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Most Americans don't view the Bible as primary determinant of right and wrong: study

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A new study reveals that less than one-third of Americans believe the Bible should serve as the foundation for determining right and wrong, even as most people express support for traditional moral values.

The fourth installment of the America’s Values Study, released by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University Tuesday, asked respondents for their thoughts on traditional moral values and what they would like to see as “America’s foundation for determining right and wrong.” The survey is based on responses from 2,275 U.S. adults collected in July 2022. 

Overall, when asked to identify what they viewed as the primary determinant of right and wrong in the U.S., a plurality of participants (42%) said: “what you feel in your heart.” An additional 29% cited majority rule as their desired method for determining right and wrong, while just 29% expressed a belief that the principles laid out in the Bible should determine the understanding of right and wrong in the U.S. That figure rose to 66% among Spiritually Active, Governance Engaged Conservative Christians. 

The only other demographic subgroups where at least a plurality of respondents indicated a desire for the Bible to serve as the determinant of right and wrong in the U.S. were respondents who attend an evangelical church (62%), self-described Republicans (57%), theologically defined born-again Christians (54%), self-identified conservatives (49%), those who are at least 50 years of age (39%), members of all Protestant congregations (39%), self-identified Christians (38%) and those who attend mainline Protestant churches (36%). 

By contrast, an outright majority of respondents who do not identify with a particular faith at all (53%), along with half of LGBT respondents (50%), self-described moderates (47%), political independents (47%), Democrats (46%), self-described liberals (46%) and Catholic Church attendees (46%) maintained that “what you feel in your heart” should form the foundation of what Americans view as right and wrong.

Sizable numbers of adherents to a faith other than Christianity (45%) and respondents who identified as both Republican and moderate (38%) said the same, as did pluralities of Americans between the ages of 18-29 (47%) and 30-49 (44%). The view that “what you feel in your heart” should form the foundation of what Americans characterized as right and wrong extended across all racial demographics, both genders and all marital statuses. 

The report found that 71% of those surveyed indicated support for the “traditional moral values” of integrity, justice, kindness, non-discrimination, trustworthiness, free expression, property ownership, individual self-expression and self-control. A majority of those who identified as liberal on social and political issues (52%) supported traditional moral values compared to 70% of respondents who classified themselves as moderates on such matters and 89% of self-described conservatives on social and political issues.

The overwhelming majority of Christians expressed support for traditional moral values (82%), followed by smaller shares of non-Christians (67%) and those who do not have any particular faith at all (50%). A strong majority of respondents who believe the Bible is God’s true word have traditional moral values (83%), along with 63% of those who do not view the Bible as the true and accurate words of God. 

Ninety-one percent of adults who identified the Bible as their source of moral guidance espouse traditional moral values, as do 74% of those who primarily seek moral guidance from society, 71% of respondents who rely on their family as their primary source of moral guidance, 67% of those who turn to themselves for such guidance and 50% of those who point to science as their source of morality.

Support for traditional moral values also extended across all age groups. However, support for traditional moral values was measured at 76% among those aged 30 and older and just 56% among respondents between the ages of 18 and 29. 

“Three-quarters of Americans maintain that people are basically good, and less than half of all Americans believe in God or that the Bible is God’s true, relevant and reliable words to humanity,” said George Barna, the director of research at the Cultural Research Center, in response to the survey's findings.

“Consequently, Americans have become comfortable with the idea of being the arbiters of morality. In the same way that most Americans contend there is no absolute moral truth, they now believe that there is no divine guidance required or even available to define right and wrong,” Barna said, lamenting that most Americans “are now more likely to take their moral cues from government laws and policies than from church teachings about biblical principles.” 

He added: “Americans have historically said when they elect a president that they choose a president they are choosing a chief executive, not a pastor-in-chief, but that distinction appears to be passe. One could reasonably argue that the nation’s ideas about right and wrong are now more likely to come from the White House and the halls of Congress, than from our houses of worship.” 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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