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Catholics, Protestants, and Ethical Behavior

I certainly don’t place too much stock in Gallup polls, but this is quite interesting. According to this study, among regular church attenders, both Catholic and Protestant, almost across the board regularly attending Catholics are more likely to approve of behavior that their church deems unethical than are their Protestant counterparts.

Rod Dreher makes a rather pointed comment about the whole thing:

This is a conundrum to me, one I thought about a lot when I was a Catholic, and troubled over. Why is it that Catholics have a Pope and a Magisterium — a clear teaching authority — as well as a complex, coherent and profoundly intellectual moral theology … and yet these things, which ought to give it a tremendous advantage in maintaining the obedience of its flock, avail the Catholic Church little? It shouldn’t be that way, logically, but it is in practice.

Stats breakdown from the poll after the jump.


  1. Hill wrote:

    When you consider the nature of self-identification as a Catholic versus self-identification as an Evangelical or other kind of Protestant it seems to skew the poll so as to render the percentages meaningless. Might as well throw “Jews” in as a category, but of course, what the heck would that mean?

    I guess another way of putting is that “Catholics” are far more likely to continue to self-identify as Catholics in spite of what the church actually teaches (for various, but well-known reason).

    Unless one already had an opinion on the matter, concluding anything from this poll would be ill-advised.

    Friday, April 3, 2009 at 3:44 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    I understand that point. But, what about the issue of regular attendance? The difference between non-attending Catholics and Protests seems virtually nonexistent, which is to be expected, but why the difference between regular church attendees?

    Of course, we don’t know what the study means by regular attendance…

    Friday, April 3, 2009 at 4:00 pm | Permalink
  3. Hill wrote:

    There’s that and the fact that in my experience, it would be virtually impossible to correlate attendance at Catholic mass on Sunday with anything at all. There are also huge populations of Catholics that only attend mass on Easter and Christmas, but that wouldn’t miss those services under any circumstances and likely consider this to be some form of piety and possibly count as “regular attendance” as you’ve said. Catholics are probably also more likely to lie about regular attendance, since this is an obligation for Catholics in a way that it is not for Protestants. This adds a layer of complexity not acknowledged by the poll: by admitting to a failure to attend mass regularly, one is admitting to moral sin which, unless confessed, ought to exclude a person from the Eucharistic table, and if a person is doing this willingly and systematically, why should we believe anything they have to say about Catholicism? So yeah… it’s even more complicated.

    I think at the end of the day, the kinds of reasons that bring a person to a Catholic mass tend to vary massively (to the point of having little to do with the actual content of Catholicism at times) while the same isn’t true (at least to the same degree) with Protestantism. Note that I don’t consider this a bad thing.

    Friday, April 3, 2009 at 5:18 pm | Permalink
  4. Colin wrote:

    I’m confused about the death penalty response – is the number representative of those who think the death penalty is morally acceptable or representing those who find it unacceptable?

    Friday, April 3, 2009 at 5:58 pm | Permalink
  5. Skip Newby wrote:

    “With a Pope and Magesterium, and yet the flock doesn’t obey.”

    Well, let’s see, because genuine obedience to Christ only comes from within? Only genuine authority has any influence on others to obey. It seems that anyone who has a relationship with the Spirit of Jesus is beginning to see that so called authority arbitrarily makes many of the “rules” for that very reason, control of the flock. That goes for all strains of “Christianity.”

    The Spirit is causing “church goers” and otherwise to re-evaluate many things they’ve been taught to find what’s True in line with Jesus’ Love.

    Love, Skip.

    Friday, April 3, 2009 at 10:16 pm | Permalink
  6. roger flyer wrote:

    Skip, Rabble rouser.

    Saturday, April 4, 2009 at 8:27 am | Permalink
  7. Evan wrote:

    As I read it, the numbers in the death penalty row are those who find it morally acceptable. So about the same percentage of non-attending Protestants and Catholics find the death penalty acceptable, while amongst church-goers, about half of Catholics find it acceptable, which is still a good 14% less than church-going Protestants.

    Makes sense to me. I think Catholic teaching on this is more established than progressive Protestant denominations that might be less accepting of the death penalty, and then there’s the more conservative Protestant denominations where Romans 13:4 is practically strung up with pride on the American flagpole. Between those two factors, I imagine you would see greater Protestant support for the death penalty.

    Saturday, April 4, 2009 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

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