There are VERY few literal believers of anything in Genesis in Christianity and yet fewer in Judaism and Islam. Most people in these religions are quite content to see biblical stories as allegorical.
Fundamental Christians insist the story is literally true in every aspect and go as far as arguing that there is real evidence for the flood
American Superstition: Majority Reads Bible Stories as Literal History
American Superstition: Majority Reads Bible Stories as Literal History (not only American)
Saturday November 3, 2007
Many religious theists - primarily Christians - respond to atheists' critiques of religion by insisting that atheists are only criticizing vulgar, literalistic forms of religion which are restricted to fundamentalists. Hardly anyone really believes what the atheists are being so negative about, so ultimately atheists are just attacking a straw-man form of religion. Right?
Maybe this is the case with the person speaking, but at best it's wishful thinking with respect to the rest of the population (at least in America) because the majority of the population accepts as literal history stories from the Bible which no rational person should treat as anything more than metaphorical myths. The idea of religion as "metaphor" or "art" may sound nice in some liberal religious studies classes and a few UU congregations, but on the streets religion - traditional, biblical Christianity - provides direct access to absolute facts about history, the nature of humanity, and the nature of the universe.
Survey respondents were asked if they thought a specific story in the Bible was "literally true, meaning it happened exactly as described in the Bible" or whether they thought the story was "meant to illustrate a principle but is not to be taken literally." Six renowned Bible stories were then offered to adults for their consideration.
Surprisingly, the most significant Bible story of all - "the story of Jesus Christ rising from the dead, after being crucified and buried" - was also the most widely embraced. Three out of four adults (75%) said they interpreted that narrative literally, while only one out of five (19%) said they did not take that story literally.
The more highly educated respondents were, the less likely they were to take the story literally, although even two-thirds of college graduates (68%) believe the resurrection narrative is literally true.
One of the most substantial differences of opinion occurred between mainline Protestants (83% of whom take the resurrection literally) and non-mainline Protestants (among whom 95% accept the resurrection as fact).
Overall, 82% of Catholics embrace the resurrection narrative as being true. Black adults were much more likely than either whites (74%) or Hispanics (80%) to consider the resurrection to be true.
Source: Barna Group
This was one of six biblical stories which Barna quizzed people about, and while the number of people accepting Jesus' resurrection story as literal hsitory were highest there was a strong majority backing the literal history of all the stories. Given the diversity of these six, it's difficult to imagine that similar numbers wouldn't be found for pretty much every tale in the Bible:
- Daniel survived in the lion's den: 65%
- Moses literally parted the Red Sea: 64%
- David killed Goliath with stones and a sling shot: 63%
- Peter walked on water with Jesus: 60%
- God created the universe in six days: 60%
How many do you think would treat the ancient stories of Odysseus, Agamemnon, and Apollo as literal history? Quite a lot fewer, assuming you could get enough people familiar with those names to constitute a statistically valid sample. Not only did large numbers of people reveal treating ancient myth as history, but there were huge disparities between political beliefs.
Which do you suppose was the larger group to treat biblical stories as literal: conservative or liberal?
There were very consistent patterns related to people's political inclinations. Of the six stories examined, just one story (the resurrection of Christ) was considered to be literally true by at least half of all liberals. In contrast, among conservatives, only one of those stories was taken literally by less than 80% (the 76% who embraced the six day creation as absolute truth.)
Similarly, the data showed that Republicans were more likely than either Democrats or Independents to accept each of the stories as literally accurate. For all six narratives, Independents were the voting group least likely to hold a literal interpretation, an average of twenty percentage points lower than the norm among Republicans.
These aren't exactly surprising numbers, I'm sorry to say. If anything is surprising it's how low the numbers for "Independents" are. That may sound reasonable at first, but apparently people who call themselves "Independent" have a habit of voting in one particular direction on a regular basis - they lean conservative and rarely vote Democrat or lean liberal and rarely vote Republican. This makes them "independent" more in name than in behavior. Given this, I'd have expected the numbers for Independents to be a little lower than the others, but not by quite such a large amount.
This suggests that they are indeed more secular than even Democrats generally are, making them an important voting group for any politicians who isn't interested in pandering to religion and religious beliefs in order to obtain elected office. Unfortunately, there may not always be enough Independents around to swing an election for secular candidates.
On the bright side of things, just because people say
they treat myth as literal history doesn't mean that they actually live their lives
much different from those who see myth for what it is and rely on more substantive grounds for their history:
[George Barna, who directed the study] noted a significant disconnect between faith and practice. "While the level of literal acceptance of these Bible stories is nothing short of astonishing given our cultural context, the widespread embrace of these accounts raises questions about the unmistakable gap between belief and behavior."
"On the one hand we have tens of millions of people who view these narratives as reflections of the reality, the authority and the involvement of God in our lives. On the other hand, a majority of those same people harbor a stubborn indifference toward God and His desire to have intimacy with them. In fact, a minority of the people who believe these stories to be true consistently apply the principles imbedded in these stories within their own lives."
"It seems that millions of Americans believe the Bible content is true, but are not willing to translate those stories into action. Sadly, for many people, the Bible has become a respected but impersonal religious history lesson that stays removed from their life."
Of course, Barna is assuming that belief in the literal history of a few stories in the Bible should translate into very specific behaviors and, perhaps more importantly, political policies. Barna is a conservative evangelical, so it doesn't take much imagination to come up ideas about what he'd like to see result from such beliefs - but his assumption misses the mark.
Just because a person is irrational enough to treat the Genesis story of creation or the Matthew story of Jesus' resurrection as literal, historical fact doesn't mean that they are also irrational enough to think that gays should be second-class citizens or that abortion should be a crime.
To put it another ways: just because two different people treat the same myths as literal, historical fact doesn't mean that they will necessarily derive the exact same social, political, and personal lessons from those stories. There might be a strong correlation at times, but people with very different backgrounds, attitudes, and personalities are likely to draw different lessons and thus come to different conclusions.