Does Bible Reading Make People More Liberal?

Categories: Ethics, Religion & Theology, Sociology

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Christianity Today has posted a new article, Survey: Frequent Bible Reading Can Turn You Liberal,which details the surprising survey results pertaining to attitudes about consumption, social justice, terrorism, etc.

The article suggests that consistent Bible reading pushes people leftward on some issues. For example:

Some of the most interesting findings relate to moral attitudes. 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 its 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 at each point on Baylors five-point scale.

This question (and the conclusions pulled from the survey) highlights yet another reason why I have complained in the past that the conservative and liberal labels are really not helpful. As far as I can tell, most of the debate between the so-called right and left about seeking social and economic justice is rarely over whether people should seek such things but how such things should be sought. This is where the wording of surveys can matter a great deal; inasmuch as the left has largely appropriated the language of “social justice” as connected with governmental intervention, those on the right typically identify this language with such policies and recoil from the terminology. (For another good example of this phenomenon, note the difference in the results of surveys asking about global warming and those asking about climate change.)

But again, it is a total misunderstanding of the debate to suggest that most of the so-called right don’t believe in working for social and economic justice—after all, conservatives give about 30% more to charity than liberals (there are those useless words again). The debate isn’t over whether social/economic justice should be sought; its over the means of that justice (and what such justice looks like). For example, should secular government be the primary agent of social and economic justice or is this justice better performed by private organizations, churches, and individuals? For that matter, should it be an either-or (government vs. private) debate at all? The survey data on this question should be entirely unsurprising anyway. Devout Christians have long been on the forefront of social and economic justice programs—its just that these programs have typically been through the agency of churches and private organizations (note that extra money to charity) rather than through governmental channels.

Without accounting for this part of the debate, it is really hard to determine whether Bible reading pushes people leftward, since someone agreeing that socio-economic justice is important may opposed to using secular government as the instrument, putting that person on the traditional right. It is certainly true that Bible readers could become more liberal, but those are not the only conclusions that could be derived from such a survey. Regular Bible readers may simply be less afraid of (or more willing to use) terminology typically appropriated by liberals, for example. The methodology and assumptions reflected in the writeup of this survey are problematic for these reasons. The point is that, as usual, the issues themselves are more complex than the survey data suggest, while the headlines (shame on you, CT) just flatten things to attract eyeballs.


Tags: Biblical Studies, Christian, Christianity Today, climate change, conservative, Jesus, liberal, Opposing Views, reading, , United States

2 Comments. Leave new

  • Well said.

    If I read the Sermon on the Mount and, being moved by it, give more money to the poor than I have been giving in the past, then it says something about me. It says nothing, however, about my political proclivities either current or past. Though liberal Democrats or evangelical Christians might each claim me as their own when I do something like this, my actions wouldn’t necessarily have anything to do with either one of them.

  • Very nicely put, Dr. Staples. Myself, if asked the question “Does Bible Reading Make People More Liberal?”, my answer would be; “Not when its read properly.” 😉


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