accepted even among those who are not religiously involved.  Among Americans who regularly attend religious worship services, 94% believe in the concept of sin, although this only drops to 80% among those who do not attend services.  Among those who attend services, the concept of sin is fairly universal among Protestants (96%), Roman Catholics (91%), and those who attend other types of religious services (94%).

 

One of the biggest differences in whether people believe in the concept of sin is actually not even religious, but political.  Among political conservatives, 94% believe there is such a thing as sin.  This is also true among 89% of moderates.  But only 77% of political liberals believe in the concept of sin.

 

These kinds of differences can also be seen in whether people define various behaviors as sinful.  Overall, people who attend religious worship services not only are more likely to believe in the concept of sin, but they are more likely to include numerous behaviors under that heading than are those who are not religiously involved.  However, there are also differences within the religious world.

 

Protestants are more likely than Roman Catholics to include most of the thirty different behaviors as sin – sometimes dramatically so.  The biggest differences include gambling (50% of Protestant churchgoers define this as sinful, compared to just 15% of Catholics), failing to tithe 10% or more of one’s income (32% to 9%), getting drunk (63% to 28%), gossip (70% to 45%), and homosexual activity or sex (72% to 49%).  Catholics and Protestants are equally likely (or unlikely) to list as sin having an abortion, spanking, and making a lot of money, while Catholics are more likely than Protestants to believe that failing to attend church is a sin (39% to 23%).

 

Evangelical Christians are far more likely than almost any other group to include numerous behaviors under the definition of sin, and the difference between evangelicals and other Americans is often quite large.  For instance, 90% of evangelicals believe getting drunk is sinful behavior, compared to 35% of all other Americans, and 92% believe sex before marriage is sinful, versus 39% of all other Americans.  Still, evangelicals do not consider all types of behavior sinful – only a minority believe it is a sin to work on the Sabbath, not attend church, drink alcohol, dance, play the lottery, watch an R-rated movie, or not tithe 10% of their income to church or charity.

 

The findings also show that Americans tend to define sinful behavior partially by degree.  For instance, 81% feel adultery is sinful, but only 43% say the same thing about having sexual thoughts about someone to whom they are not married.  Forty-one percent believe getting drunk is sinful, while only 14% believe drinking even a little alcohol is a sin.  Thirty percent say gambling is sinful, but only 18% feel this way about playing the lottery.  And while 65% feel drugs such as meth or cocaine are a sin, just 41% say this about marijuana.

 

There are also numerous demographic differences in what people define as sin.  Women tend to have a longer list of what is sin than do men – women are more likely than men to include racism, gossip, use of hard drugs, marijuana, adultery, pornography, not reporting income on taxes, abortion, failing to say anything if given too much change, and swearing as sinful behavior.

 

African-Americans are also significantly more likely to list many of the different behaviors as sinful than are people of other racial or ethnic backgrounds.

 

There are also differences by age.  People under age 35 are less likely than Americans in other age groups to believe adultery, getting drunk, not reporting income on taxes, homosexual activity, pornography, and gossip are sin.  At the same time, younger people are more likely than others to say using tobacco and working on the Sabbath are sinful.

 

There are also strong differences of opinion according to political perspective.  Conservatives are almost always the most likely to name each of the 30 behaviors as sinful, while liberals are almost always the least likely to do so, with moderates somewhere in the middle.  The only activities liberals were about as likely as conservatives to categorize as sin are harming the environment, dancing, making a lot of money, and spanking a child.

 

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, noted how many inconsistencies Americans show in their answers.  “We can see numerous inconsistent patterns of thought and belief throughout the responses,” Sellers stated.  “For instance, over a third of all Americans believe failing to take proper care of their bodies is sinful.  Yet far fewer believe tobacco or obesity are sins – even though medical science consistently shows using tobacco and being overweight are two of the most harmful things they can do to their bodies.”

 

Other inconsistencies Sellers pointed out:

 

· Over four out of ten evangelicals believe it is a sin not to tithe, while other studies consistently show relatively few evangelicals actually do so.

· The Roman Catholic church consistently teaches that sex before marriage, abortion, pornography, and homosexual activity are sins, yet as many as half of all practicing Catholics do not personally define each of these as sinful.

· Forty-three percent of Democrats believe homosexual activity is sinful, and half believe this about having an abortion, even though their political party consistently supports gay rights and access to abortion.

While most religions teach that lying is morally wrong, the vast majority of Americans – including a third of evangelicals, a majority of all Protestants, and three out of four Catholics – don’t feel telling a “little white lie” is a sin.

 

“But then inconsistency of thought is fairly common in this country, when studies consistently show a majority of Americans simultaneously want increased government services, decreased government debt, and lower taxes,” Sellers observed.

 

Sellers cautioned that the study only measured what people define as sin, not necessarily what they believe to be positive behavior, or what they feel is okay to practice in their own lives.  “Because only 23% believe tobacco use qualifies as sinful behavior doesn’t mean the vast majority feel it’s perfectly okay to smoke – it just means they do not believe smoking is actually sinful.”

