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Thursday, April 12, 2012

American Moral Acceptability

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Last week, the Gallup released the latest results of the Values and Belief Poll they have taken every May since 2001.

I was, of course, very interested to see that 56% of Americans think Gay and Lesbian relations are "morally acceptable". That's a 17 point difference from those who believe it is "morally wrong".

It's probably no surprise that the highest rank of "morally acceptable" - at 66% - came from those who were 18-34 years of age. 56% of those who were 35-54 years and 47% of those 55 years and older also found Gay and Lesbian relations "morally acceptable" - a 19 point difference (minus 55 years and older).

In 2001, 53% of those polled by Gallup said homosexuality was "morally wrong" while 40% said it was "morally acceptable".  That "morally wrong" percentage rose in 2002 to 55% but has been steadily decreasing ever since 2005.

In 2010, we finally - FINALLY - crossed the 50% threshold! In 2010, 52% found Lesbian and Gay relations "morally acceptable".  The upward trend of 56% for this year bodes well in terms of our continuing struggle for Marriage Equality - especially in the face of such regressive rhetoric and politics from the Campaign Trail and the outrageous legislation emerging from Republican-controlled State Senates.

The Gallup Poll also notes:
Americans are in broadest agreement about what behaviors are morally wrong. At least 8 in 10 U.S. adults interviewed in the May 5-8 survey say this about extramarital affairs, polygamy, cloning humans, and suicide. At least 6 in 10 say pornography and cloning animals are each morally wrong.

Widest agreement about what is morally acceptable, ranging from 60% to 69%, is found for divorce, the death penalty, gambling, embryonic stem cell research, and premarital sex. Also, 55% or better say medical testing on animals, gay/lesbian relations, and the use of animal fur for clothing are each acceptable.

The three most controversial issues -- doctor-assisted suicide, abortion, and out-of-wedlock births -- are the ones on which fewer than 15 points separate the percentage considering the issue morally acceptable from the percentage considering it morally wrong. Attitudes on each have been fairly stable in recent years.
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Partisans disagree widely on these issues, with majorities of Democrats accepting of all three issues, compared with, at most, barely a third of Republicans. Abortion is the most divisive of the three, with a 37-point Republican-Democratic gap.

I'm most surprised by this trinity of controversies: doctor-assisted suicide, abortion and out-of-wedlock births. They all have to do with the full spectrum of creation - from birth to death - and beg the question: Who is in control?

I guess I'm most deeply struck by the tension between the moral judgment of an out-of-wedlock birth and abortion. I mean, a woman simply can't win, can she? If she decides to carry the pregnancy to term, she bears the stigma of having an out-of-wedlock birth. If she decides not to carry the pregnancy to term, she is judged "morally wrong" for having an abortion.

And, the man who impregnated her? Well, apparently "boys will be boys". 60% of those polled find that sex between an unmarried man and woman is "morally acceptable". It's just the woman and the child who are judged "morally wrong".

It should also be noted that 91% find an extra marital affair "morally wrong".

It would seem that a man ought not be reading pornography (66% say it's "morally wrong") but he's off the hook in terms of marrying a woman whom he impregnates, leaving abortion a viable if not "morally wrong" option for her.

Don't even get me started about the "new old" contraception debate, the moral acceptability of which I thought we had decided decades ago.

Here's the thing: Unwed mothers have been with us since the beginning of time. Come to think of it, I don't remember reading that Adam and Eve had a wedding in The Garden of Eden.

Abortion has also been around for a long, long time.. Women have been struggling with the morality of unplanned, unwanted pregnancy for eons. Women have had abortions before it was considered a legal issue. Women have had abortions when they were considered illegal - although women were never charged with committing a crime - just the person performing the abortion.

And, women will continue to have abortions even though their rights are being systematically eroded as part of the War on Women. The latest news, of course, comes from Arizona which has redefined when life begins.

That would be two weeks before conception.

I am not making this up. Here, read it for yourself.

Between their stance on immigration and profiling, Arizona seems hell-bent on portraying itself as the least tolerant state in the Union.
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While we are obviously closing the generation gap in terms of the "moral acceptability" of  Lesbian and Gay relations, we have much work to do in terms of women's reproductive rights.

While I believe that homophobia and sexism/misogyny are integrally related, the relationship between reproductive rights and doctor-assisted suicide are also closely linked.

