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Taking Bible Stories Literally

Most Americans don't have a problem with key narratives.

According to a new poll conducted by the Barna Group, a substantial majority of Americans believes in the literal truth of six key Bible stories. For those of us worried about how to communicate biblical truth in our increasingly postmodern and pluralistic culture, the findings indicate that many folks continue to accept the Word of God at face value.

Here are the overall results among adults to the question of whether they thought a specific story in the Bible was "literally true, meaning it happened exactly as described in the Bible":

Christ's crucifixion, burial, and resurrection (75%);

Daniel in the Lion's Den (65%);

Moses parting the Red Sea (64%);

David and Goliath (63%);

Peter walking on water (60%);

God creating the universe in six days (60%).

When you break down the numbers, it gets even more interesting. Several factors are correlated with less belief in a literal resurrection: high education, mainline vs. non-mainline Protestantism, Catholicism vs. Protestantism, and white vs. black. So, statistically speaking, a highly educated white Catholic or mainline professor from the Northeast would likely be more skeptical than a blue-collar African-American Protestant from the Midwest or South.

Further, the more skeptical you are about the Bible, the more likely it is that you are a political liberal. On the flip side, the more you take these narratives literally, the more likely you are to be a conservative:

There were very consistent patterns related to people's political inclinations. Of the six stories examined, just one story (the resurrection of Christ) was considered to be literally true by at least half of all liberals. In contrast, among conservatives, only one of those stories was taken literally by less than 80% (the 76% who embraced the six day creation as absolute truth.) Similarly, the data showed that Republicans were more likely than either Democrats or Independents to accept each of the stories as literally accurate. For all six narratives, Independents were the voting group least likely to hold a literal interpretation, an average of twenty percentage points lower than the norm among Republicans.

This hints, to me at least, that the national Democrats, despite their recent rediscovery of people of faith, have an uphill climb ahead in winning their trust - and their votes. Certainly they have done so with African Americans. It remains to be seen if they will be able to get the much larger numbers of white Protestants to also believe in them.

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