What Do Americans Really Think About the Bible?

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One of March’s media stories has been the success of the History Channel miniseries,The Bible. The first episode, which premiered on March 3, had 13.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen, making it the highest entertainment (read: non-sports) broadcast of 2013.


The interest in a cable series makes it clear the American public is certainly interested in the Bible. But 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—besides television ratings—to Americans?

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 than its past.

The Bible’s Place in Society
If the Bible has such resonance with television viewers, then it stands to reason the awareness of the Christian Scriptures is high in America. And indeed, 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. On average, American Bible owners have 3.5 Bibles in their home, and one-quarter of Bible owners (24%) have six or more.

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.

Written By: Barna Group
continue to source article at barna.org

31 COMMENTS

  1. I own a King James authorized version of the Bible and a copy of the Qur’an translated by M.A.S, Abdel Haleem for Oxford World Classics both of which I find terribly difficult to read.

    But I do try – now and then – because I want to have a bearing on their contents so I can mount an effective argument against them; which sounds arse about face, but I know what I mean.

    • In reply to #3 by Stafford Gordon:

      I own a King James authorized version of the Bible and a copy of the Qur’an translated by M.A.S, Abdel Haleem for Oxford World Classics both of which I find terribly difficult to read.

      But I do try – now and then – because I want to have a bearing on their contents so I can mount an effective argument against them; which sounds arse about face, but I know what I mean.

      A good point, most of my atheist friends own a bible, albeit some stolen from hotel rooms. In general I find atheists are a lot more knowledgeable on the bible and its content as they read it from an academic perspective. Most have also read all of it, which is not always the case with those who claim to be christians.

  2. This article is as skewed as any of our previous “Liars for Jesus.” In the first place, it was produced by an evangelical Christian company which exists for one purpose–and we know what that is.

    There is no mention of the actual questions asked in the survey. Nor is there any methodology explained, nor statistical parameters given. Even worse, the very bold subtitles are not just misleading, but outright lies. Under the bold “AMERICANS BELIEVE OUR SOCIETY NEEDS THE BIBLE,” the statistics reveal that less than a third of the respondents would endorse that sentence.

    One must wonder about the statistical acccuarcy of a finding that 45% of people were found “friendly” toward the Bible in 2011 but the figure dropped to 37% the next year and then back to 39% the year after. This is not credible, to say the least.

    Still, if this is the best the liars can do to paint lipstick on a pig, I think we’re in pretty good shape.

    • In reply to #4 by JHJEFFERY:

      Still, if this is the best the liars can do to paint lipstick on a pig, I think we’re in pretty good shape.

      I agree completely. There is quite an astounding disconnect between the stats and the interpretation of them. I like the lipstick on a pig comparison but the phrase that came to my mind was gilding a turd.

  3. Headswapboy:

    I have two copies of the Lord of the Rings, but it does not mean I believe in orcs or hobbits. I do, however, have quite hairy feet.

    I have a broomstick but I can’t ride it nor play quidditch !

    PS I have 2 Bibles and 1 New Testament, and I have better things to read. So much bloody death and destruction in there !

  4. Once again it is referred to as a best seller. How many people bought one and how many people were given one?

    Most printed perhaps, but most sold?

    On the other hand Dawkins is a best seller, they don’t give em away.

  5. The bible is a most important book, one of the foundations of Western thought, law, attitudes, literature and even speech. It would be very difficult to study English literature without a reasonable biblical grounding, particularly in the King James version.

    I regard it as a cultural icon, important, with a surprising level of reference to middle eastern history, though in a jumbled and unreliable way, the result of a few thousand years of going through the processes or oral transmission, being written down, rewriting, mangling etc.

    I like to read the King James version, though much of the stuff in it is incomprehensible, which makes it great for the professors, preachers and pundits who earn a good living by explaining it.

  6. When I was 17 my then girlfriend was being sucked in by a local group of well to do evangelist methodists who used social events to attract young people into their circle of influence. We were invited to a garden party on a large farm owned by a rather wealthy family about ten miles out of town. I had started to become alienated by the hippocracy of this group of people and they had stared to realise that I was showing signs of resistance to their attempts to convert me into their faith. On arrival at the grand black and white timbered farm house everyone was given a hymn book and a prayer book just as would happen in a church. I asked the person handing out the books what we needed them for. The answer was for singing hymns and praying. I though about this for a moment and said to my girlfriend who had described the event as a party that I was not interested in staying and that I intended to depart. She said that I couldn’t leave because we were so far from home and that the minibus would not be able to take me back to town. Well I was not going to be coerced into any happy clappy stuff and I said I was going to walk back on my own if necessary. I said that I felt betrayed by the lies used by my girlfriend to get me to attend such an event. It was a beautiful summer evening and I said that I was quite capable of walking home. So I did and I had a fabulous feeling of release in my ability to turn my back on the the evangelists who promised salvation. I walked home in a haze of euphoria and felt empowered that I had been capable of standing up for my convictions and moral standards. It was a very pleasant walk over the beautiful rolling hills of northwest Shropshire and a pint of ale in a friendly pub was a welcome refreshment. I have never picked up a bible since or bowed by head when prayers are said. I still get a prickle of excitement and self esteem when I recall this event that took place over 40 years ago. My girlfriend eventually became my ex but I have never regretted my decision.

