Pew Forum Poll and The Moral Imagination

Here is the latest Pew Forum poll taken around the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Let’s set aside the political battles of “overturning Roe v. Wade” as the headline would have it. As important as that might be, the underlying issue is what I’ll call moral imagination. Imagination may not be the right word, but what I mean is simply that ability to recognize wrong when you see it.

We tend to think that recognizing right and wrong is a universal ability. And there is some general truth to that as the law is written on our hearts. But our natural hearts are also very calloused. To succinctly divide right and wrong requires the revealed law. And even then, we can often just say “well, God didn’t really mean that”. As Paul says in Romans 1:32, “though they know God’s righteous decree…they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” Or 1 John 1:8, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

This poll is interesting to me in what it reveals about that moral imagination. A prerequisite to overturning Roe would seem to be a super-majority of people convinced of the moral atrocity of turning a mother against her child. And I want to be absolutely clear here, this sin in not just personal but societal. The number of and compounding of sins that would lead to an abortion mill and an absolute right up until the 9th month is widespread. The failures are legion. Christians who have open eyes use the starkest stories and examples from the bible for this: Cain and Able and Molech. The poll shows just how weak and divided is this moral imagination.

the public continues to be divided over whether it is morally acceptable to have an abortion. Nearly half (47%) say it is morally wrong to have an abortion, while just 13% find this morally acceptable; 27% say this is not a moral issue and 9% volunteer that it depends on the situation. These opinions have changed little since 2006.

So 47% recognize the wrong. That part doesn’t say anything about the weight put on that judgment. There is a big gulf between saying Molech and saying, “yeah, that’s wrong”. But 13% say “go ahead, no moral problem”, another 27% don’t even admit to abortion being in the moral realm at all. Think about that, over a quarter of the United States says a mom killing her kid is not a moral decision. Another 9% you might say recognizes a moral claim, but it willing to grant space “depending upon the situation”. So at best you could say 56% recognize that there is a valid moral claim to this decision. That is a long way from the 67% that would be necessary to actually achieve societal change.

Now lets turn to the strength of that moral imagination.
Pew Forum Poll Results Only 18% of people think of this as a critical issue and that is a declining number, although it might have hit a bottom. Even if you add the two categories, you only get 45% that will admit to abortion being an important issue. Somewhere along the way 2% of people who know it is a moral judgment just don’t think its important at all. The best you can say is that the moral imagination is not that strong.

One last graph on the moral imagination. This one doing with how well various church grouping are doing at teaching or forming that moral intuition.
Pew Forum Poll Results #2 I think that chart makes it pretty clear the absolute moral impoverishment of the “protestant mainline”. Tough words, but they are clearly the group Paul is talking about in Romans 1:32. If you are a Christian who has eyes to see and ears to hear who is residing in one of those churches, now is the time to flee. You have put up the good fight. You have stood your ground even though you did not have much strength (Rev 3:8). The judgment is coming.

So, when I look at those numbers, they are not as bad as I could have imagined. There seems to be a significant minority that have eyes to see the moral horror. Added to those are near a majority that if (as Dorothy Day would quote) we were able to make it easier to make the right decision, would make the right decision. But that is at least 1/6th of the populace away from actually being able to make change, and that 1/6th must come from conversion and awakening. And it must come in the face of what can only be described as the false prophet.