Survey: Frequent Bible Reading Can Turn You Liberal
Likewise, the survey asked whether one must consume or use fewer goods in order to be a good person. Political liberals and frequent Bible readers are more likely to say yes. A conservative Bible reader might not be as prone to say yes as a liberal non-reader, but think of it this way: Ask an evangelical who is politically conservative, has some college education, has an average level of income, is a biblical literalist, and does not read the Bible, and you'll have only a 22 percent chance he or she will say reducing consumption is part of ethical living. Ask the same person, only now they read the Bible, and you'll have a 44 percent chance they'll say so. It's still not a majority, but the swing is dramatic.
Why The Bible Pushes You Leftward
The discussion becomes even more interesting when we consider who is most likely to read the Bible frequently. It's evangelicals and biblical literalists, those who tend to be more conservative on these topics. In other words, those who read the Bible most often are more conservative, but the more they read the Bible, the more likely it is that their views will change, at least on these topics.
Why does this happen? One possible explanation is that readers tend to have expectations of a text prior to reading it. Given the Bible's prominence in our society, it's little wonder that many people think they know what's in it before they open it up. But once they start reading it on their own, they are bound to be surprised by something, and this surprising new content is then integrated and grafted on to the familiar. Beliefs do change with the addition of new information.
But it doesn't have to be unfamiliar content to surprise the reader. It just has to be personally relevant. Frequent Bible readers may have different views of biblical authority, but they tend to read it devotionally, looking for ways in which Scripture is speaking directly to them. They will read until struck by something that sticks out in the text. Even if the reader thinks the Bible has some error or needs a lot of interpretation, this thunderbolt moment can take on tremendous personal significance.
But frequent Bible readers don't just see the Bible as personal. They also see it as authoritative, written by an author who had a specific context and intent, and they want to conform to its message. After all, why read the Bible with no desire to embrace what it teaches?
In short, sometimes reading the Bible can change views and attitudes because readers are surprised by what's in it. Other times, it's just a matter of discipleship.
Aaron B. Franzen is a graduate student in the sociology department at Baylor University. This research is undergoing peer review.
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Christianity Today's October cover story on "How to Read the Bible" will be posted online later this week.
The LifeWay Research poll can be found here.
Christianity Today covers political developments on thepolitics blog.
Signs of the End Times | Our pursuit of justice in the present foreshadows the perfect justice of an age to come. (August 24, 2011)
The Politics of Being a Good Christian | Why there might be two "God Gaps" in America. (June 13, 2011)