Bible Reading and Social Progressivism

This post is from Mike Clawson, the occasional Christian contributor here at Friendly Atheist.

I just wanted to highlight for you all an interesting article in the Huffington Post: Frequent Bible Reading Tied to Social Justice, Openness to Science.

Aaron Franzen, a recent graduate from Baylor’s Masters program in sociology (I’m personally pursuing a PhD in Baylor’s Religion Department, but I’ve heard good things about their sociology program as well) found that increased Bible reading among Christians reading correlated positively with an increased degree of what we might call social progressivism (though not on all issues). For instance, the Huff Post article notes that:

In many cases, Franzen found frequency of Bible reading was one of the most powerful predictors of attitudes on moral and political issues. Consider some of the findings:

  • The likelihood of Christians saying it is important to actively seek social and economic justice to be a good person increased 39 percent with each jump up the ladder of the frequency of reading Scripture, from reading the Bible less than once a year to no more than once a month to about weekly to several times a week or more.
  • Christian respondents overall were 27 percent more likely to say it is important to consume or use fewer goods to be a good person as they became more frequent Bible readers.
  • Reading the Bible more often also was linked to improved attitudes toward science. Respondents were 22 percent less likely to view religion and science as incompatible at each step toward more frequent Bible reading.
  • The issues seemed to matter more than conservative-liberal tags. In the case of another major public policy debate, same-sex unions, nearly half of respondents who read the Bible less than once a year said homosexuals should be allowed to marry, while only 6 percent of people who read the Bible several times a week or more approved of such marriages.

Among other issues, more frequent Bible readers also were more likely to oppose legalized abortion, the death penalty, harsher punishment of criminals and expanding the federal government’s authority to fight terrorism.

Of course, it’s important to note that this study only shows a correlation, not causation. Nevertheless, these findings are interesting and somewhat counterintuitive for many on all sides of the issues. For instance, many of both my conservative evangelical and my liberal atheist/secularist friends would likely assume that the more one reads the Bible, the more socially and politically conservative one is likely to be — and while that must be the case for some, apparently for others, reading the Bible could just as easily be a sign of more liberal attitudes, at least on some issues (though, sadly, not on abortion or gay marriage).

On the other hand, perhaps this shouldn’t come as quite such a surprise, at least for Christians like myself who followed precisely the path described in this study — the more I read the Bible, the more socially progressive I became. And in my case at least, it was a matter of causation. I was a very conservative Republican evangelical as a teenager and young adult, existing mostly within a very closed conservative Christian bubble. It wasn’t any outside liberal influences, then, that pushed me to become more open to science, more concerned about economic justice and issues of social equality, and just more liberal in general. No, (and I often find my atheist and conservative Christian friends quite incredulous on this point, but I assure you it’s true) I became a “liberal” precisely by reading the Bible more intensely and closely. I was struck in particular by the overwhelming attention to economic justice and concern for the poor in the Bible (around 3000 verses), especially in comparison to the much more meager number of references to issues of sexual morality (around 40 verses). This then led me to begin questioning much of my conservative political ideology.

Likewise, I was led by my studies into the historical and literary context of the biblical writings to become much more flexible in my understanding of them, and thus far more able to see them as compatible with scientific truths. The more I came to understand the kind of literature the biblical documents actually are (a diverse collection of various types of Ancient Near Eastern literature), and began to read them as such, the less likely I was to demand that they be what conservative Christianity wants them to be (i.e. inerrant historical and scientific texts). So, for instance, I came to embrace a form of theistic evolution (i.e. the belief that evolutionary processes are not incompatible with God’s existence), not because I was convinced by the science and then tried to make the Bible fit it. Rather, I was first convinced through my study of scripture that Genesis 1 simply wasn’t scientific or historical writing in the first place, and that to attempt to read it as such just misses the point.

Anyhow, I bring this up not because I’m interested in debating these particular subjects here, but simply to illustrate how the findings of Franzen’s study might play out in the lives of individual progressive Christians like myself. In my own case, I have continued to go even further than many of the subjects in his study. My ongoing study of scripture (along with other things) has pushed me to become, for instance, fully supportive of LGBTQ rights and women’s reproductive rights (though I would like to see abortion kept safe, legal, and rare). Indeed, I would venture to guess that my ongoing reading of the Bible has made me even more “liberal” than a good many folks here – especially regarding socio-economic issues, about which I embrace a form of social democracy known as Christian Marxism (a la Cornel West). But that’s a whole other discussion! :)

At any rate, I’m always interested in studies like this that defy the conventional wisdom – especially when they suggest that folks like me perhaps aren’t as rare as I once feared (as this other article also does).

