Wednesday, May 07, 2008

U.S. and European Fundamentalists Do Not Know the Bible as Well as "Critics"

The National Catholic Reporter says a sociological survey done in the United States and Europe shows that, surprisingly, those who hold that the Bible should be taken literally do not rank highest in reading the Bible accurately.

The poll was commissioned by the international Roman Catholic Synod of Bishops, who plan to address the theme "The Word of God" at a meeting in October. NCR writes:

"Sponsored by the Catholic Biblical Federation and carried out by GFK Eurisko, Italy’s leading market research organization, the survey polled people in the United States, the United Kingdom, Holland, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Poland and Russia.

"Plans call for four other countries shortly to be added to the mix, all in the global South: Argentina, South Africa, the Philippines, and Australia."

Among the more striking findings, NCR cites:

• The United States has by far the highest level of its adult population that claims to have read at least one passage from the Bible in the last year (75%) and to have a Bible at home (93%), but it doesn’t score better than anyone else on tests of basic Biblical literacy. For example, large numbers of Americans, just like people in the other eight countries surveyed, mistakenly thought that Jesus had authored a book of the Bible, and couldn’t correctly distinguish between Paul and Moses in terms of which figure belongs to the Old Testament.

• Fundamentalists, or those who take a literal view of Scripture, do not know more about the Bible than anyone else. In fact, researchers said, it’s readers whose attitudes they described as “critical,” meaning that they see the Bible as the word of God but in need of interpretation, who are over-represented at the highest levels of Biblical literacy. In other words, fundamentalists actually score lower on basic Biblical awareness.

• In virtually every country surveyed, those who take a “critical” view of the Bible represent a larger share of the population than either “fundamentalists” or “reductionists,” meaning those who see the Bible simply as literature or a collection of myths and legends. In the United States, “fundamentalists” are 27 percent of the population, “critics” 51 percent, and “reductionists” 20 percent. Interestingly, both Poland and Russia have a similar share of “fundamentalists,” despite lacking the strong Evangelical Protestant tradition familiar in the U.S.

• There is no apparent correlation between reading the Bible and any particular political orientation. In other words, it’s not the case that the more someone reads the Bible, the more likely they are to be a political conservative or liberal.

• There no longer appear to be major differences in Biblical reading patterns and Biblical familiarity between countries with Catholic majorities and those with Protestant majorities, suggesting that, in the words of Bishop Vincenzo Paglia of Terni, Italy, the president of the Catholic Biblical Federation, the Bible has become “the ecumenical book of all believers.”

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