6/12/12 - bible sales vs. bible knowledge

In today's excerpt - sales of the Bible are rising dramatically in the U.S., but knowledge of the contents of the Bible is declining:

"According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 78 percent of all Americans say that the Bible is the 'word of God,' and almost half of those believe that, as such, 'it is to be taken literally, word for word.' Polling data from the Barna Group indicate that nearly half of all Americans agree that 'the Bible is totally accurate in all of its teachings' (88 percent of all 'born-again' Christians believe the same), and the Gal­lup Poll finds that 65 percent of all Americans believe that the Bible 'answers all or most of the basic questions of life.' These statements are shorthand descriptions of the idea of the Bible as God's magnum opus, the first and last word on who God is, who we are, why we're here, and where we go after this. ...

"Yet ... recent polls and surveys offer these biblical revelations:

"Less than half of all adult Americans can name the first book of the Bible (Genesis, in Hebrew Bereshit) or the four Gospels of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

"More than 80 percent of born-again or evangelical Chris­tians believe that 'God helps those who help themselves' is a Bible verse. ...

"More than half of graduating high school seniors guess that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife, and one in ten adults believes that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. (Those two must've been multiple-choice questions.)

"Almost two-thirds of Americans can't name at least five of the Ten Commandments. Some of these people, moreover, are outspoken promoters of them. Georgia representative Lynn Westmoreland, cosponsor of a bill to display the Ten Com­mandments in the chambers of the House of Representa­tives and Senate, could remember only three when Stephen Colbert asked him to recite them on The Colbert Report (Col­bert, who I hear teaches Sunday school at his church, would probably have done considerably better). ...

"Even among the majority of Christians who identify themselves strongly with the Bible, Bible reading is a rare activity. In a 2005 nationwide study of religious values, practices, and behaviors by Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion, more than half of those identifying themselves as 'Bible-believing' said they had not participated in any kind of Bible study or Sunday school program at all in the past month. ...

"While biblical literacy is about as low as it can get, Bible sales have been booming. The biggest Bible publishers in this highly competitive business guard their sales data closely, but reliable industry sources estimate that 2007 saw about 25 million Bibles sold, generating revenues of about $770 million in the United States alone. That was an in­crease of more than 26 percent since 2005, which saw U.S. sales of about $609 million. In fact, the Bible-publishing business has been enjoying a healthy compounded growth rate of close to 10 percent per year for several years. Even during the high point of economic crisis in late 2008, when other book sales were hurting badly, Bible sales continued to boom, with an estimated $823.5 million that year. ...

"So biblical literacy is low to zip, even while biblical reverence remains high and Bible sales rise. What's going on? Could it be that biblical literacy is being replaced by biblical consumerism? In today's consumer culture, we are what we buy, wear, and carry. We identify ourselves by our patterns of con­sumer choices, by the market niches we buy into. It's gone beyond that post-Cartesian proof of existence, 'I shop, therefore I am.' Today, it's closer to 'I shop for what I am.' "


Timothy Beal


The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company


Copyright 2011 by Timothy Beal


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