Ok, well… maybe not a “flaming” liberal. I just said that to get you to click the link… by now, you should know I like provocative titles that get you to read articles (a tactic you are completely validating, I might add).
BUT, a study I read the other day does show that the more often people read their Bible, the more liberal they become— something I have found from experience, is completely true.
When I first arrived at seminary in the fall of 2008, I was more conservative than George W Bush himself. However, once I embraced the learning process and actually began to take the teachings of Jesus seriously, I found my heart begin to melt, and eventually shift, on a host of issues. When I went through my transformation, many wrongly assumed that I was being indoctrinated by some liberal political group when in reality, I was at a very conservative seminary and the only thing making me more liberal was the fact that I was actually engaging the Bible seriously for the first time in my life.
Which, is exactly what the study shows.
The results of the study were featured by Christianity Today (see full article here) and show that the more frequently one reads their Bible, the more they develop liberal tendencies on several important issues. What’s even cooler, is the study showed that the “liberalizing effect” was consistent across the entire sample studied:
“But unlike some other religious practices, reading the Bible more often has some liberalizing effects—or at least makes the reader more prone to agree with liberals on certain issues. This is true even when accounting for factors such as political beliefs, education level, income level, gender, race, and religious measures (like which religious tradition one affiliates with, and one’s views of biblical literalism).”
Here were some of the specific areas the study revealed frequent Bible reading will lead to a more liberal viewpoint:
Expanding the government’s authority to fight terrorism (the Patriot Act)? Reading your Bible more frequently will make you more liberal on that.
“For each increased level of Bible-reading frequency, support for the Patriot Act decreased by about 13 percent.”
Should we be punishing criminals more harshly? Frequent Bible readers say no way!
“Support for abolishing the death penalty increased by about 45 percent for each increase on the five-point scale measuring Bible-reading frequency.”
Do we need to dump modern science and view the Bible as a scientific text?
“…the more someone reads the Bible, the more likely he or she is to believe science and religion are compatible. (For each increase on the five-point scale, the odds that they see religion and science as incompatible decrease by 22 percent.)”
And for one of my favorite issues, economic justice for the poor… what say you, frequent Bible readers?
“How important is it,” the survey asked, “to actively seek social and economic justice in order to be a good person?” Again, as would be expected, those with more liberal political leanings were more likely to say it’s very or somewhat important. And those who read the Bible more often were more likely to agree. Indeed, they were almost 35 percent more likely to agree… contrary to liberal media stereotypes, those who are most engaged in their faith (by directly and frequently reading its source material) are those who are most supportive of social and economic justice. “
And finally, on the issue of rejecting consumerism and consuming less goods as a quality of a good person?
“Political liberals and frequent Bible readers are more likely to say yes… Ask an evangelical who is politically conservative, has some college education, has an average level of income, is a biblical literalist, and does not read the Bible, and you’ll have only a 22 percent chance he or she will say reducing consumption is part of ethical living. Ask the same person, only now they read the Bible, and you’ll have a 44 percent chance they’ll say so.”
Now, this study might be frightening to some of my conservative friends who may read this– so let me offer you a little encouragement. Remember that movie Armageddon when they’re getting ready to land on the asteroid? Owen Wilson had the memorable line: “this isn’t as bad as I thought it would be; this is way worse!”
Yup… the more you read your Bible you’ll realize this “liberalizing effect” gets way worse (sorry, that wasn’t exactly encouragement– just keeping it real).
If you’re scared about becoming more liberal… reading your Bible frequently is only going to accelerate an unwanted paradigm shift. There are a host of other issues that frequent Bible reading will make you more liberal on, if you keep reading frequently and resist the urge to explain away all the stuff you don’t like. Getting to know Jesus and the Bible will completely alter our attitudes on issues such as immigration, war, violence, paying our taxes, and so many other things.
Afraid of becoming more liberal? My only advice is that you stop reading your Bible so often, because apparently, that’s the trick to avoiding it.
But, I hope you won’t do that. My hope is that we will become people who look like Jesus and pull this plane out of the tailspin that the religious right put us in. My hope is that we will let go of even caring what political labels people assign to us, and just be people who look like Jesus.
If that means becoming more liberal, I hope you’ll be able to plug your nose, get past the label, and just embrace it.
(Tomorrows blog: Part 2- Why I think the Bible tends to make us more liberal)
One more thing. The disagreement between liberals and conservatives is not between nice people who want to be kind to other people and mean people who dont care about other people. It is a fundamental disagreement about how to best go about helping other people.
You’re absolutely right. And this article only shows that people who read the Bible most frequently tend to disagree with conservatives about how to help other people. It’s not proof that liberals are right, only that the Bible supports their liberalism. If the Bible isn’t important to you, then no worries.
What an awful little bit of triumphalism. Did you read about gloating in the Bible? Where in the Bible does it say that liberal equals love and conservative equals mean and heartless??? Point out the chapter and verse, please. In my mind none of those things that you list are liberal. They are Christian. Period. They always have been always will be. The only people who have any problem with any of these things are people who are bad Christians. There are bad conservative Christians and bad liberal Christians. I read my Bible. I am a conservative Christian. It would never occur to me to do what you just did.
