Post-Christian America still reads its Bible. One of the perks, such as it is, of working with Bibles is getting such vital news early. The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) has just released a study that was underway when I visited the school a couple years back. “The Bible in American Life,” available online, presents the results of a scientific survey of Bible reading in the US. Suffice it to say, we’re not done with Holy Writ just yet. In our world of high tech gadgets where the waves and particles that make the internet possible penetrate our bodies constantly, it is sometimes easy to forget that the Bible in many ways made this all possible. Both the good and the evil that drove western civilization to colonize its world had at least some dusty memory of “manifest destiny” embedded in sacred writ about it. And those who take the Bible seriously have continued to read, mark, and inwardly digest it.
The Bible in American Life, already picked up on by major media, indicates that about half of the population of the United States reads the Bible outside of worship. Perhaps not surprising given the still faltering civil rights dream, African-Americans are the biggest Bible reading demographic in the country. In fact, the study states, race is the single largest indicator of probable Bible reading. Those who are low on the economic scale also tend to read Scripture more. Those for whom “success” isn’t what it seems to be at first. Those whom “success” has passed by. Even Hispanic readers outnumber the white majority. People who have been distracted by material success, predictably, have little time for ancient wisdom. Still, half the country does turn to the Bible on occasion. Among the more interesting demographics is the fact that nones—those who are unaffiliated with any religion—also turn to the Bible for learning about life.
The media seems to have picked up one of the major points as well—few Bible readers turn to Holy Writ for political advice. To hear the news weavers tell it, politicians and rabble-rousers trawl the Bible for its scant words about homosexuality and abortion—issues ignored by Moses and his ilk, for the most part. In fact, most people rate such issues very low on their scale of why they turn to the Bible. It is read more for consolation than for political intrigue. Having just about finished my formatting of my book on the Psalms, it warms my heart to read that the Psalter tops the list of favorite books of the Bible, narrowly inching out the Gospel of John. The study doesn’t, and can’t, come right out and say it, but the Bible is read by people to help them feel better. They still prefer the King James by a considerable margin. And in this world of self first, they can still read, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Even though Bible readers are, in the majority, women. Good old King James still shows the way, as the ruling white man always has.