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A recent poll from LifeWay Research found that 89 percent of American households still own a Bible, with the average home having 4.1 Bibles. But owning a Bible is different from reading it—and pollsters might be surprised by what happens when many Americans do.

Most polls, surveys, and studies that have examined the Bible's influence have looked at views of its inspiration and methods of interpretation. Gallup, for example, has for four decades asked Americans how literally the Bible should be taken. Comparatively very little research has looked into what happens when one actually reads the Bible, especially when one reads it independently outside the church.

Perhaps we've assumed that such questions would be redundant, merely one more measure of religiosity, along with how often one attends church, how literally one views the Bible, and how much one prays. When researchers look at these indicators, they usually find a correlation with both political and moral conservativism. It's not always the case, but it is a trend. Reading the Bible on one's own makes a difference, too. The interesting part, however, is the unexpected difference it makes.

Frequent Bible reading has some predictable effects on the reader. It increases opposition to abortion as well as homosexual marriage and unions. It boosts a belief that science helps reveal God's glory. It diminishes hopes that science will eventually solve humanity's problems. But unlike some other religious practices, reading the Bible more often has some liberalizing effects—or at least makes the reader more prone to agree with liberals on certain issues. This is true even when accounting for factors such as political beliefs, education level, income level, gender, race, ...

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In the Magazine

October 2011

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