Oh Peggy, come on. Read what Jesus actually DID! He was extremely revolutionary in his own time, both spiritually and politically. He was NOT a conservative, but I get that right wing “Christians” want to put a conservative lens on him because that makes them feel safe and secure and all warm and fuzzy about being saved while ignoring what Jesus actually did in his own ministry which was to push people to challenge and question and to go beyond pat doctrinal formulas. I would love to see some real examples of how right wing conservatives are making the world a better place. I don’t see the evidence. All I see are right-wing GOP types going out of their way to deny help for the poor or cutting people off medical care. You ask why so many people see right wing Christians as hateful? That’s easy–it’s because they ARE hateful. Their nasty actions speak for themselves. When Jesus spoke of the wheat and the chaff, I think I know which category he would put right wing “Christians” into. If you are a Christian, I challenge you to follow Jesus. To follow Jesus, there is no way a person can be conservative and do that. Conservatism was just not in Jesus’s DNA. I don’t think he would see “conservatives” as following him in any way.
I LOVE reading your posts. I read my Bible often and I am still very conservative. Really, we shouldn’t label ourselves as either because the whole world system of doing and being is NOTHING like the system that God set up and man messed up. I spend a lot of time in Africa with orphans, widows and the poor. I am still just as conservative BUT…I feel like I can understand my liberal friends better than before. I think the difference is that liberals think the government should take from the rich to give to the poor, whereas, conservatives think that individuals and the Church should help the poor. I don’t see anywhere in the Bible where Jesus instructed the government to care for the poor. He told his believers to do it. We see in the Bible that the more oppressive a government became, the poorer the people became just like we see today. The biggest threat to the poor is the government. The biggest threat to Christianity is when the government pretends to be Christian so they can control us. Gay marriage should not even be an issue because the government should have NOTHING to do with marriage. Marriage is between the church, the people getting married and God…not the government SO really the issue is getting the government out of our business.
Liberals are want Abe free thinkers, void of any intellectual meaning of any given subject without regard for others thoughts. Believers who seek Gods Face and his word will never become Liberal…………..Duh……….
Again, please note that where you say “survey says” you are merely quoting the Christianity Today article. And the Christianity Today article is conflating the two “studies” I showed you.
I suggest fixing up this post to be accurate.
Agreed. Any article about a study is subject to editorializing. This can be done well. It can be done badly. Or it can be slanted towards a certain point of view. The only way to really know what a study actually concludes is to read the study itself and to analyze its data. To me the most important part of any study is the part where the authors are required to detail the reasons why their study could potentially be flawed and to suggest new directions for future studies. For the scientifically illiterate, the findings of a single study or in this case a pair of them seems like the final answer. But no scientist worth their salt will ever claim to have the final answer. Its part of the method. Its the only thing that keeps science honest.
Sure, Peggy, and no conservative worth his or her salt would truly call themselves “Christian” with any credibility because it is quite evident that conservatives either haven’t really read the Gospels, or are choosing to distort it for their own ends. I always find it funny when conservative “Christians” accuse liberal/progressive Christians of not being Christian. It’s time for push-back from the liberal/progressive camp, just as Jesus pushed back at the religious hypocrites of his day.
Wait, I see several problems here. Am I mistaken?
(1) Two “Research” articles
The Christianity Today article is a jumble.
(a) The LifeWay Research Poll quoted is recent and merely of survey of how Bible reading frequency. Note, LifeWay Research subtitle is “Biblical Solutions for Life”. And that “study” is apparently still under peer review.
(b) LifeWays stuff is mixed with the 2007 Baylor Religion Study which itself is bad data.
(2) Correlation vs Causation
The largest issue with your post is the classic confusing of correlation and causality. This jumbled data in no way shows that “Frequent Bible reading has some predictable effects on the reader.” –> namely that: “the more often people read their Bible, the more liberal they become”
I get that you became more liberal after going to seminary (the third time), but that Bible reading did it is a far stretch.
This post is an example of bad quoting of bad research. And pretending to be scientific using the phrase “Study Shows” which inspired my post here. So thanx for that.
“Bad data”? How so? Please explain instead of making such a comment without support.
Ben, making a practice to get my RDA of Bible reading makes me more like Jesus, more radical and zealous for Him. We become like the company we keep, and when keeping company with Jesus in the written Word, one cannot help becoming more like Him! 🙂 However, I am certainly NOT a liberal/progressive/postmodern/worshiper of the state/submergent church person who is gung ho with homosexuality, free love, consuming alcohol, referring to God as she, abortion – anything that leads others away from the Truth which is Jesus, and the importance of the holiness of God, and how we are called to “be holy as He is holy.” Concerning those among us who break the law of the land, their punishment should fit their crime, shouldn’t it? When they’ve made restitution, they should be afforded a second chance. Sadly, life in this fallen world is not fair. My family has left a small carbon footprint thus far, and will continue to do so, I have no doubt. We are determined to live simple lives where recycling is exceedingly significant, and materialistic consumerism is kept to a minimum. Our lives are spent in sacrificial servanthood. Science is the study of God’s creation. Followers of Jesus were the first scientists! Reading God’s Holy written Word causes me to seek my way less and His way more. It makes me realize that with every decision I make, I move in either the direction of eternal damnation or eternal life. I, along with many others like me who are canon-minded, do not fit the mold for the study you mention here.
