Sunday, 25 August 2013

How many moderate Christians are there?

I did some digging on this when responding to a G+ post here and I find myself referring back to it and having to search (again). So I've turned it into this blog post. The G+ post was talking about the number of people who say they believe everything in the Bible and yet don't actually read it, which would be an odd way to go about things.

But here I'm just wondering how many Christians actually do believe the Bible is the unerring word of God? Whether they read it or not.
One of the links on the G+ post pointed to something that said this:
"The survey showed the Bible is still firmly rooted in American soil: 88 percent of respondents said they own a Bible, 80 percent think the Bible is sacred, 61 percent wish they read the Bible more, and the average household has 4.4 Bibles." 

Now, that isn't the same as asking if they think the Bible is the unerring word of God. I'd answer 'yes' to a question about the Bible being sacred. But 'no' to an 'unerring word of God' question. And I have 4.4 Bibles :)

It took some digging to find an appropriate survey but I found one here. The stats quoted are from US surveys.
Since it is on the Internet I assume it is perfectly accurate :) and it tells me:
"58% believe that the Bible is "totally accurate in all its teachings"

There it is, a bit more than half, but not much more. Some of the ra-ra noises the media makes you'd think it would be more. Well, there are the numbers. it isn't.

But there is more information in that second link. It also refers to a poll in 1987 of American clergy. They were asked whether they believed that the Scriptures are the inspired and inerrant Word of God in faith, history, and secular matters:
95% of Episcopalians,
87% of Methodists,
82% of Presbyterians,
77% of American Lutherans, and
67% of American Baptists said 
Wait for it....

"No."

Remember these are the people who preach to the Christians who actually turn up on a Sunday. You might expect their congregations to at least roughly accept the views of the clergy who preach to them. 

There's a discrepancy in the numbers, from 58% of everyone to 67% of Baptists, the lowest number. It would be explained by more people belonging to the Baptist churches, and the more fundamentalist ones being bigger, but also note there aren't figures for Catholics here. So we're in pretty woolly territory and everything is approximate. Also I am a little suspicious of the 58% figure because people who don't really think that much about Christianity may have answered yes because they thought it was the right answer.

I am using the term 'moderate Christian' here to contrast with 'fundamentalist Christian'. I don't quite like the term 'moderate'. It is not as if our love for Jesus is necessarily moderate, just that we don't think the Bible trumps everything when there is any question of any kind to answer. We use the Bible as a guidebook for getting to know God rather than a body of legislation. We know it was written by men (no, there aren't any women writers in there, sadly) who were embedded in a culture different from ours and we know that we are allowed to make progress in our thinking about God. So when St Paul comes across as misogynistic and seems comfortable with slavery we can just shrug and say he didn't know any better. And that's okay. When we read some Psalm that rejoices in the hope that God will smite the writer's enemies it's much the same. And when we read about the world being created in seven days that's really not a problem. It was never a science textbook and those early writers were not scientists.

The odd thing is that the people who say they believe absolutely every word of it also pick the bits they like and ignore the bits they don't care for. They don't like gays because it says in Leviticus that they have to be put to death. But they don't want them actually put to death (that's good, actually). Same with adulterers. That could get awkward, couldn't it? There are some seriously heavy words about divorce in the New Testament where Jesus points out that the Old Testament divorce laws (that allowed divorce) were a kind of cop out, and not strict enough. I am reminded of the line in 'Pirates of the Caribbean'. They're not rules, they're guidelines.

There might be some rare exceptions but by this definition all Christians are moderate. It's just that some of us admit it and some don't.
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