Black, White and Shades of Grey

PEW Research Center follows trends across the spectrum of American life including media, social movements, science, and religion. As a Christian writer, I occasionally mine the site for blogging topics. Their reports can be fascinating and sometimes frightening.


PEW recently asked people if they believed there were clear standards of right and wrong or if right and wrong depended on the situation. The results for New York State showed that 26% believed in absolute standards for right and wrong, while 72% believed determining right from wrong depended on the situation. I wondered if that ratio was unique to New York, so I checked the results for the western half of the United States. The numbers were larger but the difference mirrored New York: people relying on absolute standards were 32% while 65% of the people polled based their judgment of right or wrong on the situation.

The next poll asked people how often they read the Bible:

  • read the Bible every week
  • once or twice a month, several times a year, seldom to never.

The results jumped out at me. The percentage of people who read the Bible every week in New York State was 27% and those reading the Bible once a month to never, totaled 72%. In the West, the numbers were 32% and 65% respectively.

I was amazed when I compared the results of the two polls:

New York  Absolute standards    26%     Western states  Absolute standards 32%

                    Weekly Bible reading  27%                                       Weekly Bible reading 32%

Situational ethics  72%                                              Situational ethics 65%

Infrequent Bible reading  72%                                  Infrequent Bible reading 68%

It seems I stumbled upon a correlation. Unless I’m missing something (and I may well be), people who read the Bible seem to rely on absolute standards of right and wrong, while those who do not, assess the situation to determine their choices. It would seem people who turn to the Bible for daily guidance are in the minority. Popular response indicates a preference for assessing the situation.

Perhaps that accounts for this bizarre election year, the latest Supreme Court decisions, and Hillary’s emails. We are a polarized nation to our very core.

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