The Flesh and the Devil: Beliefs About Religious Evil and Views of Sexual Morality

Document Type


Publication Date



We examine an understudied connection between religion and sexuality: beliefs about the reality of supernatural evil (Satan, hell, and demons). After controlling for multiple other aspects of religiosity, beliefs about religious evil remain a strong and consistent predictor of attitudes about issues involving sexuality, including abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex, extramarital sex, and pornography use. Further, the effects of religious service attendance on attitudes about sexuality are contingent upon beliefs about religious evil. Moral condemnation of non-traditional sexuality is significantly higher among regular religious participants who believe strongly in religious evil compared to actively religious people who disbelieve in religious evil, as well as compared to people who do not attend religious services. Beliefs about religious evil are therefore central to understanding the empirical connections between religion and support for conservative, traditional views of sexual morality.