Barna on Bible Reading

Barna came out with a new study on Americans’ plans to read the Bible (here). Not surprisingly, many (61%) say they would like to read the Bible more. That’s roughly the number of those who want to lose weight. Both are generally considered to be good things to do.

According to Barna (in a different study), “two-thirds of Americans (66%) agree that the Bible contains everything you need to know to live a meaningful life.” This is a remarkably high figure for such a ridiculous claim. Reading the Bible probably won’t help much in getting a job, or getting a better job. It probably won’t do much for your love life. Based on the time people devote to it, it can’t even compare to TV.

This study did not ask how much time people currently spend reading the Bible. More importantly, Barna didn’t ask anything about how much people know about the Bible. Barna almost never asks about knowledge, nor do most studies of religion.

In 2010, Pew did a study to assess Americans’ knowledge of religious (download PDF). On average, people correctly answered 50% of the questions. Furthermore, religious knowledge had nothing to do with religiosity: “People with a high level of religious commitment … answer 17 of the 32 religious knowledge questions correctly on average. People with a low level of religious commitment perform at the national norm, answering an average of 16 questions correctly.”


The most knowledgeable group was atheists and agnostics. This was quite embarrassing. Since atheists are also better educated, Pew’s researchers thought their superior religious knowledge was due to their greater general education. But even after statistically controlling for level of education, they found that atheists and agnostics still knew more about religion than other groups – all those folk that claim the Bible is all you really need to know. Those who read the Bible most often answered 16.8 questions correctly, while atheists/agnostics answered 20.9 correctly. Those people who assert the Bible is the literal word of God only answered 14.5 correctly. That is, those who thump the Bible most loudly don’t know what they are talking about.

This was quite embarrassing. While the study was designed to be the first of a series of tracking studies, no follow-ups were conducted. The results were consigned to purgatory, and are rarely referred to. Virtually all other surveys of religion deal with attitudes, beliefs, and practices – but not knowledge. In general, the more you know about religion, the less likely you are to accept religious claims.