Differences in social attitudes

One of the differences I have noticed between the US and the UK is the social attitude.  On the whole, middle-class America is very conservative.  People in the UK show a more tolerant, or “liberated” view.  Which is better is left to the discretion of the reader.  I’ve seen this attitude reflected in three ways: 1.) church-going, 2.) same-sex marriages, and 3.) assisted suicides.

These issues can be sensitive and I suppose that I am experiencing this because the UK is a small country, so you have all these attitudes presented directly to you.  Whereas, in the US, the population is scattered and if you live in one community, the attitudes there might not be representative elsewhere.  Whatever the case, I believe there is still a difference.

1. Church-going.  Attendance at church has declined worldwide.  There are many reasons for this, but I’m not going to go into that.  I’ve seen many churches close, both here and in the US.  But, it is worse here.  Statistics show that about 10% of Britons go to church regularly (this is just the Christian population).  In the US, some communities report 80% church attendance.  Though that is not typical, I would say that about 50% nationwide attend church services regularly.  There are some strong atheist views here.  I’ve known agnostics in the US but not atheists.  Again, that may be the distribution of population.  As a result of the decline in attendance, many churches are closed or being sold.  Many have been turned into homes or council accommodation or other uses.  While it is good that some have been used for other purposes rather than to be allowed to deteriorate, it is such a shame to see these old buildings desecrated.  England has some of the most beautiful churches in the world, but only the most famous ones escape dereliction.  It seems that people here have very little time to explore religion or care about it.

2. Same-sex marriages.  Yes, we have those in the US, but many have been overturned and only a few places allow for gay marriages.  Britain has allowed for it outright and many profile Britons have taken advantage of this.  Gordon Brown even took it upon himself to criticise the US for not recognising gay marriages.  However, I don’t feel he has a right to dictate what he believes to another country.  Though the US is a First World country, it does not necessary mean it has to adopt liberal attitudes that other First World countries choose. It is for the people of the US to decide that.

3. Assisted suicides.  It has not been long since Kevorkian was released from prison.  Had he practiced in the UK, the Britons might have been a little easier on him.  Though I will not say assisted suicide is well-accepted over here, there is this trend in thinking that it is OK.  I’ve heard so many stories about Dignitas and there’s even a report that half of the British doctors approve of assisted suicide.  You wouldn’t find that in the US.  Even the politicians want to discuss changing their laws regarding this.  An Australian doctor recently came to lecture some elderly people about their options for assisted suicide.  There have been numerous reports on suicide pacts being carried out.  I suppose that part of the relaxed attitude towards this may be because suicide is legal, even if assisted suicide is not.  In the US, suicides are illegal.  It may sound strange, because no one can be charged if they succeed, but they can be if they fail.  Perhaps, that is why Americans, for the most part, don’t see suicide as an “option”.  Or, it may be that Americans, in general, view death negatively.  I’ve known terminally ill people refuse Hospice because they associate it with death.  On the flip side, Britons reject Hospice because they want to take their own lives when they choose.  This suggests they fear the dying, not the death.

My conclusions might be flawed, but my perception is that Americans tend to go to church more, believe in the conservative and traditional idea of marriage and family, and they fear death.  Whereas, Britons are more open-minded about sexual orientation and “equal rights”, are Bible-blasting, and want to take control of their own lives, rather than live by someone else’s dictates.  Mind you, I’m not classing everyone on either side of the Atlantic into these categories, but it is a general perception.

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6 Comments on “Differences in social attitudes

  • There is an island off of Scotland which has the highest church attendance in Great Britain, so that must say something.
    I believe we have around five states now which have overturned the ban on gay marriage and I think that will continue to grow over the next few years. Certainly my son’s generation will make the difference here-gay marriage is basically a non-issue for them. They don’t see what all the fuss is about.

  • Interesting. You have civil unions (similar but not equal to marriage), civil marriages, and religious marriages in the UK. Gays are allowed civil unions, yet some of the more high profile cases refer to it as a marriage and even go so far as to have a wedding. For those who argue that it is not the same as a marriage, it appears that Mr. Brown’s criticism of California is very hypocritical. After all, he may be speaking too soon. Gays are not allowed to marry in the Church of England, but neither are divorcees. So, Charles marries Camilla and she can’t be Princess, but she was bestowed the title of Duchess. It will be interesting to see how the church responds if and when Charles is crowned king.

  • As far as I can remember before civil marriages were introduced Gay couples were having problems when one of them died, in that in a normal marriage when one of the couple died the insurances, pensions etc. are normally given to the surviving partner. However insurance and pension companies never recognised same sex partnerships because the law didn’t.
    Basically the surviving partner in gay relationship were losing out even though they may have been in long term relatioships just like a conventional couple.
    Yes Our Glourious Leader a.k.a. Gordon Brown is a Hypocrite.
    The Church of England or Britsh Government isn’t interested who Prince Charles is married to as long as they are not Catholic.If he becomes King I am sure he has stated that he won’t become Charles III ( the others had bad press in the past) he will be a Henry or George I think.

  • I know I’m over two years late to the discussion, but I stumbled upon your blog and I’ve found it very interesting!

    Camilla is technically the Princess of Wales. She just doesn’t use that title to avoid antagonising the general public, who associate that title with Diana.

    I think that the gay marriage (or civil partnership – a rose by any other name and all that) and assisted suicide thing is probably linked to the apparant lack of religion. Our morals aren’t hindered by literal interpretations of religious teachings. I’m sure I’m not saying anything that you haven’t heard yet, but the American views of these three issues are generally frowned upon here. I’m sure that the British interpretations are generally frowned upon in the US too!

  • British people know EVERYTHING! Just ask any of them, they’ll be more than happy to set you straight.

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