More good news on the secularization front: fewer and fewer Americans believe that the Bible is the literal word of God. According to the latest national survey by Gallup, conducted in the first week of May, 2017, only 24% of Americans now believe that the Bible is the literal word of God—the lowest percentage ever recorded by Gallup on this measure. And 26% of Americans now consider the Bible “a book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man”—the first time in Gallup polling history that this skeptical, humanistic view of the Bible is more widespread in America than Biblical literalism.
The secularizing trend-line is clear: back in 1976, 38% of Americans believed that the Bible was the actual word of God to be taken literally—but as noted above, that has dwindled down to 24% today. And on the flip-side, back in 1976, only 13% of Americans saw the Bible as a book of fables and legends recorded by men—but that has risen to 26%. In the middle of these two orientations, are the 47% of Americans who currently view the Bible as the “inspired word of God, not to be taken literally.”
The demographics are interesting. Women are slightly more likely to view the Bible as the literal word of God, while men are slightly more likely to see it as a book of fables written by people. White people are less likely than people of color to view the Bible as the literal word of God, and are more likely to see it as a book of fables written by people. Not surprisingly, education is a decisive factor: only 13% of college graduates view the Bible as the literal word of God (compared to 31% of people who never attended college) and 36% of college graduates view the Bible as a book of fables written by people—compared to only 19% of people who never attended college. And finally, younger Americans are much more likely to view the Bible as man-made than older Americans. So it goes.
This report is extremely good news for the following reasons:
* Research reveals that Biblical literalism is strongly correlated with a host of social maladies and inhumane world-views. For instance, people who think the Bible is the literal word of God are more likely to physically abuse their children, harbor hatred of homosexuals, deny the evidence for climate change, love semi-automatic assault weapons, oppose women’s equality, oppose humane treatment of animals, oppose universal-subsidized health care, and to vote for incompetent, unintelligent, unhinged men for president.
* The Bible fosters moral-outsourcing, which is when an individual does not base her moral decisions on her own conscience, or on matters of harming or helping others, or on empathy and compassion, but on simply and blindly obeying the commandments of a magic invisible deity.
* The Bible has some nice stories (and also some horrific ones), some fine ethical precepts (and also some savagely immoral precepts, to be sure) and plenty of philosophical gems (Ecclesiastes is my favorite). It should be read as an amazing document of early human thought and imagination. It should be read as a foundational source of Western Civilization (for good and for ill). It should be appreciated for its creative depth and literary width. But it should not be read as the literal words of a god. And as fewer and fewer people do so, the world will improve.