A new survey by Ellison Research in Phoenix finds 87% of U.S. adults believe in the existence of sin, which is defined as "something that is almost always considered wrong, particularly from a religious or moral perspective."
Topping the list are adultery (81%) and racism (74%).
But other sins no longer draw majority condemnation. Premarital sex? Only 45% call it sin. Gambling? Just 30% say it's sinful.
"A lot of this is relative. We tend to view sin not as God views it, but how we view it," says Ellison president Ron Sellers.
David Kinnaman, president of Barna Research, a company in Ventura, Calif., that tracks Christian trends, draws a similar conclusion: "People are quick to toe the line on traditional thinking" that there is sin "but interpret that reality in a very personal and self-congratulatory manner" — I have to do what's best for me; I am not as sinful as most.
Indeed, 65% of U.S. adults say they will go to heaven, and only 0.05% believe they'll go to hell, according to a 2003 Barna telephone survey of 1,024 adults.