It's Hard to Have Your Pants Down Sitting in a Pew

If you actually get up and go to church (or synagogue or mosque), the odds are you’re less likely to cheat on your spouse.

There seems to be a special public delight when religious types get caught with their pants down. Whether it's that sexual hypocrisy is especially malodorous or that others' overt religiosity amplifies someone else's schaudenfreude is tough to say.

But it turns out that if you actually get up and go to church (or synagogue or mosque), the odds are you’re less likely to cheat on your spouse. At least that’s the finding in new research in the Journal of Marriage and Family from two psychologists at California’s Fuller Theological Seminary.

David C. Atkins and Deborah E. Kessel noted that while the big three Abrahamic traditions specifically prohibit infidelity, the only blue-chip predictor among the religious of observing that rule was going to services for real, and not, as my high school teacher Brother Michael used to say, “just when you’re hatched, matched and dispatched.”

Using data from the National Opinion Research Center’s 1998 General Social Survey, which is a battery of face-to-face interviews, the pair found that other markers of religiousness, such as self-reported faith, “nearness to God,” prayer and forgiveness, could be connected to fidelity — with one glaring exception: “Endorsing religion as being very important without the behavioral component of attending services was positively associated with infidelity.”

In other words, if you talk the talk without walking the walk, you probably don’t walk the walk elsewhere, either.

Atkins and Kessel suggest that attending services is a shared, social interaction between spouses, which strengthens their bond. Plus, if you’re actually in a pew or on the carpet, religious teachings are
reinforced through preaching.

And for the heathens out there who might be inclined to cast stones at the religious, the survey also looked at those who had a poor view of religion, although, to be fair, most of the questioning seemed to favor having faith rather than rejecting it. The survey also looked at white and black respondents and members of all faiths, although it skewed toward Christianity (82 percent self-identified as such).

Although this wasn’t a paper about affairs, per se, trolling it finds some tidbits apparently in line with other studies. For example, cheating happens most likely in the late 40s or early 50s; the more educated
a man is, the greater his likelihood of straying, while women are pretty consistent until reaching grad school, when they cheat more than men; and poor people and rich people are more likely to cheat than those in the middle.