Monday, August 15, 2011

Biblical Orthodoxy

A traditional survey question for those who study religion is to ask about people's perception of the Bible.  Is it literally the word of God?  Inspired by God but written by men?  Or merely written by men and full of fables and fairy tales?  Often we use this as a standalone measure or combine it with the "born-again Christian" question to create a measure of doctrinal orthodoxy.

Have beliefs about the Bible changed over time?  Not so much.

Using Gallup data, we can see the following:
  • The question was first asked in 1976, with 38 percent professing a belief that the Bible is the literal word of God.
  • This climbed to 40 percent by 1980.
  • After this peak, it dropped as low as 27 percent and no higher than 34 percent over the next several years.
  • The latest poll, in May 2011, pegs it at 30 percent believing literally in the Bible.
Okay, but what about the fables and legends response?  Any change there?  There's been a slow, persistent growth in this position.
  • In 1976, only 13 percent believed the book is fables, legends, and moral precepts written by man.
  • This peaked at 22 percent thinking so by 2008.
  • It's now at 17 percent, according to the May 2011 survey.
What can we take away from this?  Attitudes about the Bible remain relatively stable over the last 35 years, at least as measured by Gallup.  Some change.  Nothing dramatic, but I do think we're seeing a slow, modest shift to secularism, but it's one so small that current events can easily shift it one way or the other.  The campaign of a couple of GOP candidates (Bachmann and Perry) will bring such views in full relief over the next several months.  It'll be interesting to watch.

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