The Bible remains America’s favorite book, according to the most recent Harris Poll. This year, just as in 2008 when The Harris Poll last asked this question, the number one book is the Bible. It’s now followed by Gone with the Wind, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and To Kill a Mockingbird. The Bible ranks first across all demographic groups, including men, women, Millenials, GenXers, Baby Boomers, White, Black, Hispanic, Republicans, and Democrats.
According to the American Bible Society’s (ABS) 2014 State of the Bible survey, African-American adults are more Bible friendly than the general US population. They also lead in the use of technology and frequent Bible reading when compared to all other races as well as the combined US adult population.
That same survey says the number of Americans skeptical of the Bible is equal to the number who believe the words are inspired directly by God. It also says Millennials are:
- less likely to view the Bible as sacred literature (64% in comparison to 79% of adults)
- less likely to believe the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to lead a meaningful life (35% in comparison to 50% of adults) and
- more likely to never read the Bible (39% compared in comparison to 26% of adults).
[See our blogpost, 75% in USA Believe the Bible is in Some Way Connected to God]
ABS president Roy Petersen believes more people will eventually look to the Bible for answers to America’s moral decline.
In its analysis of the survey, the Barna Group identifies six trends in US Bible engagement:
- Bible skepticism is now “tied” with Bible engagement.
- Despite the declines, most Americans continue to be “pro-Bible.”
- Distraction and busyness continue to squeeze out the Bible.
- The age of screens has come to stay in the Bible market.
- Increasingly, people come to the Bible for answers or comfort.
- People are less likely to link moral decline with a lack of Bible reading.
According to another survey, The Bible in American Life, the Center for the Study of Religion in American Culture at Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis says, “48% of Americans read the Bible at some point in the past year. Most of those people read at least monthly, and a substantial number—9% of all Americans—read the Bible daily. Among Bible readers, 31% read it on the Internet and 22% use e-devices.”
Americans’ lack of reading the Bible belies their claim of it being their favorite. Wheaton College English professor Leland Ryken says, “There’s no reason for anyone to be surprised at the extent of biblical illiteracy in the general population. The Bible has been systematically excised from the curriculum in public education and from culture generally.” Ryken says biblical literacy “is only marginally better” in the United States than elsewhere.
There used to be “an undercurrent of people having a vague familiarity of the Bible,” even if they did not attend a church, says Cackie Upchurch, director of the Catholic-based Little Rock Scripture Study in Arkansas. “That’s not the presumption anymore at all,” she said.
Geof Morin, chief communication officer for ABS, says, “43% of Americans can’t even name the first five books of the Bible.”
According to the Canadian Bible Engagement Study (May 2014), 55% of Canadians never read the Bible, 28% seldom read the Bible, 7% read it a few times a year, and 11% read it once a week or more frequently.
As part of its Pass it On campaign, the British Bible Society released a study showing many British citizens cannot identify certain Bible stories; 43% of children have never heard the story of the Crucifixion. The research says the number of children regularly reading or hearing Bible stories has declined by half over the last 20 or 30 years.
James Catford, the Bible Society chief executive, says the study indicates that “the Bible’s brilliant and engaging stories could be lost to future generations unless people take action.”
The UK’s Evangelical Alliance has just published research showing that evangelicals see God at work in their lives; they’re embracing new smartphone technology to help them read the Bible on the go, and they value their church and home groups. But challenges remain; including low prayer levels, widespread feeling that churches are not discipling new Christians well, and many saying they do not feel equipped to share their faith.
[See our blogpost, What Does it Mean to be “Bible-minded”?]
Americans are at least being exposed to the Bible through entertainment and art. Bible related movies are proving popular this year. The “Son of God” grossed more than $25 million when it opened in February, and Noah brought in $44 million in its opening weekend in March. Another artful iteration of Scripture is The Saint John’s Bible, a multi-million dollar modern/medieval tour de force; “the calligrapher’s Sistine Chapel.”