  7. Just as a matter of record, I have never bought a Bible, but I possess three (2.5) of them, nor have I stolen those. I have most of Richard’s books, and I have paid the full price for all of them. Compared with the crap about Noah’s Ark and all the the other fantasies, Richard’s books are worth 1000 times the price of a Bible.

    Holding the sun still for a day so Joshua could continue with his slaughter of the enemy, jeez, is this what most Americans believe? I don’t think so for one minute ! I have lots of hope in Americans ! Land of the Free ! Free your bloody minds from superstition for a start !

  8. I sometimes wonder why Mein Kampf is an illegal book but the Bible, which is just as violent and racist (or even worse), is supposed to be on everyone’s bookshelf. I have to admit I do have a copy. I didn’t buy it, it was a gift and I tend to use it to check all the nonsense preaching nitwits utter. I had some stomach turning moments when reading this collection of ancient b.s. Especially the bit just after the ten commandments about slaves and concubines, and what to do if your neighbor kills your ass…

    • *In reply to #14 by Klaasjansch: Illegal? Where? I know that Germany and Austria have laws restricting or prohibiting free thought, free speech and probably access to Nazi material. One one hand I suppose having discovered how seductive it was to them, they don’t trust themselves to have any contact with it. On the other hand, over the long run it seems like a way to help forget … if no one truly knows what lead the nation to do what it did, it all becomes a bit like religion: we share a sort of “original sin” on the basis that someone tells us we do. Online In the USA, I easily found found free text versions and an audiobook, and text, an audiobook, and for sale at amazon, but I’d bet that you would have a very hard time finding it on the shelf at a typical public library any longer (same goes for Marx, Mao). People ought to be able to read anything, esp. original sources, but if you checked this stuff out today you’ll probably set off alarms at the FBI.

      I sometimes wonder why Mein Kampf is an illegal book but the Bible, which is just as violent and racist (or even worse), is supposed to be on everyone’s bookshelf. I have to admit I do have a copy. I didn’t buy it, it was a gift and I tend to use it to check all the nonsense preaching nitwits utter. I had some stomach turning moments when reading this collection of ancient b.s. Especially the bit just after the ten commandments about slaves and concubines, and what to do if your neighbor kills your ass…

      • Well, I seem to be misinformed here. I do agree that all data should be available, good or bad. Much can be learned from these books. Maybe our pubescent lunatic in PyongYang should read some of these books and after that (or maybe before hand) read about the mess they created.

        In reply to #25 by whiteraven:

        *In reply to #14 by Klaasjansch: Illegal? Where? I know that Germany and Austria have laws restricting or prohibiting free thought, free speech and probably access to Nazi material. One one hand I suppose having discovered how seductive it was to them, they don’t trust themselves to have any contact with it. On the other hand, over the long run it seems like a way to help forget … if no one truly knows what lead the nation to do what it did, it all becomes a bit like religion: we share a sort of “original sin” on the basis that someone tells us we do. Online In the USA, I easily found found free text versions and an audiobook, and text, an audiobook, and for sale at amazon, but I’d bet that you would have a very hard time finding it on the shelf at a typical public library any longer (same goes for Marx, Mao). People ought to be able to read anything, esp. original sources, but if you checked this stuff out today you’ll probably set off alarms at the FBI.I sometimes wonder why Mein Kampf is an illegal book but the Bible, which is just as violent and racist (or even worse), is supposed to be on everyone’s bookshelf. I have to admit I do have a copy. I didn’t buy it, it was a gift and I tend to use it to check all the nonsense preaching nitwits utter. I had some stomach turning moments when reading this collection of ancient b.s. Especially the bit just after the ten commandments about slaves and concubines, and what to do if your neighbor kills your ass…

    • In reply to #14 by Klaasjansch:

      I sometimes wonder why Mein Kampf is an illegal book but the Bible,

      Where is it illegal ? There see to be some restrictions in Germany is that what you mean ? Otherwise it looks pretty available to me.
      I can also see free translations on the internet and you can get it on kindle for less than a dollar from amazon.

