March 25, 2018

Declining Biblical Literalism in the U.S.

Coffee: because the bible is boring
You know Gallup, the polling group, right? Back in May of 2017, they reported that 24% of Americans believe that the "holy" bible is the literal word of some sort of god. The good news, as you probably guessed from the title of this post, was that this number (24%) was the lowest they had recorded in 40 years. It appears that biblical literalism is declining in the U.S. I think most of us would agree that this is encouraging news even as we shake our heads in amazement that 24% of our neighbors could possibly still believe this.

The not-so-good news from Gallup was that another 47% of those polled continue to regard this book as being inspired by some sort of god and that this number has been stable over 40 years. That means that if one were to combine the number of biblical literalists (24%) with the inspired-by-some-god folks (47%), one would end up having to confront the unsettling reality that 71% of Americans believe that this book is at least divinely inspired.

Of course, one could protest that just because people claim to believe these things in a poll does not mean that they really believe them. I'd agree with that. Many Christians have little idea what their "holy" book says, and many even disregard much of what it says. It is certainly possible that poll questions like this reflect a heavy dose of social desirability (i.e., many of the respondents said they believe in divine inspiration because they think this will be viewed favorably). But even if that is the case here, I cannot help finding the idea that 71% of Americans would indicate that they believe this to be more than a little troubling.

Despite the progress we've made, it seems like we still have a long way to go. The vast majority of our neighbors appear to regard one book as something far more than a book. Some even consider it to be a valuable source of evidence for the claims it contains. It seems to me that beliefs like this will continue to set an upper limit on the sort of society we can have, holding us back in many important ways.