What daily practice may help American Christians become more
concerned about issues of poverty, conservation and civil
Reading the Bible.
The answer may come as a surprise to those locked into
viewing religious practices in ideological boxes. However, a
new study by Baylor University researcher Aaron Franzen
found frequent Bible reading predicted greater support for
issues ranging from the compatibility of science and
religion to more humane treatment of criminals.
The study, one of the first to examine the social
consequences of reading Scripture, reveals the effects of
Bible reading appear to transcend conservative-liberal
Thus, even as opposition to same-sex marriage and legalized
abortion tends to increase with more time spent with the
Bible, so does the number of people who say it is important
to actively seek social and economic justice, Franzen found.
It was not just liberal Christians who found their attitudes
In many cases, even those who believe the Bible is literally
true but rarely read the book found themselves at odds with
their evangelical sisters and brothers who regularly read
the holy text.
"Usually, the literalists tend to read the most frequently,
but increased reading over time would moderate their
conservatism," Franzen said the study indicated.
Franzen speculates the reason so little research has been
done on the effects of reading Scripture may be because "the
ubiquity of references to the Bible promotes the idea that
we all know what it says and, consequently, reading it is
simply a habitual and ultimately meaningless activity."
But that is not true, according to his study using data from
Christian respondents to the 2007 wave of the Baylor
In many cases, Franzen found frequency of Bible reading was
one of the most powerful predictors of attitudes on moral
and political issues. Consider some of the findings:
The likelihood of
Christians saying it is important to actively seek
social and economic justice to be a good person
increased 39 percent with each jump up the ladder of the
frequency of reading Scripture, from reading the Bible
less than once a year to no more than once a month to
about weekly to several times a week or more.
overall were 27 percent more likely to say it is
important to consume or use fewer goods to be a good
person as they became more frequent Bible readers.
Reading the Bible more
often also was linked to improved attitudes toward
science. Respondents were 22 percent less likely to view
religion and science as incompatible at each step toward
more frequent Bible reading.
The issues seemed to
matter more than conservative-liberal tags. In the case
of another major public policy debate, same-sex unions,
nearly half of respondents who read the Bible less than
once a year said homosexuals should be allowed to marry,
while only 6 percent of people who read the Bible
several times a week or more approved of such marriages.
Among other issues, more frequent Bible readers also were
more likely to oppose legalized abortion, the death penalty,
harsher punishment of criminals and expanding the federal
government's authority to fight terrorism.
Forget Glenn Beck
The findings may be striking to those who tend to separate
Christians into right and left, members of liberal and
conservative blocs often seen as marching in lockstep with
confrontational personalities such as Glenn Beck and Al
But the results are consistent with some past research.
In a 1998 article in the Journal
for the Scientific Study of Religion, sociologists Mark
Regnerus, Christian Smith and David Sikkink found that data
from the 1996 Religious Identity and Influence Survey
suggested that, contrary to "conventional wisdom,"
conservative Protestants were among the most generous
Christians in giving to the poor.
Anthropology professor James Bielo of Miami University,
author of the 2009 book "Words upon the Word: An Ethnography
of Evangelical Group Bible Study," said Franzen's findings
"are not terribly surprising."
As individuals read the Bible, often in the context of other
influences such as a local group or their spouse or children
or a study guide, "Frequently, I think, people come to a new
position, or find some nuance in what they already thought,"
In his own ethnographic work with evangelicals, Bielo found
that most considered religion and science to be compatible.
"Ultimately, they would say all truth is God's truth," he
Perhaps the larger issue is not whether Christians are
influenced by Bible reading, but how many of them read the
Bible enough for it to make a difference.
In the Baylor Religion Survey, less than a quarter of
respondents said they read Scripture weekly or more.
As C.S. Lewis once observed: "