 

He also suggested that religious leaders take a hard look at how the findings of this study compare to their own teachings.  “If your church is teaching that working on the Sabbath is sinful, or that drinking or abortion or gossip are sinful, it’s likely that many of your own people don’t agree with you.  Leaders need to understand why this is, so they can figure out how to respond.  Rather than just teaching, they need to discuss these issues with people – getting feedback on why so many of their own people differ with them may help them understand how to reach those people more effectively with their teaching.”

 

Study Details:

The study was conducted by Grey Matter Research & Consulting (formerly Ellison Research), a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Arizona.  The sample of 1,007 adults is accurate to within ±3.1 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level with a 50 percent response distribution.

 

The study was conducted in all 50 states.  Respondents’ age, household income, geography, racial or ethnic background, and gender were carefully tracked to ensure appropriate representation and accuracy.

The essence of all immorality and sin is making ourselves the

center around which we subordinate all interest.

Cecil J. Sharpe, English Folklorist

Definitions of Sin, by Religious Perspective…

A PASSION FOR

RESEARCH THAT

MAKES A DIFFERENCE

Grey Matter logo

Definitions of Sin, by Demographics…

Definitions of Sin, by Political Perspectives…

 

Types of Behavior

Politically Conservative

Politically Moderate

Politically Liberal

 

Republican

 

Independent

 

Democrat

Adultery

87%

86%

67%

88%

78%

77%

Racism

80

76

63

79

73

71

Using “hard” drugs

76

67

46

76

62

58

Not saying anything if a cashier

   gives you too much change back

 

71

 

64

 

50

 

71

 

63

 

55

Having an abortion

69

58

38

68

51

50

Homosexual activity or sex

70

53

29

66

48

43

Not reporting some income on your tax returns

64

49

39

64

47

45

Reading or watching pornography

62

53

31

62

45

44

Gossip

58

48

31

56

45

40

Swearing

57

50

26

56

39

43

Sex before marriage

60

45

25

59

37

38

Homosexual thoughts

56

47

24

52

41

37

Sexual thoughts about someone

   you are not married to

 

54

 

45

 

26

 

51

 

42

 

35

Smoking marijuana

53

43

22

52

33

36

Doing things as a consumer

   that harm the environment

 

38

 

44

 

39

 

39

 

40

 

45

Getting drunk

51

44

24

48

34

39

Not taking proper care of your body

46

33

25

42

32

31

Gambling

36

32

18

34

28

27

Telling a “little white lie” to avoid

   hurting someone’s feelings

 

39

 

29

 

15

 

31

 

30

 

24

Using tobacco

29

23

16

26

19

22

Not attending church or religious

   worship services on a regular basis

 

24

 

17

 

11

 

24

 

15

 

16

Watching an R-rated movie

26

18

8

23

14

18

Playing the lottery

24

18

9

23

12

16

Being significantly overweight

23

13

14

20

16

15

Not giving 10% of your income

   to a church or charity

 

21

 

16

 

10

 

19

 

16

 

16

Drinking any alcohol

19

14

7

17

11

14

Working on Sunday/the Sabbath

20

11

10

16

10

13

Spanking your child when he/she misbehaves

7

7

8

7

6

9

Making a lot of money

4

3

4

4

3

4

Dancing

6

2

3

6

2

4

Population Groups

Believe in the Concept of Sin

All American adults

87%

Men

85

Women

90

Age under 35

83

Age 35 to 54

89

Age 55 or older

88

White

86

Black

97

Hispanic

80

Born again Christian

99

Not a born again Christian

81

Evangelical Christian

100

Not an evangelical Christian

86

Attend religious worship services regularly

94

Do not attend religious worship services regularly

80

Attend Protestant worship services

96

Attend Catholic worship services

91

Attend any other type of worship services

94

Politically conservative

94

Politically moderate

89

Politically liberal

77

Republican

93

Democrat

85

Independent

86

 

Types of Behavior

Define as Sin or Sinful Behavior

Believe in Sin, but

Don’t Define This as Sin

Don’t Believe in

the Concept of Sin

Adultery

81%

6%

13%

Racism

74

13

13

Using “hard” drugs such as cocaine, heroine, meth, LSD, etc.

65

22

13

Not saying anything if a cashier gives you too much change back

63

24

13

Having an abortion

56

31

13

Homosexual activity or sex

52

35

13

Not reporting some income on your tax returns

52

35

13

Reading or watching pornography

50

37

13

Gossip

47

40

13

Swearing

46

43

13

Sex before marriage

45

42

13

Homosexual thoughts

44

43

13

Sexual thoughts about someone you are not married to

43

44

13

Smoking marijuana

41

46

13

Doing things as a consumer that harm the environment

41

46

13

Getting drunk

41

46

13

Not taking proper care of your body

35

52

13

Gambling

30

57

13

Telling a “little white lie” to avoid hurting someone’s feelings

29

58

13

Using tobacco

23

64

13

Not attending church or religious worship

   services on a regular basis

 

18

 

69

 

13

Watching an R-rated movie

18

69

13

Playing the lottery

18

69

13

Being significantly overweight

17

70

13

Not giving 10% of your income to a church or charity

16

71

13

Drinking any alcohol

14

73

13

Working on Sunday/the Sabbath

14

73

13

Spanking your child when he/she misbehaves

7

80

13

Making a lot of money

4

83

13

Dancing

4

83

13

 

 

Types of Behavior

 

Born

Again

Not

Born

Again

 

 

Evangelical

 

Not

Evangelical

Attend

Protestant

Worship

Attend

Catholic

Worship

Attend

Other

Worship

Adultery

97%

72%

100%

79%

92%

82%

82%

Racism

88

66

96

71

87

79

85

Using “hard” drugs such as cocaine,

   heroine, meth, LSD, etc.

