Bible Still Ranks High In Increasingly Secular Culture

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What do Americans actually think about the Bible? Do they believe it to be sacred, authoritative or merely nonsense? Do they try to follow its exhortations, or do they regard the Bible as antiquated literature? Does the Bible still matter?

A recent survey from the Barna Group, commissioned by the American Bible Society, provides some insight into these questions. From the results, it’s easy to see why the Bible remains a cultural force in the United States. Yet, its future role looks very different from its past.

barna_01In their news release, the Barna Group said nearly nine out of ten (88%) Americans actually own a Bible. Despite such a high number, that’s declined since 1993, though only slightly, when 92% of Americans owned a Bible.

Barna said, in terms of demographic breakdowns, about eight out of ten (79%) Mosaics (people aged 18-28) own a Bible, compared with nearly all (95%) Elders (who are ages 65-plus). And while it might not be surprising that religiously devoted Christians own Bibles, the study finds that six out of ten Americans (59%) who have no faith or who identify as atheists own a Bible. Despite many aspects of society that are secularizing, penetration of Scripture remains high in 2013.

Eight out of ten (80%) Americans identify the Bible as sacred literature, without any prompting from interviewers. That proportion has also dipped from 2011, when 85% of respondents affirmed this perspective of the Bible. Americans’ overall belief in Scripture’s sacredness may also explain why almost two-thirds (61%) of American adults also say they wish they read the Bible more, Barna reported.

In contrast, the Barna poll revealed that fewer than one out of ten Americans (8%) said they thought the Koran was sacred, and only half that many (4%) identified the Torah as holy literature. Perhaps connected to the swelling ranks of the religiously unaffiliated, one out of eight adults (12%) do not regard any book to be sacred text. This percentage has nearly doubled in two years, when the proportion was 7%.

Interestingly, the Barna poll determined that despite the perception that Scripture hasn’t impacted the nation’s young people, Mosaics (ages 18-28) actually tend to show more interest in what the Bible has to say on certain issues than do older adults. Four out of ten Mosaics (40%) say they are interested in the Bible’s wisdom on dealing with illness and death, compared with about one-quarter of all adults (28%) who say the same. More than one-third of Mosaics (35%) are interested in the Bible’s perspective on dating and relationships, and four out of ten (42%) want to know what Scripture says about parenting—both of those percentages are higher than the norms.

barna_02Everything is not rosy, however. Barna reported, that despite a clear cultural interest and awareness of the Bible, the research also shows that neutral or negative attitudes toward the Bible are becoming more commonplace. In 2011, more than half (53%) of adults said the Bible “contains everything a person needs to live a meaningful life.” In 2013, that percentage dipped below half of the population (47%).

Although the 61% of American adults who want to read the Bible represents a majority of Americans, it’s a step down from the 67% of adults who said the same in 2011. Furthermore, the percentage of adults who believe the Bible contains everything a person needs to live a meaningful life has declined substantially from 75% to 66% in the last two years.

The number of American adults who are friendly–or, those who believe the Bible to be inspired and infallible but don’t read the Bible as often—has gone down (from 45% to 39%).

Those who are neutral—the people who rarely read the Bible and believe the Bible to be inspired but containing errors—numbered 25% of American adults in 2011, and is about the same in 2013 (23%).

Most startling of any group are those American adults who are antagonistic to the Bible, meaning they believe the Bible to just be a book of stories and teachings written by men, and they rarely or never read the Bible. That group stood at one in ten adults (10%) in 2011. In 2013, their ranks have grown to 17% of all U.S. adults.

The State of the Bible 2013 research contains the findings from a nationwide study commissioned by American Bible Society and conducted by Barna Research. Two research methodologies were used for the study; one included 1,005 telephone interviews with adults in the continental U.S., while the second study consisted of 1,078 online surveys using a nationally representative panel. The use of two methodologies provided a larger sample size for key questions and ensured even greater representation among all age groups. The telephone interviews were conducted Jan. 16 – 22, 2013 and included U.S. adults 18 years of age or older. The online surveys were conducted between Jan. 17 – 23, 2013. The sampling error is plus or minus 2 percentage points, at the 95% confidence level. The interviews included 300 interviews conducted by cell phone, to help ensure representativeness of cell-only households.

Images courtesy Barna Research Group

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