Americans have a high interest and awareness of the Bible, but not many read the scripture regularly, and one-third say that’s the reason society’s morals are in decline, according to a recent poll for the American Bible Society.
The survey conducted by the Barna Group found nearly nine out of 10 (88 percent) of Americans own a Bible, and those same people own an average of 4.4 copies of the book.
“And while it might not be surprising that religiously devoted Christians own Bibles, the study finds that six out of 10 Americans (59 percent) who have no faith or who identify as atheists own a Bible,” researchers said. “Despite many aspects of society that are secularizing, penetration of scripture remains high in 2013.”
The survey noted that 20 years ago, 92 percent of Americans said they owned a Bible.
But few of those who own a Bible read it regularly, according to the 2013 survey. While 61 percent said they wish they read the Bible more, just 13 percent said they read the Bible daily. More than half (57 percent) read their Bible at least four times a year.
The Bible can be intimidating, the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything,” told Religion News Service.
“There’s a tendency to think that if you read the Bible, you have to read it from start to finish. But when people do read the Bible, they don’t know where to begin,” he said.
Four-in-10 adults said they simply don’t have enough time to read the Bible, according to the survey. But when they do find the time, the main reason for 53 percent of Bible readers to engage with scripture was to be closer to God.
Barna found that more than one-third (32 percent) of those surveyed said a lack of reading the Bible is the main reason for what they see is a decline in the morals and values of America. Another 29 percent blame the negative influence of media and 25 percent blame corporate greed for the decline in morals and values.
Although nearly half (49 percent) believe the Bible doesn’t have much impact on American youth, it is the 18-28-year-old age group that showed more interest than older adults in what the Bible had to say on certain issues.
“Four out of 10 (millennials) say they are interested in the Bible’s wisdom on dealing with illness and death, compared with about one-quarter of all adults (28 percent) who say the same,” Barna researchers wrote. “More than one-third (35 percent) of (millennials) are interested in the Bible’s perspective on dating and relationships, and four out of 10 (42 percent) want to know what scripture says about parenting — both of those percentages are much higher than the norms.”
The survey didn’t just consider the written word. Barna also took a separate poll of 615 adults and found 42 percent watched at least a portion of the History Channel’s miniseries “The Bible,” which aired on consecutive Sundays in March.
More than 10 million viewers tuned in each week, with the highest viewership (13.1 million) on the opening Sunday and on Easter Sunday (11.7 million).
“Overall, seven out of 10 viewers (69 percent) say the miniseries gave them a ‘surprise or new discovery’ about the Bible that they didn’t know before watching,” Barna researchers said. “Among those segments most likely to report such insights are … young adult viewers.”
Other findings in the survey:
• 80 percent believe the Bible to be sacred literature.
• 47 percent believe the Bible, Quran and Book of Mormon are all different expressions of the same truth.
• While the percentage of those who read the Bible regularly and believe it to be inspired has remained at about 20 percent from 2011 to 2013, the percent of those who believe the Bible to be inspired but who don’t read it often has dropped from 45 percent to 39 percent in the same time period.
• The percentage of those who are antagonistic toward the Bible and rarely read it increased from 10 percent in 2011 to 17 percent in 2013.
For detailed analysis of all the questions in the survey, click here.