About mike clawson
  • Beckyg

    Whereas I still think that all religion is based upon mythology and fairy tales, I do believe that if more Christians actually followed the teachings of Christ (mythical or not), they would be far more liberal. I do give you props on that point. :)

  • Kimpatsu

    It’s all irrelevant. The only issue with the Bible is not whether it’s interpreted as liberal or conservative; the only issue is whether or not its claims are TRUE. And on that it clearly fails.

  • Anonymous

    It’s an interesting result, and I can sort of see where it’s coming from. I think one would find that the most conservative Christians do not read the bible as much as they thump it. I don’t find it surprising that those who actually sit down and read it come out more liberal, more sensible than those who pick out their favourite quotes — often ones their ministers/pastors/etc. have given them — and recite only those. I do not mean this next bit as a dig, I hope you understand, but when you consider how many atheists cite reading the bible as their reason for deconversion, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that reading the bible might instill a tendency to think things through a bit more carefully. (At the very least, the reader is more likely to begin taking things less literally, to start taking fewer direct instructions from the text, and to instead try to learn from it rather than just obey it.)

    Regarding the thought that more open-minded or liberal Christians may not be as rare as you think, I have always thought that the case. The problem isn’t that they are rare, the problem is that they are silent, and therefore rather hard to notice. This isn’t a flaw of Christianity I’m pointing out, mind, so much as a universal flaw of humanity: the least desirable ones are always the loudest. Once in a while a group of sufficiently oppressed people get together and fight back (most recently GLBT, before that women, African Americans, etc.), but on the other side, the people who are causing the problem are almost always louder than the people who disagree with them. (In this case, the anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-science Christians are much louder than the more liberal-minded Christians who disagree with the former, but rarely speak up about it.)

    • Anna

      Open-minded and liberal Christians are not silent.  We are blogging, writing, teaching, speaking, advocating and we are out there. 

      I think a lot of the problem is that it is just not entertaining to listen to, say, some pastor advocating for immigration reform or for better treatment of the poor.  It is much more entertaining (and profitable for the media) to give the bullhorn to the most flamboyant and simplistic thinkers. 

      Finding thoughtful, nuanced open-minded thinkers requires some homework, because thoughtful, nuanced open-minded commentary does not really get promoted by mass media outlets.

      This is as true for religion as it is for politics (or the arts or philosophy or science or history, etc).  Soundbites rule, and nuance does not sell.

  • Gwen

    The study was not done very well. I’ve often noticed and noted that those Christians who ‘read’ the bible, only read carefully selected passages. Unlike atheists, very few have actually read the entire book, cover to cover.

  • BaldMaster

    The combination of the first and fourth bullet points worries me. While reading the bible more may increase concern over social justice, it can also distort what that means.

    • John Small Berries

      I agree. I honestly don’t see how the first and fourth points can be reconciled.

      Withholding rights from people just doesn’t seem like “social justice” to me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dj-Nash/100000103380335 D.j. Nash

    I’m not totally surprised. It’s no secret that most of the most rabid evangelists don’t actually read the thing. I’ve always maintained that the book is full of wisdom. I don’t know how the study was managed, but in general my thinking would be that people who are generally inclined towards more reading are also generally inclined towards more thinking. This alone will generally lead to less stupid conclusions. But add to it now that their understanding of the Bible (and so what they call god) is now no longer filtered for them by a preacher/pastor/priest/minister and his own thought streams. The Bible reader has his own thoughts, and reads along those lines in his bible reading, and follows those thoughts of his own out, instead of just passively listening to the preacher publicly working out his own mysteries. All this independent thinking is a good thing. To me I’d chalk the results of the whole study up to that alone. Readers are thinkers. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1285481603 Brad Feaker

    Mike,

    I must admit that the HuffPo article seems counter-intuitive.  My personal experience with my Christian friends tend to be just the opposite – they either became more conservative/right-wing or in the case of 2 friends, they became atheists.  I am sure you have heard the old saw that a thorough reading/understanding of the Bible is the best way to make atheists!  But I am glad to see it has led you to become more liberal and progressive.