Seriously, you think scientists didn’t exist until after Jesus was born? You’re a nut job.
As in that followers of Jesus were the first modern scientists. There is a big difference between modern science and the kind of observational science that occured in the classical world. But you assume the worst, of course. I understood what was meant.
I used to be Episcopalian, and two things I found out about Episcopalians:
1) They tend to be very liberal.
2) A surprising number – the serious ones – pray the Daily Office, which requires reading the entire New Testament every year, and most of the Old every two years.
In fundamentalist services, the Pastor usually reads ONE VERSE, and talks for 45 minutes.
Churches that use a Lectionary – who are usually more liberal – read about two chapters of the Bible in every church service.
Wrong. Every conservative Episcopalian parish I have ever been is drenched in the Bible from beginning of Mass until the end. You are confusing conservative with low church. I used to go to a liberal Baptist church that did the same thing that you describe. Eastern Orthodox liturgies are saturated with Biblical texts. Same for conservative Catholics.
“If you’re scared about becoming more liberal… reading your Bible frequently is only going to accelerate an unwanted paradigm shift”
Then right wingers have nothing to fear as they very seldom read the Bible. They’re too busy telling people what it says to actually read it.
I believe this to be true in my case….when you really read what Jesus did….WWJD takes on a new meaning….
I will be writing a few lengthy responses to your recent blogs on this topic in my own blog BIBLICAL LITERACY at drandrewsargent.com. I graduated from GCTS in 2002 and completed my PhD at Trinity International University in 2010. I hope I can find a new dialogue partner in your blog and among your readers. I just wanted to introduce myself.
I want to pick the notion that reading the Bible SHOULD push you left, as if the equation is (Bible read properly=Left/liberal/progressive) I’d propose that the better equation is (Bible + Modern Reasoning Processes + flawed hermeneutic = Left/Liberal/progressive)
This “left push” has certainly not been the uniform response to dedicated Bible Reading throughout the two millennia of the Church, and I think I can safely say (the subject of many discussions on specific texts) that it was neither the design of the authors of these texts, nor the design of the supreme author of these texts (I regard them as the same design) to sustain such ideology, social vision, or practical agenda.
Personally it would concern me if my vision of Christianity coincided so neatly with the agenda of progressivism. I am sure you differ with them on points, but it should give pause. They are a terrifying bunch if you understand the difference between what they claim to want as opposed to what they actually want. There are means and their are proposed ends and their are real ends and with the progressives you need to understand all three. Their means will never achieve their proposed ends… and they know that… but they will produce their real ends. And those should scare the wits out of a biblical man.
Just one more comment for now… G. W. Bush was not conservative… so being more conservative than him isn’t saying much… though I certainly wouldn’t challenge your point in mentioning it. 🙂 Bush is a Republican Progressive with his hopes set solidly in big government. Which is why Obama… after criticizing the man as the Devil, in order to win the election against Bush’s would-be successor, has actually re-enacted and enlarged huge portions of his work… like, but not limited to, the Patriot Act.
I look forward to future discussions… thanks for writing.
There is no “supreme auhor.” The Bible is a profoundly human text and thus flawed. If you think “God” wrote the Bible (or whispered it into scribes’ ears), then your God is not very consistent, given the number of blatant contradictions found in the Bible. Also, your formula Bible + modern reasoning process + flawed hermeneutic = Left/Liberal/Progressive is specious. Are you implying that we are to leave reason at the door when we read the Bible? As for flawed hermeneutic, as a scholar of hermeneutics, I can tell you that ALL hermeneutics are flawed. As for Left/Progressive, etc., if you do not see Jesus as extremely progressive in his own time, I suggest you re-read the Gospel and maybe use a little bit of modern reasoning to help you understand it.
This is what I love about progressives in all forms. They replace argument with insult and act like they’ve said something.
Would you say that generalizing is more of a conservative trait, then?
A very well-known theologian, when asked to present a paper on evangelical fundamentalist thinking, replied “I can’t do such a paper, because, you see, fundamentalists don’t think.” I’m aware, Andrew, that to fundamentalists, arguments sound like insults instead of like challenges to THINK. That’s unfortunate, but the theologian was right. Fundamentalism precludes thinking and argument.
love this! sharing on facebook!
Also from the article “Frequent Bible reading has some predictable effects on the reader. It
increases opposition to abortion as well as homosexual marriage and
Is this from the actual study, or is this just Christianity Today’s slant? I’d love to get my hands on the actual report but Lifeway’s site doesn’t have anything published since May…