Guest / Limited Access /
Page 3 of 4

For starters, non-Christian literalists are more likely to have never been married, with 39 percent saying that's true of them (vs. 25% of other Americans). They're a little on the younger side: 23 percent are ages 18-29 (vs. 14% of Americans overall), and only 20 percent are over age 60 (vs. 30% of Americans overall).

They're also mostly non-white. Non-Christian literalists are more than twice as likely to be African American (36% vs. 15% overall), and 16 percent identify as something other than black or white (vs. 8% overall). In a country that's 77 percent white, this group's 44 percent whiteness is fairly remarkable. They are more likely to have two parents born outside the U.S. (25% vs. 14% of other Americans).

Non-Christian literalists are also significantly less educated than Americans overall. More than two-thirds have only a high school education or less (something that's true of only 42% of Americans overall). They're more than twice as likely to have left high school (35% vs. 12% of other Americans) and very unlikely to have a bachelor's or graduate degree (12% vs. 30% of other Americans).

They may be poorer, but it's hard to tell from the data.

Politics and Social Views

Michael Weisskopf's 1993 description of the followers of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as "largely poor, uneducated and easy to command" has been worn to death. Forgive us for breaking it out one more time, because so far you're likely to have a similar notion in your head when envisioning non-Christian literalists.

But these less-educated literalists aren't some sort of religious right remnant. In fact, while the percentage difference falls within the margin of error, they lean to the left of the overall U.S. population, with 8 percent more liberals than the U.S.' 28 percent. A quarter identify as "extremely liberal," along with 17 percent of other Americans.

Finding the Non-Christian Literalists in the Real World

In the end, it's hard to create a profile of the non-Christian biblical literalist. Taken as an average, they're, well, pretty average. There's nothing really to unify this group. You wouldn't be able to identify a member by walking down the street or by visiting some enclave. They're too diverse and the data just isn't rich enough to create a robust description.

The demographics of this small portion of the U.S. population—2 to 11 percent, depending who you ask—also serve as a reminder that imprecise survey items like the literalism question can introduce confusion. Uncovering the characteristics of a slightly-liberal, God-believing, non-white, non-religious fraction of the U.S. population is still a process subject to human error at many levels, and the closer questions get to measuring what they try to measure, the more sure we can be that populations like this represent meaningful groups rather than statistic aberrations.

It's unlikely that we'll see much missiological attention given to this cohort, or any targeted evangelism at a group that seems to be low-hanging fruit (though it may be an incredibly difficult group to attract to Christianity; we don't know why they don't identify as Christian).

Read These NextSee Our Latest
RecommendedIntroducing the Bible! Now with Less!
Introducing the Bible! Now with Less!
Delete the chapter and verse numbers. Kill all the notes. Make it one column. Make a million bucks.
TrendingMeet the Failed Pastor Who Ministers to Other Failed Pastors
Meet the Failed Pastor Who Ministers to Other Failed Pastors
J. R. Briggs sympathizes with church leaders who don't live up to expectations.
Editor's PickThe Hidden Blessing of Infertility
The Hidden Blessing of Infertility
Our inability to have kids turned into an ability to do so much else.
Comments
View this article in Reader Mode
Christianity Today
Meet the Non-Christians Who Take the Bible Literally, Word for ...