Americans overwhelmingly believe their country is in a state of moral decline – due in part to corporate greed, the entertainment industry and a lack of Bible reading – but they still have faith that the U.S. can change its ways, according to the 2017 State of the Bible survey.
The annual analysis, released April 4, was commissioned by the Barna Group and conducted by the American Bible Society. It surveyed 2,030 Americans by phone and online in 50 states from January through February 2017. The survey has been conducted since 2011 and examines American adults behaviors and beliefs about the Bible.
Americans are more confident that the Bible can bring hope to America (70 percent) than the president of the United States (30 percent).
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Half of Americans are considered “Bible users.” They engage with the Bible by reading, listening to or praying with the Bible on their own at least three to four times a year, according to the survey.
In 2017, 81 percent of Americans are “Bible engaged,” “Bible friendly” or “Bible neutral.” Bible engagement has been stabilizing since 2013.
Additionally, 81 percent of Americans say morals are declining in America, a 5 percent increase from 2016. Of those who see a trend of moral decline, 39 percent blame corporate greed, 33 percent fault the entertainment industry and 27 percent say it’s due to a lack of Bible reading.
“The Bible remains a hands-down winner of hope for Americans,” American Bible Society President and CEO Roy Peterson said in a statement. “Those who are opening up the Word of God are discovering it to be a guide to help make sense of life and a source of eternal hope.”
A full 68 percent of Americans who read the Bible reported that it brings them closer to God. Others say they read the Bible for comfort (14 percent), because they need direction or have a problem to solve (9 percent), because they know they’re supposed to (6 percent) or for part of their studies at school (3 percent).
Fifty-eight percent of Americans would like to spend more time reading the Bible or listening to it being read.
Furthermore, people who read the Bible are viewed as humble (39 percent), loving (38 percent), accepting (34 percent), open (24 percent), smart (21 percent) and interesting (19 percent). Others said Bible readers are judgmental (15 percent), narrow-minded (12 percent), foolish (6 percent), know-it-all (5 percent), hateful (3 percent) and boring (3 percent).
Some more of the recent findings:
- A full 20 percent of Americans are “Bible engaged,” meaning they believe the Bible is the actual word of God or inspired word with no errors. They read the Bible at least four times a week. Others in this category believe the Bible is the inspired word with some factual errors, but they read it daily. This is an increase from 17 percent in 2016. (These are mostly Baby Boomers and Generation Xers.)
- Another 38 percent of Americans are “Bible friendly,” meaning they believe the Bible is the actual word of God or inspired word with no errors. They read their Bibles fewer than four times a week. (These are mostly Baby Boomers and Generation Xers.)
- Twenty-three percent are “Bible neutral,” meaning they see it as the inspired word but with factual errors. Others believe the Bible is not inspired but that it tells how the writers understood the ways of God. (These are mostly Baby Boomers and Generation Xers.)
- Six percent are “Bible skeptic,” meaning they believe the Bible is just another book of teachings written by men with stories and advice. They don’t believe it was written to manipulate or control people. (These are mostly Generation Xers and Millennials.)
- Finally, 13 percent are “Bible antagonistic,” meaning they believe the Bible is just another book of teachings written by men with stories and advice, but they believe the Bible was also written to manipulate or control people.
In previous years, the American Bible Society combined the “Bible skeptic” and “Bible antagonistic” categories. They became separate classifications in 2017. The following chart shows these combined classifications from 2011 to 2017.
“While it is too early to say the decrease in Bible skepticism is a trend, we are optimistic and will continue tracking the data in the coming years,” said American Bible Society’s Executive Vice President of Ministry Mobilization Geof Morin. “Either way, we encourage all Americans to give the Bible a chance and read it for themselves.”
Overall, women are more likely to be Bible friendly and engaged, according to the survey. A full 60 percent of “Bible engaged” individuals are women, whereas 59 percent of “Bible skeptics” are men.
Most American households have at least one Bible (87 percent). Even 62 percent of households considered hostile and 67 percent of those that are skeptical toward the Bible own a copy.