Right now, there is only a 3 point difference across the generations with regard to end-of-life issues and a 10 point difference across the same generation gap with regard to abortion.

This, I think, is the statistic to watch.

Just as abortion has been going on for centuries, so has doctor-assisted (or, family-assisted) suicide.  I can tell you for a solid fact that doctors prescribe medication in hospice situations knowing full well that family members and patients can - and do, more often than we know - decide to slowly increase the dosages until Brother Death finally comes as a mixed blessing.

The question of what is "morally acceptable" is not so much about life and death and who is in control but the secrets we keep and the lies we tell about this part of the enterprise of being human.

When more of us come "out of the closet" about abortion and assisted-suicide, I suspect we'll find a concomitant change in the level of "moral acceptability".

What could be more "morally acceptable" than to tell the truth about love and sex and death?

And, what role does the Church have to play in helping people to tell the truth?

I don't know about you, but among these various statistics, I hear a very loud vocational call.

If what has happened with the LGBT community is any indicator, I think Mother Church needs to role up her sleeves, put on her apron and running shoes, and get to work.


Matthew said...

I am SO glad that you decided to tackle the closet of physician assisted suicide -- that is a huge closet and I think everyone knows its going on and no one will admit it. A story: A friend's husband was terminal and dying of bladder cancer. He was in extreme pain (when conscious) and mostly on morphene and not conscious. This went on for 6 weeks. The home health nurse could recommend a higher dose and bring more the next day with a doctors approval. One day, the home health nurse told my friend that she thought her husband was in "extra" pain and might need a larger dose. My friend, being naieve, said, well, no, that cannot be because he's unconscious. And the home health nurse, said, wink wink, hint hint, don't you think he's in more pain today, wink wink? And my friend said, Ah, yes, you are right, I think he is now that you mention it. He was dead within a week. I relayed this conversation to a friend who is a prosecutor and she said that technically, if this conversation were taped or made public (with proof that parties were not innocently misled), and an autopsy was performed (which never happens in these types of cases) then technically they could all be prosecuted for murder. That never happens because these types of cases normally do not involve opposing parties (like Terry Schiavo) and therefore, there is no crime to report, no autopsy to request and no involvement with the district attorney. But we are all in the closet about it and the law would have to change to make it legal for us to come out of the closet so we don't fear prosecution. Thankfully, that happened in Oregon but almost nowhere else yet.

Anonymous said...

A further confirmation that all with eyes to see that the country is effectively pagan. The last thing Americans need are clergy serving as cheerleaders to this train wreck.

"Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand."


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - These are the stories and the truths we need to tell. I know from my work as a Hospice Chaplain that this goes on all the time. Indeed, Jackie Kennedy was released from the hospital and less than a week later was dead. We know she had a morphine pump. You tell me what happened.

The church can't go on talking about Eternal Life and Paradise as well as Compassion and Love and Justice and, at the same time, not confront the moral ambiguities of helping someone to die a holy death.

It's time.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michael - I don't know how you can look at those stats and make that deduction. Then again, I don't think like you. Thanks be to God.

No one is asking clergy or anyone to be "cheerleaders". What I am asking is that we begin to have honest, open, transparent conversations about life and sex and death.

JCF said...

I agree w/ xxMichael . . . with regards to that 65% acceptability to the Death Penalty. :-( Not so much most everything else.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ah, understood, JCF.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Father Michael has ever watched someone in his family die of cancer. It is a horrible death.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Or, ALS, or MS, or COPD, or kidney or liver failure..... I don't buy all that "suffer for your salvation" crap that used to be popular in my RC youth. Actually, some of the best hospices are run by RC nuns. They keep patients comfortable - and, also look the other way or leave the room when family members push the morphine pump.

BTW, Please - next time - leave your name.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

I think I will be sitting with this poll for a few days. It's fascinating data. It says so much and infers even more.

With respect to xxMichael, the country never was "Christian." Before the Great Awakening(s), most frontier Americans really weren't much of anything religiously speaking. After the Great Awakening, Christian churches became as much part of the social fabric as they really did about anything "religious." For immigrants, they were an entry point into American society.

I have some relatives in my family history on the "Lutheran" side of the family, that in recent years I discovered via my own DNA, they were probably really Jewish. But they came to Missouri in the 1850's and the most fluently-German-speaking institution in rural NE Missouri was...yep...the Lutheran Church. So it was probably a marriage of convenience rather than a religious conversion.

