Most Americans don’t know the Bible very well

Reading the comments on this post, one thing occurred to me: the people with Libby Anne’s background can’t possibly be a very large portion of the US population, because surveys have consistently shown that most Americans just don’t know the Bible that well. For example, more than one survey has found that less than half of all Americans can name the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in case you were wondering.)

It’s a safe bet that if you can’t name the four gospels, you probably don’t know about Biblical commands to commit genocide, enslave people, and kill people for a huge number of crimes including gay sex and worshiping the wrong gods. And there are probably plenty of people who know the basics like the names of the Gospels but couldn’t tell you about the slavery and genocide and so on, since no one talks about those things.

Conclusion: even if many fundamentalists know the Bible extremely well, people who don’t know the Bible very well, and who could benefit from actually reading the thing, are the majority of the population, and that category probably includes many fundamentalists.

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  • John

    Fundamentalists know the Bible pretty well, but you have to keep in mind that they’re able to read the problematic parts and couch it in their own worldview where things like that are “OK”.

    I was raised fundie, went to the crazy fundie schools, and was taught the whole thing inside and out, and they’ve got explanations that make sense from a fundamentalist worldview – God doing these things is OK because he’s God, and dissenting thoughts on it are squished PDQ via in class pressure and/or talks to parents of kids who would question things.

    Honestly once you accept the idea that “Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord”, you get the idea that the right to punish is absolute in god, accepting those problematic passages is doable when you’re in a social setting that pressures you to accept them.

    When dealing with others, fundies that I’ve seen are all about the love and Jesus moral teaching stuff – it’s almost never challenged in a confrontational way. And even when it is, the attack gets couched in a in/out group dynamic, so believers are rallied around the defense put out.

  • raymoscow

    Most religious people don’t read the Bible all that much, but some do. However, unless you’re quite saturated with the thinking of your group, you’ll find that you develop your own thoughts about it pretty quickly.

    I started reading it on my own and found 1) much of what my church taught didn’t square with much of what the Bible said, and 2) the Bible didn’t square with itself on the same topics or (supposed) events.

    As for the horrific aspects of the Bible, most of them didn’t bother me all that much until I left church and got out of the groupthink for a while. There’s something narcotic about church, deadening one’s moral compass.

  • mnb0

    Religion is not a matter of reason, it is a matter of emotion. Every psychologist can tell you that emotional drives are stronger than reason. So I doubt if many religious people would benefit from reading the Bible.

  • josh

    I think there’s a certain distinction we’re seeing. Fundamentalists are more likely to read the whole book through or memorize chapter and verse as a sign of devotion. Their mindset tends to be ‘If it says so, it happened; and if God did it then it was just/reasonable.’ For anyone who has doubts there is a host of apologists whose projected assurance would put most con-men to shame.

    On the liberal side (I was raised in a very apolitical Disciples of Christ church), people get their Bible from selected readings, which are usually from a fairly narrow subset that avoids old testament condemnations and laws and slaughters, revelation, etc. They are less likely to read the Bible thoroughly. At the same time, I think many are vaguely aware of or can allow for contradictions and dubious morals or history. The rationalization takes place at a different level, where the Bible is divinely inspired but man made. So you allow that there may be problems but you never dwell on them, you just focus on well-worn messages of comfort and devotion.

    Of course, there’s some overlap between the two sides.

  • astro

    The bible for most christians is a fetish or a totem, an object imbued with power, what’s inside doesn’t really . Same thing with the constitution which they seem to hold so dear and yet can’t wrap their silly heads around the first sentence of the first ammendment… Obamacare. Death Panels. Liberal. Socialist. Homosexual Agenda., are all nothing more than shibboleths and incantational curses. None of these things, the bible, the constitution, “words” are actually attached to anything meaningful, they’re just trigger words wired directly into the brain-stem of authoritarian brains

    • Bronze Dog

      I think that exactly describes one of the biggest problems with both fundies and the ultra-nationalist wingnuts. The tribal symbols and invocations mean whatever they want them to mean, and it gives them excuses to descend into tribalism whenever someone questions their idolatry.

  • jamessweet

    I think you’ve got it about right with this post.

    If we could wave a magic wand and make it so every American woke up tomorrow having read the Bible from cover to cover, you’d get a whole bunch more new atheists that day than you would new Christians. At the same time, let’s not deny that some minority sects have been able to make true familiarity with the Bible a centerpiece without having their membership drop to zero.

    • Chris Hallquist

      OK. I’ll try to remember to revise the book intro to make that clearer.

  • ZarathustraMike

    I keep my bible in the vanity, under the bathroom sink, in case I run out of toilet paper…