    And it always seemed to me (a former evangelical) that Christ wasn’t what the Republicans would like you to believe he was, i.e. a white, conservative capitalist.  And I infer from your statements that you were trained in the historical-critical methodology of textual criticism…recognizing that the Bible was written by men from different times with different messages to convey.  Best of luck with your PhD and submit more posts! 

  • GuestLurker

    If you are interested in reading a blog by an evangelical christian with a similar viewpoint, check out the Slacktivist blog. I was pleasantly surprised by how well his evangelical viewpoint fits in with my atheist-social responsibility viewpoint (ie, since this is all we have, we should try to make it as awesome as possible for everyone)

  • Sam Kastelic

    I just finished reading the Bible from cover to cover over a period of 8 months (yes, the first couple books turned me from evangelical Christian to atheist).  I’m not sure where Mike is getting his information. The bible clearly states that homosexuality is a sin in the Old Testament and multiple times in the New Testament. 

    Also, the claim that only 40 verses deal with sexual morality is completely ludicrous. Whole chapters of Proverbs admonish the reader to avoid the adulteress. The apostle Paul is mostly concerned with sex in the New Testament, and those seem to be the only rules he cares Christians keep from the old Jewish law. There are multiple laws in the Old Testament concerning proper sex. The only way someone could come to the number he is citing is if they only allowed very specific references, which is purposely deceptive.

    I do agree with the results of the study, though. I found no good arguments in the bible against abortion (except for the concept of a soul) and the New Testament can easily be used against the death penalty. 

    My two cents? Many Christians remain Christians because they have not been exposed to enough viewpoints and/or are conservative by nature. They don’t read the Bible, they simply adopt the viewpoints of their parents and the people around them. Those who do take the time to read the Bible realize that those viewpoints are not necessarily reflective of its contents. My point is that many Christians remain Christian because they are conservative, not because they thought much about it. This is why it makes sense to me that those who take the time to read the Bible would have more liberal viewpoints, since their views are based on the texts, not simply tradition/conservativeness.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    I’m also not surprised with the study outcome.  It seems to me that the evangelical/fundamentalists are the bible reductionists – meaning they try to reduce the bible to its core fundamental theological message (that everybody is “fallen” and in order to make it to heaven, you must accept Jesus as your savior…)  The fundamentalists basically strip all the other stuff out (except for the passages that re-enforce their prejudices).  They then focus their attention on this small subset of the bible which they claim represents the whole. 

    Someone who reads the whole bible will undoubtedly get a much more rich message that can resonate with current social attitudes about equity and social justice (with the possible exception of the anti-gay bias which is hard for most Christians to ignore).

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4YBPT4NTXVGGOPYDXUTN2RH5DI Patrick

    I’m not surprised.  The fundamentalist vision of the Bible tends to involve a strong insistence that 1) the Bible is very clear, and 2) the Bible endorses 21st century American fundamentalism without contradiction or ambiguity.  Since the Bible does neither of these things, they spend a lot more time talking about the Bible than actually reading it.  Reading the Bible is vaguely discouraged in many fundamentalist circles- the Bible is hailed as being a difficult, complex book that is best understood by experts, so if you’re going to read it, you should do so with a study guide in hand to help you get it “right.”  These guides both refer you away from passages you might find problematic (Jesus condoning slavery, Mosaic law endorsing the rape of prisoners of war as one’s just reward for prowess in battle), and “help” you reconcile passages that on casual reading would contradict (One gospel says Judas hung himself, the other says he was struck dead while plowing a field, so reconcile them by claiming that he hung himself in a field and was struck dead while in the process).

    It wouldn’t be surprising to me that the greater one’s exposure to that sort of framing of the Bible, the less one is likely to spend time reading it.

  • Sailorsguide

    Like others I am not surprised that increasing bible study lads to more likely acceptance of science; both can be the result of an inquiring mind.
    What does surprise me is that those who read the bible more are more anti gay and anti-abortion. This seems to g counter to the rest

  • Anonymous

    Reading the bible is also one of the leading causes of atheism.

  • Erin W

    OK, so they might be more willing to vote for welfare and the NSF, but they’d still want to defund Planned Parenthood and they’d still fight against my right to marry the person I love, and they’re still fine with the national security state and the prison-industrial complex.  I guess you can’t have everything, but I’m not sure that’s a trade that’s worth making.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=510502408 Mike Clawson

      Erin – like yourself I am disappointed that increased Bible readers are still conservative in some of these areas. However, I think you may have misread some of the results (no big deal – I did too at first; the sentence you are referring to is unclear and I actually had to go back and re-read it a few times to make sure I understood what the Huff Post writer was saying. Specifically he said:

      “more frequent Bible readers also were more likely to oppose legalized abortion, the death penalty, harsher punishment of criminals and expanding the federal government’s authority to fight terrorism.”

       Note, then, that they oppose the death penalty, they oppose harsher punishment of criminals, and they oppose expanding the federal government’s authority to fight terrorism. In other words, they are more “liberal” on all of these issues except abortion (and gay marriage). While that’s still disappointing, it’s not quite as bad as you originally assumed.

  • Anonymous

    First one pet peeve: I hate when people write articles about “studies” and neglect to link to the studies themselves. If this is a real, peer-reviewed study, it should be published, and if it’s published it should be somewhere online. A lot of questions would need to be answered to fully understand this study: What was the sample size? How were the religious identified? How were questions posed? How is frequency of Bible reading measured? Does the study differentiate between people who read selected passages repeatedly and people who read all of the Bible? I’m aware that for a brief commentary all of this is overkill, but it would be nice to have access to the original research. I can’t find it, but if anyone can I’d much appreciate a link.

    Respondents were 22 percent less likely to view religion and science as
    incompatible at each step toward more frequent Bible reading.

    OK so I’m going to play devils advocate here for a minute. First I want to know what range of percentages we’re working with. If only 5% of respondants who never read the Bible said that the Bible and science is incompatible, a 22% decrease would represent just 3.9%. Not false by any means, but not exactly awe-inspiring numbers. Another aspect I find worriesome is that I don’t see “religion and science are compatible” as neccesarily being the same as “open to science”. If I had to bet, I’d say that most creationists would happily say that science and religion are compatible, they just don’t trust existing science. They think that the “real” science backs them up, but we godless scientists are trying to fool them. I would not classify this as “open to science”. Given that only 6% (!!) of people who read the Bible several times a week or more are supportive of same-sex marriage, we’re dealing with a very conservative bunch, which I’d actually be surprised was not enriched in creationists.

    Again, maybe the study had other questions that allow a more complete understanding of the matter, but since the study is not linked, there’s no way of knowing.

  • ReasonGal

    I am glad to see Mike’s example of a critical examination of the Bible and his further investigation of related, even conflicting texts.  I am not going to condemn his lingering faith because that is his right and faith is a reality of our society – I take it as encouraging that progressive Christians are open-minded in terms of our diverse society and seek  justice and equality.  I will ask Mike just as I ask those I know, PLEASE SPEAK OUT, we need moderate voices and votes; don’t allow yourself to be identified with the funamentalist, oppressive faction.  Too much is at stake for our society, and we all deserve better.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=593675787 Glenn Davey

    As they say: if you want to make someone atheist give them a bible…

  • http://twitter.com/TheDudeDiogenes Diogenes of Sinope

    Selective reading of the Bible has been the norm for all Christian sects throughout history. I wonder if that was taken into account by this study. I mean, what if you read the Bible every day, but only certain parts (say, those which support one’s theological beliefs)? 

  • Robin Pearson

    It could be that the Christians who are more free-thinking by nature are more likely to take the time to read the Bible thoroughly, because they want to understand it for themselves. If they take the Bible seriously (not necessarily literally), they will wrestle with its many unresolvable ambiguities until they understand the interpretive choices it presents. If they do hold onto their faith, they naturally become more progressive Christians, because being reasonable people, they’re likely to choose the more charitable reading overall.  Or, if their inclination leans further toward the skeptical side, they see the inconsistencies as the book’s fatal flaws, reject the entire thing due to the presence of some clearly inhumane content, and become atheists.

