According to a recent Gallup poll, 3 in 10 Americans take the Bible literally, saying it is the actual word of God. Although this is lower than the 40% recorded in 1980 and 1984 by Gallup, it is up from the low point of 21% in 2001.
49% say the Bible is the inspired word of God but that it should not be taken literally, while 17% consider the Bible an ancient collection of stories recorded by man.
Additional findings from the poll show that frequent church attendees (those who attend weekly) are most likely to view the bible as the literal word of God, while those who rarely (or never) attend are more likely to view the Bible as the inspired word of god, or mythology.
This may seem benign to many, but let's consider what this means, exactly. Assuming that this 30% is as familiar with the text as they think, we must assume that they believe the following to be true events in history:
God made the heavens and the earth in seven days. Gen. 1; 2
God made a dude out of dirt, and then, later, as an afterthought, took the dude's rib and fashioned a lady out of it. Gen. 1
The entire earth was flooded for 150 days. Gen. 7
A dude built a boat and put two of every living species on Earth on the boat (because God told him to). He kept all of them afloat and fed for 150 days. Gen. 6:14-22; 7:8; Matt. 24:38; Luke 17:27; Heb. 11:7; 1 Pet. 3:20
A dude's cane turned into a snake. Ex. 4:3,4,30; 7:10,12
A dude's wife was turned into a condiment. Gen. 19:26
A dude parted a sea. Ex. 14:22.
A dude's donkey talked to him. Num. 22:23-30
A bush in flames talked to a dude. Ex. 3:2-5; Acts 7:30
A dude was fed by an angel. 1 Kin. 19:1-8
A dude made an entire army go blind. Kin. 6:18
A dude hung out for a while in a fish's belly. Jonah 1:17
A dude turned water into wine. John 2:1-11
A dude fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Matt. 14:15-21; Mark 6:35-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:5-14
A dude walked on the sea. Matt. 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:16-21
A dude pulled money from a fish's mouth. Matt. 17:24-27
A dude brought a bunch of other dudes back to life. Matt. 9:18,19,23-26; Mark 5:22-24,35-43; Luke 8:41,42,49-56; John 11:1-46; Luke 7:11-16
A dude healed all kinds of handicapped people (blind, crippled, lepers, deaf, mute, demoniacs, you name it) John 4:46-54; John 5:1-16; Matt. 12:22-37; Mark 3:11; Luke 11:14,15; Matt. 9:27-31; Mark 7:31-37
A virgin had a baby. Matt. 1:23; Luke 1:27,34
A dude came back from the dead. Matt. 28:6,7 Mark 16:6,7; Luke 24:5-7; John 20:1-18
After he came back from the dead, that dude floated up to heaven, body and all. Mark 16:19,20; Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:9-12.
This is only a fraction of the fantastical, supernatural claims made in The Bible. One could fill a whole book with them (oh, wait).
If anyone claimed any of the above events occurred today, we would consider them to be delusional, insane, or a ridiculously gullible victim of someone's tall tale. What gives these fantastical, supernatural biblical events their legitimacy is, quite simply, their inclusion in a text that is believed to be the word of God. This is circular reasoning at its finest: "The Bible is literally true, because The Bible tells us it is literally true. If any of it is not literally true, then we can't trust any of it, and that's not possible."
We must ask ourselves why it is that these fantastical, supernatural events only seem to occur during and prior to the Bronze Age, and in the future. This leaves us with a large gap of zero fantastical events of a biblical scale. In between what we think occurred, and what we expect will occur, we are lucky to get a Cheeto shaped like Jesus.
This is not just about debunking religion. These literal beliefs have real-life impacts. When we believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, we deny human rights, we impede progress in medicine, we condone wars, we are complicit in the submission of women, we subscribe to religious exceptionalism, and we deny the realities of the natural world and of the cosmos. Until we come to terms with the fact that the Bible includes mythology, legend, and parables, we perpetuate suffering and condone harm. There is impact on decisions that are made every single day in the halls of governments across the country.
And as we have seen from the potential GOP presidential candidates, a few are having a hard time separating their literal religious beliefs from public policy.
The thirty percent finding from Gallup is not a number we can should feel comfortable with. It is not a stretch to state that 30% of Americans are incapable of thinking critically, do not have a grasp on the fundamental laws of nature, and reject basic science. And a good portion of those folks are penning legislation at this moment.