January 20, 2016

What Do Americans Believe About The Bible?

Various polls over the years have tried to identify how Americans view the Bible. Although finding consistent poll data covering multiple years has been a challenge, it would appear one can decipher – in broad terms – a reasonable conclusion. Four respondent classifications have emerged:

1.        There are those who choose to believe the Bible is the word of God, word for word.
2.       Others believe that although there are some human errors in the text of the Bible, the message it delivers was inspired by God. This category also includes those who believe the Bible should not be taken literally.
3.       Some people believe the Bible is a collection of folklore and fables that describe early western human history and philosophy.
4.       A small percentage of respondents don’t know, have no opinion, or refuse to answer.

In the following Table, we can see the trend of these beliefs over time. The data is an approximation of what I found in my research. (Note 1)




1980
1990
2000
2010
2020
The Bible is the word of God, word for word
40%
33%
28%
29%
26%
The Bible’s message was inspired by God, or the Bible should not be taken literally
45%
48%
48%
49%
47%
The Bible is a collection of folklore and fables.
10%
15%
19%
18%
23%
Don’t know, no opinion, refuse to answer
5%
4%
5%
4%
4%


The number of Christians who believe the Bible is the word of God, word for word, appears to track with the number of people who attend Church on a regular basis. Both numbers are declining. Respondents with a college education are less likely to believe the Bible is the word of God (< 20%) than people who have a high school education (>39%), live in the South (>37%), or attend Church on a regular basis (>60%). Young adults 18 – 29 are more apt to be skeptical (27%) than seniors (5%). Evangelical (58%) and historically black (61%) congregations are most likely to believe the Bible is the word of God, word for word, followed by Catholics (33%), mainline protestants (22%), and other Christian groups (27%). 

The trends are reasonably clear. Approximately 50% of the American population will continue to believe the Bible’s message was inspired by God, or should not be taken literally. The number of Americans who choose to believe the Bible is the word of God, word for word, will decline below 30%. Unless the Christian community re-characterizes its Bible theology, the number of Americans who essentially reject the inspiration of the Bible will increase above 20%.

Over the years I have learned it is useless to counter statistical trends. All we can do is influence their direction. We know educated populations tend to be more skeptical of the Bible’s infallibility. We know our children are being taught the liberal point of view on all Christian subjects, including the credibility of the Bible. Therein is our challenge. Since these statistical trends suggest most Americans are willing to agree the Bible was inspired by God that should be the focus of the Christian community. Within this context the perceived inconsistencies, errors, and conflicts within the text become largely irrelevant because they are the product of human endeavor. We know human authors will make mistakes as they try to find the words to adequately describe their revelation.

The wisdom of God’s message to us remains inviolate and universal. God’s values have never changed. Even the atheist and agnostic can be moved by their moral significance. Focusing our thoughts on God’s message to humanity encourages a productive, constructive and positive approach to understanding our relationship with the spiritual that can be expressed in contemporary terms.

Just a thought.



Note 1: Data from various studies by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and the Gallup Poll.

No comments: