Fewer in U.S. Now See Bible as Literal Word of God

By Rosa Rubicondior | 28 August 2022
Rosa Rubicondior Blog

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. (Credit: Shutterstock.com)

Fewer in U.S. Now See Bible as Literal Word of God | Gallop

The decline in fundamentalist religious belief in the USA continues to plummet, according to a Gallop Survey published last July.

This shows the percentage of American adults who believe the Bible is the literal word of God is down to just 20%, half what it was in July 1980. This is still astonishingly high by European standards and means 1 in 5 American Adults believe Adam & Eve, Noah’s Ark, and the Tower of Babel were actual, historical events and that the Universe was created by magic in just 7 days, including the dome over earth into which the sun, moon and stars are fixed, and from which stars can shake loose and fall down during earthquakes.

Nevertheless, halving that percentage in 42 years represents something of a triumph for science and common sense.

Even more encouraging news is that the percentage who believe the Bible is just a collection of myths, history and moral precepts written by men has now established a firm lead over the literalists, at 29% (almost triple what it was in 1980).

Sadly, the percentage who believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, not to be taken literally, remains stubbornly at around 50%, never straying far outside the range of 45%-50% over the period Gallop have been recording these beliefs.

This latter belief of course has the maximum utility value for most ‘Christians’ who are free to pick and choose which passages to believe God ‘inspired’ accurately and which were made up, although, significantly, those who make that claim can never explain how they know which passages are literal truths and which aren’t. For example – endorsement of slavery, forced marriage of a woman to her rapist or selling daughters as sex slaves, definitely not to be taken literally; homosexual sex being an abomination and a mortal sin, literally true. With the main purpose of religion in the USA being to provide excuses for those who need excuses, this view has obvious advantages. It also means that whatever evidence science can produce to show the Bible is wrong, it can always be dismissed by claiming this or that passage were never meant to be taken literally, so reducing the cognitive dissonance between the religious view and reality and between the view that the Bible is a book of morals, with the blatantly immoral actions mandated by the god described in it.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the decline in belief in the Bible as literally true, has been accompanied by a similar decline in the view of American adults of the importance of religion in their lives, over the last 20 year. The latter has now dropped below 50% to 44% from 60% in 2002.

Again, perhaps unsurprisingly, the percentage of those Americans who self-identify as Christians, are more likely to believe the Bible is literally true (25%) or inspired by God (58%) is significantly than the ‘average’ US adult, but maybe more surprising is the finding that 16% of self-identified Christian think the Bible is just an ancient book of fables while 6% of unaffiliated Americans believe the Bible is literal truth.

Looking below the aggregate figures, belief in the literal truth of the Bible is highest amongst Protestant Americans, which will include the fundamentalist evangelicals. According to Gallop:

… 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.

In Europe, one would expect these figures to be reversed since the traditionally ‘Protestant’ countries by and large tend to be less religious than the traditionally Catholic countries such as Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Poland, although in many of those latter countries, the term ‘formerly Catholic’ is perhaps more accurate since Catholicism has been in headlong decline now for about the last couple of decades and no longer commands the power and loyalty it once did.

As one might expect, there is a strong correlation between higher religiosity, as assumed from regularity of church attendance, and belief in the literal truth of the Bible, with belief that the Bible was inspired by God being the predominant view of those who attend church almost weekly or monthly (65%).

Only 11% of those who seldom or never attend church believe the Bible is literally true but even 42% of those believe it is inspired by God, while 46% believe it is an ancient book of fables.

Generally, the better educated Americans, as measured by college graduate/not college graduate, are less likely to believe the Bible is literal truth (14% and 24%, respectively) and more likely to see it as a n ancient book of myths (35% and 25%) but statistically the same percentage believe the Bible is the inspired word of God (49% and 50%).

As Frank Newport, for Gallop said:

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.

It remain to be seen just how much the abandonment of principles and the craven support for the odious Donald Trump, and the widespread disregard for the health and welfare of others during the COVID-19 pandemic, and their determination to take over the judiciary and subvert the US Consitution, by American evangelical Christians has contributed to this decline in religiosity and belief in the literal truth of the Bible. The massive gulf between what they preach and what they do can’t have gone unnoticed, but then few people appreciate and admire a sanctimonious , self-serving hypocrite more than an evangelical Christian.

Given their close association with science-denial and climate-change denial, support for white, far-right racist extremists and eager anticipation of a war to end wars in which they believe a magic sky man will save them so they can have what’s left of Earth for themselves, long may this process of decline in this most dangerous and antisocial of superstitions continue.

Rosa Rubicondior (a pseudonym) is a retired data analyst, biologist, blogger, author and atheist.

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