How Reading the Bible Can Make You Liberal

Fear not! This isn’t another tirade on the proper mixing of religions and politics. It is instead a brief commentary on yet another odd academic study.

To wit, the 2007 Baylor Religion Survey in which Americans were asked, among other things, how often they read the Bible on their own. Respondents were offered a five-point scale ranging from “never” to “several times a week.” Surveyors found that reading the Bible frequently changes ones views on a variety of subjects: it increases opposition to abortion and homosexual marriage, decreases faith that science will solve our problems, increases support for the death penalty. So far, I imagine, this sounds like what you’d predict. All the Baylor study shows is that conservatives read more Scripture, right?

Wrong. Baylor academics also asked, “How important is it to actively seek social and economic justice in order to be a good person?” (Yes, I know the question supposes some bad theology regarding our moral standing and how we correct it, but for the moment let’s ignore them.) Here, not only were self-identified liberals more likely to agree, so were regular Bible readers.

Were these results consistent even in the face of other factors? Yes. For example, 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 that he/she will say reducing consumption is an important part of ethical living. But ask the same question of another person with the same profile, who regularly reads the Bible, and he/she will answer “Yes” 44 percent of the time.

Of course the Big Question begged by this is “Why?” Why would reading the Bible push anyone in this direction? The best answer to that question is, of course, found in reading Scripture itself. Take a look at the book of Amos sometime soon. You’ll find it stimulating.

And if you wish, read Aaron Franzen’s article “Survey: Frequent Bible Reading Can Turn You Liberal.”