The good news is that a record-low 20% of Americans believe the Bible is literally true, according to a Gallup poll released today, down from a record-high of 40% in 1984.
The bad news is that it feels like every single one of those people is in elected office somewhere…
The same poll saw an all-time high 29% of Americans correctly identifying the Bible as a collection of “fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man.” In 2017, the “Book of Myths” side outnumbered the “Literally True” side by a mere two percent—26% compared to 24%, respectively—but that difference has now jumped to 9%, suggesting a growing gap between Americans who live in a fantasy world and those who accept reality.
Meanwhile, roughly half of all Americans, 49%, believe the Bible is inspired by God but not meant to be taken literally. (Those people are what Creationists refer to as “heretics.”) Interestingly enough, that number has been fairly steady over the past few decades, so the growth of people rejecting the Bible as fact is either the result of people making a journey from Literally True to Inspired by God to Book of Myths… or leapfrogging over that middle section entirely.
None of this should come as a huge surprise, though, given that the United States has seen a rise in Secular Americans for the past two decades. In fact, fewer than half of all Americans now say they are 100% certain of God’s existence. That number is remarkably (and disappointingly) high, but it’s still heading in the right direction.
Gallup also found a similar decline in the number of Americans who say religion is very important in their lives:
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.
Not all the numbers make logical sense, though. Gallup says 16% of self-identified Christians believe the Bible is a book of fables (!) while 6% of non-religious and non-Christian Americans believe the Bible is the actual word of God (!!). What’s going on in their minds? Do they recognize the cognitive dissonance? Who knows. They’re either very confused or extremely unconcerned about all of this.
Here’s what’s not surprising: The more often you go to church, and the less formal education you have, the more likely you are to believe the lie that the Bible is literally true. It’s what researchers1 call Ken Ham’s Core Constituency.
All of this would be cause for celebration if not for the fact that so many prominent, powerful, elected Republicans and their allies believe the Bible is literally true and that it ought to be a guidebook for our nation. As Katherine Stewart wrote yesterday in the New York Times, “Breaking American democracy isn’t an unintended side effect of Christian nationalism. It is the point of the project.” They believe the Bible should supersede the Constitution when it comes to laws they don’t like. And as we’ve seen with reproductive rights, vaccine mandates, public school curricula, and more, the biblical literalists are eager to impose their beliefs on the vast majority of Americans who don’t share their faith, much less an extremist interpretation of their holy book.
That’s even more bizarre when you consider that biblical literalists don’t even agree on what the Bible literally says! While the Gallup survey doesn’t go into this, we know there are Creationists who believe the Bible is a few thousand years old while other Christians who would also say the Bible is literally true accept evolution.
Even Pat Robertson has said, “I don’t think most Christians are stupid enough” to buy into Young Earth Creationism.
The bottom line?
- Fewer Americans are biblical literalists
- Those biblical literalists still can’t get their story straight
- Those biblical literalists still wield plenty of power over our political process.
It’s hard to be happy about #1 until we’ve solved the problems created by #3.