Friday, April 30, 2010

New Poll: Surprise! Young People Don't Read the Bible

A poll of 1200 18- to 29-year-olds released earlier this week finds that while 65% of respondents consider themselves Christian, 67% do not read the Bible. USA Today--that venerable old rag--covers the story here. (Full disclosure: I can't swear by the poll; it was conducted not by Pew or even Rasmussen, but by LifeWay Christian Resources, which sounds to me like a group that makes both devotional materials and canned food for school lunches.)

For me, it's a sad thought that fully 2/3 of American millennials--as the media has lamely dubbed the most recent generation--have little or no Biblical literacy. Not because I have any vested interest in mass conversions--I don't give a fig--but because the Bible remains a vital part of American religious and secular culture. We ignore it at our peril.

According to a 2008 ARIS (American Religious Identity Survey) poll, 76% of Americans describe themselves as Christian; include Jews and Mormons, and we can push the number of Bible-based believers up toward 80%. Put bluntly, four out of five Americans should read the Bible as part of their devotional practice.

But we all know, from polling and personal experience, that they do not. Maybe they should start. Literate religion is better religion. It is deeper; it is complex; it is more nuanced. It asks tougher questions and delivers subtler answers. And it is based on something better than a vague notion of faithiness. (And yes, I'm stealing from Stephen Colbert here.) The definition of faithiness? The firm conviction that Jesus loves you just as much as he loves fluffy bunnies. Faithiness is a nice idea, but it's not a particularly Biblical one.

But even if you don't count yourself among that 80%, you still can't get off the Biblical literacy hook, because you're in the minority--and hence regularly dealing with Bible-based religionists. Isn't it better to know something of the rituals, myths, and traditions that inform the lives of the vast majority of your countrymen and women?

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. American religion informs our politics, our literature, our cinema, and our culture, and the Bible informs American religion. It's our national myth--and "myth" here is not a pejorative term.

So you should know it better, jerks! And you should read my blog. Okay? Or maybe just read the Bible. I'd be fine with that too.

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