 

81

 

55

 

91

 

61

 

78

 

68

 

82

Not saying anything if a cashier

   gives you too much change back

 

81

 

53

 

94

 

59

 

79

 

63

 

68

Having an abortion

78

43

94

52

72

74

53

Homosexual activity or sex

78

38

93

47

72

49

70

Not reporting some income

   on your tax returns

 

72

 

40

 

94

 

47

 

67

 

50

 

63

Reading or watching pornography

74

36

93

45

72

51

55

Gossip

74

31

98

41

70

45

52

Swearing

71

32

87

41

67

48

65

Sex before marriage

70

30

92

39

68

47

59

Homosexual thoughts

66

31

76

40

62

40

61

Sexual thoughts about someone

   you are not married to

 

66

 

29

 

84

 

38

 

64

 

45

 

57

Smoking marijuana

60

30

80

36

57

38

70

Doing things as a consumer

   that harm the environment

 

49

 

36

 

48

 

40

 

50

 

39

 

45

Getting drunk

65

27

90

35

63

28

63

Not taking proper care of your body

52

26

69

31

48

34

57

Gambling

48

19

65

25

50

15

45

Telling a “little white lie” to avoid

   hurting someone’s feelings

 

45

 

19

 

66

 

24

 

46

 

24

 

33

Using tobacco

35

16

47

20

34

13

52

Not attending church or religious

   worship services on a regular basis

 

24

 

15

 

33

 

16

 

23

 

39

 

40

Watching an R-rated movie

29

12

45

15

32

13

33

Playing the lottery

32

9

43

14

31

7

36

Being significantly overweight

27

11

39

14

25

11

12

Not giving 10% of your income

   to a church or charity

 

32

 

7

 

42

 

13

 

32

 

9

 

26

Drinking any alcohol

23

9

28

12

24

6

27

Working on Sunday/the Sabbath

19

10

18

13

20

13

31

Spanking your child when he/she misbehaves

5

8

3

8

10

11

9

Making a lot of money

4

4

1

4

5

4

2

Dancing

7

2

8

3

8

3

4

 

Types of Behavior

 

Male

 

Female

Age

<35

Age
35 – 54

Age

55+

 

White

 

Black

 

Hispanic

Adultery

77%

85%

72%

84%

83%

80%

94%

74%

Racism

70

77

69

75

75

72

84

71

Using “hard” drugs

58

71

60

64

68

63

71

63

Not saying anything if a cashier

   gives you too much change back

 

56

 

70

 

58

 

64

 

65

 

63

 

66

 

56

Having an abortion

51

60

56

58

53

54

63

57

Homosexual activity or sex

54

51

44

54

56

49

65

52

Not reporting some income on your tax returns

46

57

46

50

56

53

50

46

Reading or watching pornography

42

57

42

48

57

48

58

49

Gossip

43

51

37

47

52

46

57

40

Swearing

42

50

45

44

49

44

62

43

Sex before marriage

42

48

46

43

47

43

55

36

Homosexual thoughts

45

43

40

45

46

42

51

44

Sexual thoughts about someone

   you are not married to

 

40

 

46

 

43

 

41

 

45

 

41

 

47

 

43

Smoking marijuana

37

44

38

39

44

38

46

46

Doing things as a consumer

   that harm the environment

 

41

 

41

 

36

 

42

 

43

 

40

 

51

 

40

Getting drunk

38

44

33

39

47

40

55

27

Not taking proper care of your body

35

36

38

32

38

35

38

27

Gambling

27

32

30

31

27

26

40

33

Telling a “little white lie” to avoid

   hurting someone’s feelings

 

30

 

27

 

32

 

29

 

27

 

27

 

42

 

26

Using tobacco

23

23

31

22

19

20

27

26

Not attending church or religious

   worship services on a regular basis

 

17

 

19

 

18

 

20

 

16

 

17

 

13

 

19

Watching an R-rated movie

16

21

16

18

21

17

28

17

Playing the lottery

16

19

19

18

16

16

27

18

Being significantly overweight

17

16

16

16

18

18

18

8

Not giving 10% of your income to a church or charity

16

16

17

18

13

13

28

16

Drinking any alcohol

13

14

12

16

12

13

17

14

Working on Sunday/the Sabbath

15

12

17

14

10

13

17

17

Spanking your child when he/she misbehaves

7

7

7

9

6

7

7

10

Making a lot of money

4

3

3

5

2

4

5

3

Dancing

5

3

5

5

2

4

6

4