      Michael

      • It’s on my local library shelves.

        In reply to #30 by mmurray:

        In reply to #14 by Klaasjansch:

        I sometimes wonder why Mein Kampf is an illegal book but the Bible,

        Where is it illegal ? There see to be some restrictions in Germany is that what you mean ? Otherwise it looks pretty available to me.
        I can also see free translations on the internet and you can get it on kindle for less than a dollar from amazon.

        Michael

  9. I didn’t watch this TV series, but if I’d had a television I probably would have. I’ve read the Bible (King James version — he was a direct ancestor of mine) twice cover to cover, and have checked bits many times since. I own it in electronic format, along with several other ‘holy’ books. These are all good, perhaps essential, cultural references, and I find mythology interesting in an amateur anthropologist way.

    My first reading of the Bible, as a young child nearly 60 years ago, was at the request of my mother, a nominal Baptist. I didn’t want to go to church because it sort of scared me to see adults acting crazy. Mom’s suggested compromise was that I read the Bible every day and be prepared to discuss it at night. Her reasoning was, “you needn’t be pious, but you shouldn’t be ignorant”. That made sense to me, and still does.

    The process took two years (tough read for a little kid), and was the genesis (pardon the pun) of my atheism. I read it again as a teenager because the opinion most others around me had of the book seemed drastically different from mine. The first reading left me feeling that it was very strange and not a little scary. The second read showed it to be just plain ridiculous, and inconsequential except as insight into the way many others think. It’s still valuable in that sense, as are other prominent myths.

    }}}}

  10. My household has three bibles, only one of which is sacred because it contains several generations of begattings that led directly to me. The other two I have scribbled in where passages set off my bullshit detector.
    I have felt for years now that this book contains 100% of what people think the know about their deity. Religion only persists because those who believe it the most have read it the least.

  11. bluebird :

    The game show ‘American Bible Challenge’ is now in season two – sneaky devils effectively shut atheists out as contestants.

    Perhaps atheists know more about the Bible than the Christians ? Certainly the atheists on this site do !

  12. Can’t argue with their motivation or methodology.

    About the Research
    The State of the Bible 2013 research contains the findings from a nationwide study commissioned by American Bible Society and conducted by Barna Research.

    About Barna Group
    Barna Group (which includes its research division, the Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. It conducts primary research, produces media resources pertaining to spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries.

    • In reply to #21 by The Truth, the light:

      Can’t argue with their motivation or methodology.

      About the Research
      The State of the Bible 2013 research contains the findings from a nationwide study commissioned by American Bible Society and conducted by Barna Research.

      About Barna Group
      Barna Group (which includes its research division, the Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. It conducts primary research, produces media resources pertaining to spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries.

      I’m sorry. I can’t tell if you are serious or not. The leader of this disgusting organization has a doctorate in Bible (from a “bible college” with which I am somewhat familiar and hold in the utmost disdain). Are you suggesting that such an organization does not allow its agenda to interfere with its discipline? If so, you are an idiot.

  13. I have the “Junior Bible” given to me on my first birthday by my grandfather who was a presbyterian minister, and the “Revised Standard Version” given to me on completion of church school in 1959 (age 9, when I was already a non-believer). More recently, I have acquired a copy of the “Jefferson Bible” and a (signed!!) copy of “The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible”. On the shelf next to these are several books by Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Harris, Stenger, Russell and Ehrman. I’ve got a few tracts and a couple JW handout bibles as well. Also “Drunk with Blood- God’s Killings in the Bible”…Good bedtime reading. :-)

    Steve

  14. Some years ago I picked up a nice King James version with soft leather cover and gilt edge pages for cheap at a library sale. I thought it would be good for an educated person to have as a reference, esp. if I got around to rereading Moby Dick or something else teaming with biblical references. I got another because it was illustrated with woodcuts by Barry Moser and I like his work.

    By the way, there is a very beautiful modern (1998-2011) illuminated bible called the St. John’s Bible that is worth a look; for instance, at http://www.saintjohnsbible.org or a Library of Congress online exhibit at http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/stjohnsbible/stjohns-exhibit.html/

  15. I am very heartened at the amount of comments here from wonderful free thinkers who actually own a copy of the bible. I am so happy that people are informing themselves of the nonsensical writings of the middle east.

    As an ex-fundie preacher and seminarian, I have ~30+ bibles in effectively every english translation, and countless in Hebrew and Greek. Unfortunately that means my shelves aren’t filled with many good books.

    My greatest possession now as a student of physics, my ‘holy grail’ as it were, are the Feynman Lectures collection.

    Cheers,

    -J

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