(RNS) More than half of Americans think the Bible has too little influence on a culture they see in moral decline, yet only one in five Americans read the Bible on a regular basis, according to a new survey.

More than three-quarters of Americans (77 percent) think the nation’s morality is headed downhill, according to a new survey from American Bible Society.

The survey showed the Bible is still firmly rooted in American soil: 88 percent of respondents said they own a Bible, 80 percent think the Bible is sacred, 61 percent wish they read the Bible more, and the average household has 4.4 Bibles.

The Bible rests on a stand at the back of St. Therese Little Flower parish in Kansas City, Mo. on Sunday, May 20, 2012. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

The Bible rests on a stand at the back of St. Therese Little Flower parish in Kansas City, Mo. on Sunday, May 20, 2012. RNS photo by Sally Morrow


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

If the Bible is so commonplace in America, wouldn’t its moral teachings counteract the downward trend? Almost a third of respondents said moral decline was a result of people not reading the Bible, while 29 percent cited the “negative influence of America” and one in four cited corporate corruption.

Doug Birdsall, president of American Bible Society, said he sees a reason for why the Bible isn’t connecting with people.

“I see the problem as analogous to obesity in America. We have an awful lot of people who realize they’re overweight, but they don’t follow a diet,” Birdsall said. “People realize the Bible has values that would help us in our spiritual health, but they just don’t read it.”

If they do read it, the majority (57 percent) only read their Bibles four times a year or less. Only 26 percent of Americans said they read their Bible on a regular basis (four or more times a week).

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything,” said the Bible can come across as intimidating to the uninitiated. “There’s a tendency to think that if you read the Bible, you have to read it from start to finish. But when people do read the Bible, they don’t know where to begin,” Martin said.

Younger people also seem to be moving away from the Bible. A majority (57 percent) of those ages 18-28 read their Bibles less than three times a year, if at all.

The Barna Group conducted “The State of the Bible 2013” study for American Bible Society, using 1,005 telephone interviews and 1,078 online surveys with a margin of error for the combined data of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

43 Comments

  1. Math is off Caleb…

    “only one in five Americans read the Bible on a regular basis”

    “26 percent of Americans said they read their Bible on a regular basis (four or more times a week)”

    1 in 5 does not equal 26%

    • It’s not a math error on their part, but a misunderstanding of what the math means on your part.

      The “one in five” is out of all the people surveyed, while the “26 percent” is out of those who “do read it.” In other words, the “26%” actually means 26% of the roughly 20%, which would actually amount to around 5% of those surveyed.

      Similarly, the same paragraph refers to another group that is “57% percent” out of those who “do read it,” which means that the “57%” referred to there is actually only about 11% of those surveyed.

      The math is rather simple and straightforward.

  2. 1 in 5 should be 20%, not 26% which is 1 in 4.

    Math!

    It is as important as reading the Bible.

    The Bible is a complex and thousands of years of condensed information. Most do not understand what it is:

    Is it a history book? Is it spiritual? Is it literal? Is it symbolism? Is it a guide? Is it “the Law”? Is it Faith? What is it? Most tell you it is all the above. Embarking on a weekly or daily study of the Bible is a serious commitment. There are study groups all over the country, seminaries and churches based on the Bible.

    400 years ago great sacrifices were made to translate the bible into English and native languages, even to death. Today this important book is just another book to be on the shelf like a dictionary or encyclopedia, but those get used more. The Bible is now electronic media which can be read, studied and followed today. It isn’t.

    Why?

    The Bible informs the world of a reality most would rather ignore. The words of warning are there in its pages that the moral decline was predicted thousands of years ago. It is willful ignorance with a majority of Americans owning a Bible in print or can easily access it on the internet or electronic media.

    The Bible gives us a mirror to reflect back who we really are. Who is going to look in a mirror if they are not going to clean themselves up? The Bible describes our day, now, as dirty, wicked, full of evil, wars, greed, and impure. It offers instructions how to correct the moral decline from the inside out.

    It is easier to just put the mirror on the shelf out of sight.

    It is pretty to look at, it makes you appear spiritual and as functional as wearing a cross necklace.

      • You don’t seriously believe that, do you? The “bible” is a hodge podge of contradictory information, translated over and over, with things the translators didn’t like conveniently left on the cutting room floor. Grow up.

        • Leave you inaccurate assumptions to yourself.
          You don’t know whether the Bible is accurate or not, and can’t prove otherwise, especially since you can’t time travel.

          Besides, you probably don’t even read it!

          • Leave your inaccurate assumptions to yourself.
            You don’t know whether the Bible is accurate or not, and can’t prove otherwise, especially since you can’t time travel.

            Besides, you probably don’t even read it!

          • Well, while I didn’t know any of them personally, among those who put their own spin on the Bible by leaving things out or changing them are: King James of KJV fame, Thomas Jefferson, the Protestants in general (compare a Protestant version to a Catholic version), the Catholics, most of the various translators, the Council that solidified the Catholic Canon, etc. And, yes, I do read the Bible.

        • Look in all history and the Bible is the oldest writings man posses and while you may try to dismiss it for your own views I ask you to answer this, where minus God does man set a standard for living? If your do dare answer your answer should include verifiable proof.

