Are fewer Americans believing what’s contained in the Bible? Check out the results of a Gallup poll on whether it’s right to take the Bible literally.
Is it a guidebook meant to offer sage advice, a book of fables and metaphors with deeper meanings crafted by man, or a steadfast guide that can’t be questioned and shouldn’t be interpreted any way other than the way it’s written?
The number of Americans who would choose the third option — taking the Bible literally — is at an all-time low, according to a recent Gallup poll.
The latest poll shows that 24% feel the Bible should be taken literally. That’s down from 38% in 1976. At the same time, the percentage of people who classify the Bible as “a book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man,” the least traditional religious option, has doubled from 13% in 1976 to 26% in 2017, now surpassing what is the most traditional option on the list.
I’m sure there are non-believers out there who see this as a victory.
It’s worth noting, however, that the middle option, that the Bible is the “inspired word of God,” though all of it isn’t to be taken literally, has edged up two percentage points since 1976 to 47%.
That means that a total of 71% still consider the Bible a holy book that, at the very least, was genuinely inspired by God.
Does this mean there’s reason to panic if you’re a Christian? I don’t think so. I know firm believers who have issues with certain stories in the Bible.
A friend of mine, for example, told me once he has a hard time with the worldwide flood from the story of Noah’s ark. He has trouble imagining a flood that covered the entire planet.
I don’t have that problem, but then I look at it based on what we know about the human perception of the planet even well past the time of the Bible. You will recall that naysayers told Christopher Columbus that if he sailed too far, his ships would “fall off” the edge of the world. As late as the 1400s, the perception of the planet’s size was only slightly further than could be seen by the eye. In that context, a massive flood wouldn’t have to cover the “whole planet,” but just enough space so that the writers of the Bible couldn’t see any land whatsoever.
To put it another way, the flood might have been enough to “rock their world” without rocking the entire planet; from their perspective, saying it was a “worldwide” flood is still a genuine belief for a human writer of the Bible, even if he were inspired directly by God to write that.
The bigger point, after all, is that Noah’s dedication to following God’s instruction saved himself, his family and the ark’s passengers from a disaster that would surely have killed them otherwise.
I think of massive flooding in October 2015 here in the Lowcountry of South Carolina where days of rain fueled by Hurricane Joaquin, that caused what was dubbed the “1,000 flood.” No, it wasn’t planetwide, but go to talk to any of the people where their homes were nearly completely underwater for days and ask them how “big” the flood was.
At the same time that my friend feels the disconnect about the purported scale of the flood, there’s no apparent issue accepting the notion that Noah was 600 years old at the time the flood began.
He still falls into that 71% of Americans, even if he doesn’t belong to the 24% that feels taking every word of the Bible literally is necessarily the correct way to interpret it.
Why the change? Perhaps people feel more free to discuss real issues of belief. Maybe it’s that church has evolved because of people who feel they’ve been burned just enough by organized religion that they’re willing to consider alternate views of the Bible.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing for religion; it’s still an example of people willing to take a deeper look at the Bible and its contents, as opposed to closing it and tossing it away.