Bible reading and social attitudes

December 13th, 2011 in Belief. Tags: , , , , ,

Are christians more likely to be socially and politically conservative or liberal/progressive?

If you asked most people’s opinion, I reckon they would think christians are generally conservative. But some new surveys suggest this isn’t the full story.

Conservative about ….

The surveys, conducted in the US, found that regular private Bible reading is associated with opposition to abortion and gay marriage, and the belief that science helps reveal God’s glory but cannot solve humanity’s problems. This much we might have predicted.

But liberal about ….

Perhaps less expected were the findings that regular private Bible reading is also correlated with:

  • reduced support for strong anti-terrorism legislation (the Patriot Act);
  • support for a more humane criminal justice system;
  • increased belief that science and faith are compatible;
  • increased support for social and economic justice;
  • increased concerns about over-consumption.

This would be a surprise to many. So the stereotype of the redneck, socially conservative christian is not always accurate. We can assume that Bible reading christians are more serious about their faith, yet they are also more open-minded and humane than non-reading believers. Perhaps this is simply because they may be more literate, but it seems likely that the Bible has influenced them to be more compassionate and thoughtful.

Perhaps the non-readers are only nominal or cultural believers in a country where religion is still very pervasive.

It is extremely interesting that regular Bible reading correlates with the belief that science and faith are compatible. Sceptics might think that increased science reading would have this effect while increased Bible reading would have the opposite effect.

These findings should lead some of us to re-evaluate a few things.


  1. It’s some eyeopening research. Though not all eyes will be opened, if this comment on the website is not a troll:

    Pure tripe. Sounds like Franzen should be writing for NPR instead of CT. As a conservative evangelical who reads the Bible quite regularly and embraces its teaching, I can most assuredly proclaim that I will never become a liberal nor a leftist in either my political or my spiritual and moral views. To say that reading the Bible turns a person into a politcal liberal is like saying Marx, Stalin, Hitler, and Lenin were devout Christians. Sounds like more socialist tripe trying to mislead the public to me. Little wonder I stopped subscribing to CT long ago. My how far they have fallen. Seems to me CT should stop embracing the world and live up to its name.

  2. That writer is confused. Describing what people think is not necessarily endorsing it, and certainly doesn’t imply that everyone will or should think the same.

  3. Exactly. All the survey shows is that some frequent Bible readers nudge a little more to the left and that this is a significant effect in the frequently Bible-reading population when compared to Christians who do not read the Bible frequently. The emphasis is on “more”, there’s no claim they become liberal or left, only that they on average become more liberal/left on the issues given. Some might take a more right stance on issues, some might not change their politics, but what they measured would have been the average difference. And of course your average American liberal is nowhere near to being a socialist, not to mention extreme leftists like Marx, Lenin and Stalin (and Hitler was a centrist).

    In any case, I wonder if this relation will hold in other countries like Canada, Australia and European countries.

  4. “I wonder if this relation will hold in other countries like Canada, Australia and European countries.”
    In Australia, christians tend to be more conservative in matters of sexual and reproductive morality (homosexuality, abortion, pre-marital sex, stem cell research, etc) and economics, and more suspicious of climate change, but probably slightly more progressive on matters of social justice (e.g. more opposed to the Iraq war, more willing to treat refugees sympathetically, etc).

    I don’t know how much Bible reading changes thinking within the christian sub group. But I think there are fewer cultural christians in Australia than in the US, and therefore fewer people who might be seen as christian but having quite unchristian attitudes.

  5. I wasn’t entirely convinced by that article. In the end, he was contrasting two groups each with 10-15% of the population. I wonder what the stats were with the remaining 70-80%? But if his conclusions apply more generally, then it was very interesting and counter-intuitive (to me as well as Obama).

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