    This is how it happened for me.  I converted to conservative Evangelical Christianity, studied the Bible thoroughly for several years, and walked away with the most charitable interpretation. I’m glad that some people with similar stories are beginning to be counted.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=510502408 Mike Clawson

    Thanks for the comments y’all! I just wanted to respond to a couple of points:

    I_Claudia: I don’t like having the original study either. I did hunt for it before I posted this, but couldn’t find it anywhere online, even using Baylor’s own library resources. Of course, I may still have been looking in the wrong spot. I might try to email Franzen directly and see if he can tell me where to find it. If I do, I’ll let you all know if and where you can access it (keeping in mind that sometimes studies like this are only available to those who have paid for access to specific professional journals, or who have access to them through sufficiently well-funded university or public libraries.)

    Sam Kastelic: You’re absolutely right about there being more than 40 verses about sexual morality in the Bible. I’m not sure where I got that number from. I think I was vaguely remembering something I heard a long time ago, but I should have gone back and verified it first. I know the number of references to poverty and economic justice is based on a study done by Jim Wallis himself back in his own grad school days. If I can find the actual number of references to sexual morality in the Bible somewhere I’ll let y’all know. Sorry about that.

    ReasonGal: rest assured that I am speaking out against Christian fundamentalism as much and as often as I can in whatever ways I think might be effective. I could give you a long list of ways I have done and continue to do that (including ways that have cost me jobs and friendships), though the one I’m currently most excited about is a paper I’m presenting at the AHA/ASCH conference (that’s the American Historical Association/American Society of Church Historians – my particular professional guild) in January about what I have termed “Neo-Fundamentalism,” where I will be naming names and calling out specific “evangelical” leaders and organizations as being, in truth, fundamentalists. 
    And I’m not the only one doing this either. I was just at the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina, where around 1500 progressive Christians gathered (representing thousands more) and much was said against oppressive forms of Christianity and in support of progressive social issues from peacemaking, to economic justice, to LGBTQ rights, and much more. You can read my own review of the event here: http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/2011/07/wild-goose-as-sign-of-hope.html

  • cipher

    In addition to what Claudia said (and, Mike – you haven’t read it, but you’re promoting it? Really?), allow me to say –

    Wow. A young man from Baylor conducts a “study” and finds the outcome is favorable to Christianity. Who’d a thought?

    I don’t buy it. I have to think the sampling was most likely too small to be statistically significant. Yes, we’re always saying the fundies don’t actually read the thing, but I agree with some of the rest of you – when they do, they either become more conservative, or the become agnostics or atheists.

    Once in a blue moon, you’ll get someone like Mike, upon whom it has a different effect, but I think that happens about as often as does a fundie being exposed to education and becoming liberal or secular – that is, infrequently. I think it’s much more likely a function of neurobiology. Someone who grows up in a fundie environment, but who’s “programmed” to be liberal, gets that tendency jump-started by reading the Bible, because s/he is hardwired to see the parts that support his/her innate orientation.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=510502408 Mike Clawson

      As I said in the second sentence of the post, my intent was to highlight the Huffington Post article, not necessarily the study itself, which I looked for but could not find.

      However, since then I have heard back from Aaron Franzen, and he told me that the paper is not yet published, but is in the review process for the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion and will hopefully be available soon.

      However, you can find lots of information about the broader survey his study was based on at http://www.isreligion.org/programs-research/surveys-of-religion/. Apparently the survey was conducted by Gallup on behalf of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion. You can see all of the questions asked here: http://www.isreligion.org/wp-content/uploads/isr_wave22007_survey.pdf. Apparently many of the findings from the study have also already been published in this book: http://www.amazon.com/Americans-Really-Believe-Rodney-Stark/dp/1602581789/.

      On another note, I’m not sure whether it’s accurate to say that his findings were “favorable” to Christianity. I certainly think they are, but that’s because I’m a liberal. I’m sure there are plenty of politically conservative Christians, at Baylor especially, who might look at these same results and not necessarily see them as a good thing. In other words, the insinuation that he massaged the data to produce results that people at Baylor would like seems rather unlikely  (and exceptionally uncharitable), especially given the social conservatism prevalent at Baylor. 

      • Anonymous

        I kind of suspected that the study was unpublished. Scientists, particularly young ones, will prominently display their publication record where they can, and so it seemed very odd that his university profile lacked the reference.

        So for now one can’t judge the study because it isn’t available and peer-review has not been completed. I looked at the questions and it seems like a very broad survey on social, political and religious attitudes. “Are religion and science incompatible” is just one subsection of question 41, put of a total of 84 questions. Happily the same question inquires about creationism, so if/when the study is published, we will be able to get a better idea of what frequent bible readers really think about science. I’d love an update from you, once the actual study is published and you can check it out.

