A majority of Americans believe the nation’s moral values are declining, according to a survey gauging the state of American culture. It also found a correlation between the shift in values and a reduced emphasis on religion.
In the survey by the Culture and Media Institute, 74 percent of respondents, including a majority in each major demographic, said moral values in America are weaker than they were 20 years ago.
Forty-eight percent felt moral values were much weaker than two decades ago.
Using the data, the CMI classified American adults into one of three value groups — Orthodox, Progressive, and Independent.
"Orthodox" Americans, comprising one-third of the adult public, are those who believe in God, think religious values should be reflected in government, and see moral issues in black and white, the survey said.
"Progressives" represent the one-sixth of adults who are fundamentally secular, opposed to religious values in government, and see moral issues in shades of gray.
"Independents" — about half the adult population — did not fully accept the values of the other two categories.
Ninety-one percent of the "Independent" respondents were found to believe in God and to be more "Orthodox" in questions of politics and sexual morality. But they also tend to be more "situational" in viewing moral issues and to side with "Progressives" in questions of right and wrong.
At a press conference Wednesday launching the survey, CMI Director Bob Knight said the organization "wanted to take a snapshot of America and show [the culture] for what it is – good or bad."
The results showed that religion played a large role in the morality of the nation, he said.
Knight noted that although 87 percent of all respondents said they believe in God and a significant majority showed a commitment to classical virtues such as integrity and honesty, their actual decisions in particular situations did not always reflect it.
"The war isn’t between two opposing values systems, the way most people usually conceive it," said CMI senior editor Brian Fitzpatrick.
"In reality, there are three groups out there. The group we call the Orthodox believes in obeying God above all … the Progressives want to write their own moral rules [and] … the Independents respect God and tradition, but still like to do things their own way."
Using the results of its survey, CMI argues that "attitudes toward God and religion" is the crux of the conflict over culture in America.
CMI argued that if more Americans adopt "Progressive" values, the country could "expect to experience even greater moral confusion."
"The battlefield in America’s culture war is the hearts and the minds of the Independents … reversing America’s moral decline will require a renewed acceptance of Orthodox values which implies increased acceptance of God’s authority."
"The media really take it on the chin," Fitzpatrick said. "Americans from virtually every demographic division, every values group, agree that the media are damaging America’s moral values."
CMI said Americans should demand that the media "strive to more fairly represent all views, including those of the Orthodox."
"Americans perceive a decline in American cultural and moral values, and it’s only going to get worse as long as the media continue to promote liberal, secular values," Fitzpatrick said.
CMI is a division of the Media Research Center, the parent organization of Cybercast News Service. Its mission is to "preserve and help restore America’s culture, character, traditional values, and morals against the assault of the liberal media elite."
‘No worse than any other time’
Lori Brown of the Atheist Coalition for America challenged the conclusions of the study, saying it incorrectly implied that if two things happen at the same time, then one must have caused the other.
"This shows how much misunderstanding there is of the morality of those of us who don’t hold a God belief," Brown told Cybercast News Service . "If a person believes that this is the only life we have and this is the only world there is, then there will be great impetus to make it the best world possible.
"Those of us who don’t believe in those concepts [of God] feel a tremendous obligation to live moral, ethical lives and to help people less fortunate then ourselves," she said.
Brown noted that when Christians gather on May 3 for the National Day of Prayer, atheists plan to observe a "Gift of Life Day," when they will donate blood rather than pray.
She also argued that the idea of a nation in moral decline is nothing new and could probably be said of any decade.
"I find people all over the country who are loving, kind, generous, and help each other, so I don’t think the nation is in any worse of a decline than at other times … people just notice this particular moment and don’t put it into perspective," Brown said.
Carrie Gordon Earll of Focus on the Family welcomed the report, saying, "I don’t think any American could look at the culture today and not agree with the conclusion of this study."
"Whether it is abortion, out-of-wedlock birth, the divorce rate, sexuality in media, or destructive embryo research it is across the board, and I agree with their conclusion," she said.
"If you don’t have — as they are phrasing it — God’s morality then all you have is man’s opinion and that is leading us into death and destruction."
Earll conceded, however, that Christians could cooperate with people of other faiths, or no faith, when there is agreement on "core principals of morality."
"There are some basics that we can agree without having to quote a scripture verse."
Ultimately, however, she said the country does need to return to God. "Morality is based in recognizing that there is a God that created the universe and that we are subject to him … God’s standard is supreme and as humans we are held accountable to that," Earll said.