I realize anyone who wants to throw rocks at the findings in this poll will simply go, "God's law is not a popularity contest," or "I didn't say it, God did." But Jesus said that Heaven was now, and Heaven was among us. I think to live that message out means that some things that used to be immoral, become moral, and some things that used to be moral become immoral. and I'm not even getting to the amoral stuff. It morphs too, sometimes. We have enough tension trying to live the Great Commandment, so I think we are always going to have disagreement on some of this, and the ambiguities will always be with us.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I've been reading the articles and looking at the stats off and on for days and I just knew I had to blog about it. It's not just the LGBT thing. It's all of it - the topics and the trends, and even the categories "morally acceptable" vs. "morally wrong". Why not "morally unacceptable"? Or, "morally right"? It feels like there are some shades of gray in there.

MarkBrunson said...

Oh, be nice! xxMichael's one of those Catholic-types, ya know. For them it's "There is no 'morally acceptable,' only Zuuul . . . I mean, Magisterium!"

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mark - I think the thing that urks me most about the RC position is that it assumes that human beings can not make moral decisions without being in lock-step with what the institutional church says is "moral" - meanwhile, the institutional church has demonstrated flagrant immorality in terms of .....well, let me count the ways....the sexual and physical abuse of children, not allowing poor women in 3rd world countries access to contraception, insisting that condoms may not be used even in the presence of HIV/AIDS in married couples....shall I go on? No I think I won't.

Anonymous said...

"But Jesus said that Heaven was now, and Heaven was among us. I think to live that message out means that some things that used to be immoral, become moral, and some things that used to be moral become immoral. and I'm not even getting to the amoral stuff. It morphs too, sometimes."

Kirkepiscatoid, that is perhaps the most bizarre defense (or description?) of moral relativism I have ever read.

I'll happily stick with Veritatis Splendor, thank you.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I'll let the good Doc speak for herself, but I think you're on pretty thin ground here, Michael. That 'Veritas Splendor' that the RC Church claims sole custody of has gotten pretty tarnished of late

Kirkepiscatoid said...

xxMichael, when the Israelites were on the verge of extinction, it was perfectly moral--imperative, in fact--to practice polygamy. The survival of the tribe depended on it, back when the life expectancy was 30something on a good day. Today, in the face of an overcrowded world, not so much. In fact, we consider it quite immoral, according to this poll.

To my knowledge, God did not send a prophet to tell us to stop.

He did, however, send us one who told us to get our act together on making this world a little more like God's realm. I suspect these days that has more to do with fidelity than it does the gender of those two faithful people who display fidelity to each other.

Surely you can come up with something better than tarring me with the moral relativism tar-baby. Most of what changes in this world takes a lot longer than just our lifetimes. I pray that someday you and I will see it in its entirety together, and I imagine we'll both see where each of us screwed it up in our own way. We can share that too. Peace.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It's just a hunch, but I suspect Michael is not to thrilled at the prospect of sharing Eternity with either you or me, Kirke. In fact, I'm sure he's absolutely convinced himself that 'heaven' will be defined, at least in part, by the fact that he thinks he'll never have to deal with anyone like you or me when he reaches the Pearly Gates.

Won't we all just have a laugh, then, when, as the old hymn tells us, We all get to heaven..." what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus, we'll sing and shout the victory!"

Bill said...

xxMichael writes:
A further confirmation that all with eyes to see that the country is effectively pagan.

Let me see if I can decipher that sentence. “all with eyes” must refer to that closed circle of right thinking individuals who believe that they, and only they know what is proper and moral.

The “effectively pagan” piece is troublesome because there are at least four definitions of the word.
1) It could mean those that are polytheistic but from outside Christianity, one would suspect that Christians are “polytheistic” – you know, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Very cumbersome when trying to explain monotheism.
2) It could mean those folk who are not Christian, Jew or Muslim. And, there we go again thinking we have the inside track to heaven.
3) It could mean irreligious or hedonistic and I think that this is where Michael was going.
4) Finally, it could mean a savage or uncivilized person, or someone who is morally deficient. Also a possibility for Michaels statement.

It’s just so hard to pick when the statement is so vague. I suspect that is the answer. By being vague, you can never be wrong, just misunderstood.