  • Anonymous

    The bible was written by dozens of different authors over centuries under wildly varying social and political conditions, so it is all over the place. You can read almost anything into it. I see it as a Rorschach test. If you are a kind, decent person, you can read the warm fuzzy parts to bolster your worldview. But if you are a vindictive, judgmental person, you will find plenty of ammunition to further harden your heart. Personally I think that the bible is an almost unrelieved litany of barbarity and credulity, overwhelming the very few nuggets of wisdom. People read social progressivism INTO the bible rather than finding it already there. Jesus, if he existed, was not a liberal – he was preaching the imminent end of the world, which is why he attached so little importance to earthly riches.

  • abb3w

    I wonder if the trend would hold if you control for how often one reads at all.

  • Che Resa

    Those first two questions basically tell us how these respondents view themselves, not necessarily how they actually are — so I’m not sure what we can take away from them. 

    The Bible talks a lot about social justice, so I could see that if you read it, you’ll see it as more important the more you read. But it doesn’t mean anyone does more on these issues. Perhaps the next survey will delve into time actually  spent working on such issues to find a correlation. And I have a feeling atheists might be surprised at what people feel are social justice issues for them (fundamentalists see stopping access to safe, legal abortions and preventing  gays and lesbians from marriage equality as the most important social justice issues of our  day!)As for the second question, yes, it’s good to consume less. Doesn’t really mean anyone  consumes less, though. And, in fact, if you’re a citizen of the U.S. (and I am one), you already consume more than your “fair” share. And, again, I”m sure reading the Bible exposes one to the suffering found therein and it might raise one’s consciousness. But it doesn’t say a thing about actions.

    Still an interesting read.

  • Michael Caton

    Good posts here today, including this one. My own sense as a secular person is that the value of reading scripture (for a Christian or non-Christian) is as a vehicle to consider one’s own moral sense and the human condition in general, which is why the more thoughtful among us can be influenced in this way. It certainly has influenced me in this sense; in particular I really like the Book of Job, which speaks to me as a materialist as an allegory about how the randomness of the universe is going to produce meaningless suffering. (In any event the Eastern solution for the universe’s apparent moral accounting gaps is at least as dumb: “Oh, you came down with cancer at age 2? You must have been Hitler in your last life, get away from me.”)

    I would make the argument that if Mike and the Bible readers in the study weren’t already in contact with certain values that gave him a moral sense to evaluate Scripture, (by direct acquaintance with individuals that hold them, other media, etc.) he wouldn’t have had this experience; and that really the Bible is a way for him to meditate on these questions, rather than as the direct sole source for his values.

    Another way of putting this: I don’t think people often have the experience of reading something in their moral sourcebook (whether it’s the Bible, Qu’ran, Das Kapital, whatever), then sigh and say “Well, this disgusts me and seems not to accord with any sense of right and wrong I have, but it’s consistent and I don’t see any way to argue my way out of it. So I have to behave this way from now on.” (Kant thought in order to be sure that we’re really acting out of duty, that’s the only way. Goofball.) But this speculation and there must be ways to design surveys that could elucidate this.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=510502408 Mike Clawson

      I would make the argument that if Mike and the Bible readers in the study weren’t already in contact with certain values that gave him a moral sense to evaluate Scripture, (by direct acquaintance with individuals that hold them, other media, etc.) he wouldn’t have had this experience; and that really the Bible is a way for him to meditate on these questions, rather than as the direct sole source for his values.

      That would certainly seem likely, wouldn’t it? And I can’t entirely rule out “outside” liberal influences. However, when I think back to my college years, which is when a lot of these attitudes began to shift for me, I don’t really recall it happening that way. Instead, what I recall is being awakened to aspects of the Bible (or ways of interpreting it) that I hadn’t even known about before. (This book in particular, which is essentially a commentary on the Gospel of Luke, was especially influential on me: http://www.amazon.com/Upside-Down-Kingdom-Donald-B-Kraybill/dp/0836192362/.) For instance, I had never really encountered Isaiah 58, with all of its prioritizing of social justice over religious ritualism, before. I had never before noticed that when Jesus defines the core of his “gospel” message in Luke 4, he doesn’t say anything about dying on the cross as a sacrifice for sins so we can go to heaven when we die. Instead he talks about good news for the poor and the oppressed. And back then, as one who would have still affirmed the absolute priority of biblical authority, realizing that the Bible said things that ran contrary to my conservative Christian assumptions was a really big deal, and really did push me in a much more progressive direction over time. 