          • So, you choose to believe in something that cannot be proven, but insist on proof for people who think otherwise?

          • Wayne Brown, you might want to go back and do some research on the oldest writings…look under Shang dynasty and before that there was symbol writing to tell stories which dates way back.
            Because your book claims an estimated date doesn’t mean it actually was, anyone can write a story to say X amount of time has gone by.
            If you do some serious research outside of the religious box on the bible you’ll find out that there’s quite a few things wrong with the claims within it.

    • I’m pasting JustMe’s post above so you can see how you’ve humiliated yourself.

      “It’s not a math error on their part, but a misunderstanding of what the math means on your part.

      The “one in five” is out of all the people surveyed, while the “26 percent” is out of those who “do read it.” In other words, the “26%” actually means 26% of the roughly 20%, which would actually amount to around 5% of those surveyed.

      Similarly, the same paragraph refers to another group that is “57% percent” out of those who “do read it,” which means that the “57%” referred to there is actually only about 11% of those surveyed.

      The math is rather simple and straightforward.”

  3. Ignorance of the Scripture is ignorance of Christ. (St. Jerome)

    To learn how the Lord Jesus can guide you into good morality, you need to learn to open the Holy Bible. One of the best places to start is the Gospel of Matthew chapter 22 verses 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37* And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39* And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

    And then go to the Gospel of Matthew chapter 5 verses 3* “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4* “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5* “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6* “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. 8* “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10* “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

    May the Lord be with you all.

  4. Heretic in Cincinnati

    My wife and I were reading the bible last night. What we learned:
    1) Passover is a celebration of infanticide (Exodus 12)
    2) that pervert in Cleveland who had sex slaves for 10 years should marry the women (Deuteronomy 21:10)
    3) if two men are arguing and one of the men’s wives grabs the other man’s genitals, you are to cut off that woman’s hand (Deuteronomy 24:11) Apparently this was enough of a problem back in ye olde tymes that they needed some written rules.

    Sugar coat it, justify it, explain it away all you want, this is essentially what the bible says.

    It is no wonder that the church burned people at the stake when they translated the bible from Latin to any other language back in the 1500’s. It is embarrassing what is actually in that book. Fortunately for the church few people read the bible, and the popular King James version is so outdated that it is nearly unreadable. No wonder so many churches continue to use it (although many permit more modern versions now).

    • “It is embarrassing what is actually in that book.”

      And yet, history and reality show us that every nation that ever made the Bible the centerpiece of its morality has been a bastian of peace, mercy, and general goodwill towards humanity. That includes America. Our Founders had a great regard for the Bible and read it often for guidance.

      So we have your claim vs. real history. Who should we believe? I’ll side with history and reality, thanks.

      • Heretic in Cincinnati

        “Bible the centerpiece of its morality ” Yes YOU ARE RIGHT, PAUL. We are in agreement here. God killed many people in the bible, so Christians follow his lead.

        During the crusades hundreds of thousands of innocent people were killed – in the name of Christianity. You think Muslims are evil terrorists? Christians killed many thousands more Muslims during the crusades than have been killed by all the suicide bombers in the world combined. Sure, they retaliated during the crusades, just like the US did to Afghanistan after 9/11.

        Missionaries raping, pillaging and murdering almost everyone on the continent of South America – in the name of Christianity.

        Slavery should be legal – in the name of Christianity.

        Your “logic” glosses over the facts.. All religions have been used (and continue to be used) to justify many atrocities throughout history. That is the reality, you just pretend it is not. Go pray to your invisible evil sky friend.

    • No, this is not “essentially” what the Bible says. To define or represent the “essence” of the Bible (or any book, for that matter), one must read the entire book, distilling its major themes and seeking to understand the author’s intent. Thus, these 3 passages (taken out of context), do NOT define the “essence” of the Bible.

    • Please consider my reply to just the first of these as a Biblical Christian. Perhaps some of my points shall be applicable to the others as well. My time is limited and I should be writing a mid-term right now. If you care to read my reply and have a healthy discussion that is rife with wrangle yet grounded in mutual respect; I am game. If not, perhaps others with similar questions or concerns as you may benefit from my reply.

      First of all, Passover (as celebrated mainly by my Jewish brothers and sisters) is not a celebration of infanticide as it is a celebration of the liberation of their people. To think otherwise is as about as obtuse as declaring “Juneteenth” as a celebration of the death of 600,000+ individuals during the civil war. In both cases, the celebration is not in regards to the means of liberation from slavery, the celebration is in appreciation of their deliverance and freedom.

      As to the means…

      In all things, context is paramount. Assuming that we would hold the God of Moses to full accountability for the deaths of the first born people and animals in Egypt (Both Egyptian and Jew): Can we place an equal emphasis on what effort this same God did to incite the release of His people prior to this event? Ten times He gave displays of force to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Yet God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” and he (Pharoah) did not relent to the point where God recognizes the ultimate outcome of such a hardening. The outcome would be a horrible and preventable situation that would “demonstrate His (God’s) power, and in order that His name might be proclaimed throughout the entire earth” (Exodus 9).