So, all in all, what would be so bad about being pagan. Given, it would mean you’re probably not Christian but that would also mean that over the centuries you weren’t responsible for the torture and deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the name of the one true God. I could live with that.

It could also mean that you’re not a misogynist as many of those terrible pagan religions maintained feminine deities. Or maybe it would mean you’re a savage like the early Native Americans who placed women in positions of power and respect.

Where was I – Oh yes, “Pagan”; now that I really think of it, if we were to weigh the sins of Christian vs. Pagan, I think you would find yourself on the unclean end of the proverbial stick.

Brother David said...

Perhaps xxMichael will be with the group on the other side of the wall near which the the rest of us whisper and tiptoe whenever we pass to allow them the fantasy of believing that they are the only ones who made it to Heaven!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I'm not sure but I don't think Michael is going to like your answer, Bill.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Br. David - The joke about Episcopalians is that the first test of whether or not we get to stay in heaven (because, unlike some Christians, we Episcopalians know we're all going to heaven), is whether or not we use the right fork at the Heavenly Banquet. If we don't, we are immediately ejected from our seats into very large room with lots of RCs and other folk who think they're the only ones to be able to get to heaven.

Brother David said...

One of my favorite religious jokes is this one.

The Pope gathers the College of Cardinals together and says that he has Good News and Bad News. The Cardinals wish to hear the Good News and the Pope says, "Brothers, Our Lord Jesus Christ has returned." Looking perplexed a Cardinal quickly asks, "Then Holy Father, what could be the Bad News?" And the Pope replies, "He called to tell me from Salt lake City!"

You can turn this around and have the LDS Prophet, Seer and Revelator gathering the Quorum of 12 Apostles, and the call coming from the Vatican.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for taking my comment seriously. I use the pagan theme so frequently in my preaching, as it is a staple of contemporary Catholic preaching, that I forgot that the reference might be opaque to non-Catholics.

My reference "effectively pagan" refers to the split in the classical Greco-Roman world between religion and morality. Religion was the realm of superstition, morality was the realm of philosophers. God's Chosen People, the Jews, were unique in the early Roman Empire to link the two. Then Jesus came along and nascent Christianity embraced the same linkage.

I don't find universalism, indifferentism, delinking dogmatic theology from the content of the Christian Faith, and a thoroughly agnostic view of moral theology (minus the MDGs and the GLBT agenda, PBUT) as improvements to the Christian Faith. IMNSHO they are a return to the superstitious amoral paganism of the Romans, but this time with a Christian veneer instead of classical polytheism. The host and most of the commentators appear to be cheerleaders of these cultural movements.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michael - You don't know Bill, obviously, and don't understand what he was saying to you but, I suspect, because he is male, you automatically assumed the best.

You obviously don't know me and clearly choose bits and pieces of what I write to strengthen the conclusions you have made about me because I dare to be a woman who is authentically a priest in God's one, holy catholic and apostolic church, and refuse to let the male dominated institutional paradigm to define either me or my priesthood.

Your rush to judgments are becoming less and less of a joke and more and more of an annoyance. You are articulate so you may think you are concealing your anger and sharp ad hominum attacks, but they are pretty transparent. You are only fooling yourself.

Careful, Michael. You'll soon be wearing out your welcome.

Anonymous said...


I quite understand Bill's comments and his lack of agreement with my commentary. No problem there: I was responding to the four possible definitions of paganism with the fifth definition I actually meant.

As for his misery index, the blood shed by the birazzo pseudo-paganism of the Nazis and the abortion regime of the contemporary world far exceeds the life lost by religion-inspired wars. And atheist regimes (communism) have proven themselves drenched in blood on a scale eclipsing religious wars as well.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michael - I have a name. It's not "host". It's "Elizabeth".

Got your point, Michael. Long ago. You think abortion is wrong. Save it for the pulpit where people actually come to hear you say this stuff.

Why do you anti-choice folks always use Nazi imagery when talking about abortion? It doesn't help. In fact, it makes things worse. Much, much worse. And, it's insulting to Holocaust survivors, most of whom support the BIBLICAL WARRANTS that SUPPORT ABORTION.

I think, if you look up the word "hyperbole" in the pictorial dictionary, your picture will be right there as a prime example of one who employs it often.