Study Compares Christian and Non-Christian Lifestyles

A new Barna Group survey measured the type of lifestyles Americans live. Results showed they live one of sacrifice and of self-indulgence. And the story is not that much different for born-again Christians.

Among 20 lifestyle elements, the most common activity Americans engage in over the course of a typical month is recycling some used product or material. The survey showed that 74 percent of Americans have recycled in the past month. Also, nearly half said they have helped a poor or homeless person in their community in some other way than handing them money.

The differences, however, between the self-oriented behavior of born again Christians and that of national norms were small. Although born-again Christians are more likely to volunteer for their church, they are no more likely than average to help the poor or homeless, the survey found. And they are also one of the least likely groups to recycle.

When measured for other moral behaviors, born-again believers are not much different from non-born-again adults. One quarter of born-again believers are less likely to view sexually explicit movies and magazines, to use profanity in public and to buy a lottery ticket compared to roughly one third of non-born-again Christians.

Overall, 28 percent claims to have said mean things to others about someone else when that person was not present; 13 percent admits to having told someone something they knew was not true; and 10 percent of adults say they have gotten even for something someone did to hurt or offend them.

Inappropriate sexual gratification was another self-indulgent behavior measured. The survey found that 28 percent say they have read a magazine or watched a movie or video that contained explicit sexual images in the past month; 10 percent visited a website that showed explicit or uncensored sexual content; and 14 percent say they had an intimate sexual encounter during the past 30 days with someone they were not married to.

Additionally, 16 percent of adults say they have consumed enough alcohol to be intoxicated or considered legally drunk at least once during the last month. Drug use is lower with about 3 percent saying they used illegal, non-prescription drugs.

Also in the past month, 5 percent of Americans say they consulted a psychic or medium for spiritual guidance.

Age proved to be a strong factor in behavior. Adults under 40 and especially those ages 18 to 22 were more likely than average to engage in many of the morally questionable activities, including the use of profanity. The younger age group also shows lower than average levels of volunteerism to churches and other non-profits and to helping the poor. The 18-22 age group is also least likely to recycle.

Unmarried single adults are more likely to have consumed sexually explicit content. Nearly half say they did so in magazines or movies and one fifth had done so online. Two out of five single adults who have never been married also say they had an intimate sexual encounter in the last month. This group of singles is also most likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, use profanity, take something that doesn't belong to them, illegal download music, and get payback on someone.

On a partisan level, liberals are more likely to recycle; to use sexually explicit material; to have a non-marital sexual encounter; to steal music; to use profanity; to gamble or buy a lottery ticket; to use an illegal drug; to say mean things about others; and to get payback than political conservatives.

Americans in the West and Northeast recycle more than those in other parts of the nation. Northeastern residents are more likely to use profanity, illegally download music and watch sexually explicit movies. Adults in the West are most likely to be intoxicated. And residents in the Midwest are most likely to gamble.

"Americans are a unique blend of contradictions," said David Kinnaman, director of the study. "Mosaics want to be known as activists, but their recycling pales to that of older adults. People think of themselves as engaged in assisting needy people, but the vast majority of Americans merely dabble in helping others.

"Individuals who have financial means are no more likely than others to assist the poor. Never-married adults envision themselves as independent and self-sufficient, but their levels of substance abuse and sexual behaviors suggest otherwise. Political liberals want to be known for their open minds, but their profanity, cutting remarks, and frequent use of 'payback' undermines their attitudes of acceptance. The respect, patience, self-control and kindness of born-again Christians should astound people, but the lifestyles and relationships of born-again believers are not much different than others."

Such self-oriented behaviors and contradictions, Kinnaman added, will become even more apparent. "Americans will become even less aware of who and what they are. As people become more interested in the latest diversion and more tuned into personal satisfaction, their capacity and energy for connecting with others - or understanding themselves - will diminish."

The Barna study was conducted in October 2006 on 1,003 adults, age 18 and older.