A new Gallup Poll has come out revealing that Americans' view of the Bible as the literal word of God is at an all-time low.
A record-low 20% of Americans now say the Bible is the literal word of God, down from 24% the last time the question was asked in 2017, and half of what it was at its high points in 1980 and 1984. Meanwhile, a new high of 29% say the Bible is a collection of "fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man." This marks the first time significantly more Americans have viewed the Bible as not divinely inspired than as the literal word of God. The largest percentage, 49%, choose the middle alternative, roughly in line with where it has been in previous years.
For the first time ever, more people view the Bible as a collection of myths than the literal Word of God.
The middle view, the largest percentage, is that the Bible is inspired by God, not all meant to be taken literally. And that's where about half of those polled staked their flag.
According to Gallup, this goes along with the general trend of irreligiousness among Americans. As fewer go to church or take their beliefs seriously, fewer take the Word of God literally.
The shift in attitudes about the Bible is not an isolated phenomenon. It comes even as a number of indicators show a decline in overall religiosity in the U.S. adult population. These measures include declines in formal identification with a religion, self-reported membership in a church, self-reported religious service attendance, personal importance of religion, and a decline in belief in God. Thus, it is not surprising to find that views on the nature of the Bible have shifted in a less religious direction as well.
The accompanying graph displays the recent trend in the percentage of Americans who choose a biblical literalist interpretation and the percentage who say religion is very important in their lives. These attitudes are closely related (the statistical correlation is .86) and underscore the conclusion that trends in Americans' attitudes about most aspects of religion tend to cluster together.
This decline is among Americans as a whole. The country itself is becoming less religious.
But how do different Christians respond to these questions?
More granularly, 30% of Protestants say that the Bible is literally true, compared with 15% of Catholics. Almost two-thirds of Catholics choose the alternative that the Bible is the inspired word of God, but every word should not be taken literally.
As was the case in 2017, belief in a literal Bible is highest among those who are more religious and among those with less formal education. Americans who identify as evangelical or born again are much more likely than others to view the Bible as literally true, although even among this group, the percentage believing in a literal Bible is well less than 50%.
It's hard to believe that we've gotten to a place where less than half of evangelicals believe that the Bible is the literal Word of God.
Americans' interpretations of the Bible are important, because the Bible is often used as the basis for policy positions on moral and values issues, including such things as abortion and gay and lesbian relations. Some more conservative Protestant groups use a literal interpretation of passages from the New Testament as the basis for their belief that women should not be in positions of religious leadership in churches. Gallup's data show that the use of a literal interpretation of the Bible as the basis or justification for social policy positions will likely resonate only with a declining minority of the overall U.S. population.
We are coming to the place where people, even within Christian circles, won't take the Bible as a reason to hold to certain social positions.
Those of you who still believe: Be ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15).
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