      So what was worth all that trouble and death? 1.) A father’s love. 2.) A God being true to Himself. 3.) A maintained balance. Moving to something entirely secular – Have you seen “Taken” with Liam Neeson? It is likely that you have as it grossed over $220,000,000 at the box office. The main character (hero) in this film uses various tactics and instruments, such as guns and other weapons, to effectively retrieve his daughter who had been taken. There are many that find the use of guns as deplorable. Yet, despite how things transpired, we glorify this character (not vilify him) because all his efforts were rooted in his commitment to rescue his child. The audience is not captivated solely by the means or result of his actions. No. They are inspired by the why. Therefore, we understand the love of a father.

      God and the Israelites had more than a mere biological tie – like that of those betrothed as spouses. To the Israelites their God was the creator of all things. God breathed life into their first parents, Adam and Eve. God made a covenant with their patriarch, Abraham. God promised that He would never leave or forsake them and that Abraham’s descendants would be greatly numerous. This leads to point two. God had to be true to His word to the Israelites. He had to do whatever it would take to ensure that the Israelites would be a continued race that would not perish under the yoke of slavery in Egypt. However, He being true to Himself by keeping His word had to be true to what He had established per His standard.

      In all things related to Christian theology, there must be a balance which considers God’s provision of God’s grace, our faith, and our free will. We see all three in context play out in the book of Exodus. Keep in mind your presupositions as one cultivated in a western culture. If you are an American – you live in a constitutional republic for which those in power should be working entirely for the people as they have been appointed by the people. The Pharaoh ruled by fiat and was the ultimate authority over the Egyptians. Thus, he was the supreme representative for an entire nation. Despite your opinion, God gave Pharaoh ten opportunities to release the Israelites. That was gracious.

      A major sub-point to this event is that of the importance of recognizing God for who He is and that He shall remain the same. He shall not be mocked. Remember, he was true to His word in that every disobedient Israelite home was affected by death just the same as every disobedient Egyptian home. Those that exercised their faith that they would be spared in the campaign to free God’s children were spared.

      God was gracious to give Pharaoh and his people 10 ways out. Each and every household that believed God would spare them and their households were saved by their faith that God would remain true to His word. Those that chose to acquiesce or abstain from acknowledging God’s authority did so upon their own accord as they exercised their free will. I understand that you may take offense to God’s actions as you consider the means by which He freed His children. You may consider Him as a tyrannical and evil sky friend. May I remind you, as I remind myself, that just because one is offended by something, it doesn’t make one right.

      My son turned three years old yesterday. Should anyone place him in bondage, hold him captive, and threaten his life – I would be willing to do whatever it takes, even up to taking another person’s life, to ensure his safety. This is not because I disvalue anyone else’s life and existence. It is merely because I adore my son. No one would fault me for thinking that way or even carrying on that way. Speaking of adoring sons, God gave up His own, you know. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He died for you. He died for me. He is pursuing you even now. There is much that can be taken out of context as the Bible only scratches the surface in giving us an understanding of what is supernatural and beyond human ability, essence, or comprehension. I recognize that even what I wrote here is flawed and falls short of what is concisely and profoundly in my mind and heart. However, I do believe (however crude in quality it may be)it shall shed some light on this portion of the Bible.

      -Blessings

    • You’ve twisted the book that millions of people are fully convinced is God’s word to us. Your anger and bitterness toward Christians is clear. I’d just ask you be open to a God who seeks righteousness in his creation.
      1. The Egyptians were killing Hebrew babies. Is it not right for God to rescue the victims from the hand of an oppressor?
      2. The Bible does not support sex abuse, rape, or even lust. Deut. 21:10 says “When you go to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives,…” Get your verses right.
      3. Deut. 24:11 says nothing of the sort… “11 Stay outside and let the neighbor to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you.”

  5. Bible-reading Atheist

    People very well should read the bible from beginning to end, and take notes on everything interesting they come across; everything, whether it fits your world view or is shockingly new to you. To skip, skim, and selectively read is to reinforce only what you want to believe is true. That’s not learning–that’s self-deception. Read the whole document, end to end, or else don’t try to have a conversation about it. It’s like Christians trying to disprove evolution when they’ve not read a single scientific journal on the subject.

  6. I have owned 2 Bibles for years and just recently reading it (The New Testament). I have attempted in reading it a many of times but fell off from reading it.
    I am now trying to attempt read it once again and for the first time I am getting into it. I only read about 10-15 minutes a day, it took me roughly 3 weeks to get through the Book of Luke. I have a couple of times missed days of not reading and I felt a little guilty, now I dont miss a day. I look forward to my reading.

  1. […] Only 26% of Americans read their Bible on a regular basis.  Based on observation over the years, those who do read their Bibles spend very little time in the Old Testament.  Preachers are in the same boat:  even though the Old Testament is 75% of the words of the Bible,  only about 20% of sermons  are preached from it.  So I can say honestly that reading the Old Testament is, relatively speaking, a rarely used way to get to know God better.  In Romans 3, the Apostle Paul uses the Old Testament extensively and relates three things it says about God and us. […]

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