      • cipher

        As I said, reading the Bible merely affirms one’s innate predisposition.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=510502408 Mike Clawson

          One would have first believe in things like “innate predispositions” in areas of complex discourse like morality and religion. That’s far too much of a leap of faith for even me to buy into. ;)

          • cipher

            Mike, we’ve had this conversation. There’s a body of evidence that strongly indicates a neurological basis for fundamentalism, as well as other forms of ideological orientation.

            I’m pretty sure I’ve sent you an article or two.

            • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=510502408 Mike Clawson

              If those kind of factors where wholly determinative, then I’d have to say that my own personality traits and “innate predispositions” seem much more likely to incline me towards fundamentalism (which is probably why I was happy as one for so long). I’m not a likely type to be a postmodern liberal, and yet I became one anyway.

              • cipher

                Not saying they’re wholly determinative, but it would appear they play a significant role, and I suspect (as I have for decades) that they constitute the lion’s share.

                Environment is a factor, though, and you grew up in that milieu.

              • cipher

                Oh, and Mike – Baylor ain’t all that conservative. If it were, you wouldn’t be there.

                (As I recall, you told me the theology school even has one or two (gasp!) Jews on the faculty!)

                • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=510502408 Mike Clawson

                  Well, the Religion Department where I’m at is more progressive since they ended up with all the liberal Southern Baptist rejects during the fundamentalist purges of the SBC back in the nineties. 

                  The rest of the school is pretty conservative though – including the sociology department what with Rodney Stark’s influence and all (though I do like that they also have regular visits from Peter Berger). 

                  And Kenneth Starr (yes, that Ken Starr) is the University President after all. :(

                • cipher

                  Ken Starr? Oh.

                  Never mind!

  • Rebecca Rose

    Seems to me that if you read the Bible a bunch, you’d necessarily end up either an atheist or a liberal:

    “But now I’ll say it plainly, so please don’t throw a fit:
    If you’re Christian and not liberal, you’re just a hypocrite.”

    Full poem at: http://rebeccarosepoems.wordpress.com/2011/04/29/the-conservative-christian/

  • Anonymous

    Correlation does not equal cause. 

    I vaguely recall an experiment (I think by Skinner or Milgram) where subjects were exposed to bible readings among other things before being sent to a class.  On the way they encountered a homeless person seeking charity.  The experiment was meant to show how motivations change people’s attitudes to charity.  As I recall religion didn’t provide much of a motivator.

  • Neon Genesis

    Greg Paul has made a skeptical response to the Baylor study.  Basically, the study is bogus it seems: http://www.secularhumanism.org/greg-paul-baylor.pdf

    • cipher

      It would appear to be a different study.

    • cipher

      It would appear to be a different study.

  • cipher

    Just read the other article you linked to. Frankly, I’m amazed a graduate of one of Liberty’s “science” departments is qualified to be an oncology fellow at Stanford.

    Either their standards are improving, or those of the higher-tier secular universities are deteriorating (I think you know where my money lies).

  • rtofcentre

    I’m skeptical about the veracity of this so called “study” as well.  How anyone can read the bible and not see a conflict between  religion and science is a mystery to me, unless they came to their senses and said it’s all man made parable/nonsense and reject creation, various implications for a flat earth, and dead things coming to life after 3 days.

    I wonder if the references to sex include the multiple times their god demanded the rape of virgin children.   

  • http://thefloatinglantern.wordpress.com Tim Martin

    This was a rather credulous take on Franzen’s study, for reasons I’ve elaborated here: http://thefloatinglantern.wordpress.com/2011/08/01/bible-reading-and-social-progressivism/

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=510502408 Mike Clawson

      You raise some good questions. It may be that Franzen’s conclusions are indeed faulty. As I noted in my post, they are at least counterintuitive for many. However, my point in the post was not about agreeing uncritically with Franzen’s findings, but simply to say that in my own personal history at least, it was the case that increased Bible reading led to a shift towards more socially progressive views. Whether or not my own experience is as widely shared as Franzen claims, I couldn’t say.


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