God's creation of the Earth, Noah and the flood, Moses at the Red Sea: These pivotal stories from the Old Testament still resonate deeply with most Americans, who take the accounts literally rather than as a symbolic lesson.
An ABC News poll released Sunday found that 61 percent of Americans believe the account of creation in the Bible's book of Genesis is "literally true" rather than a story meant as a "lesson."
Sixty percent believe in the story of Noah's ark and a global flood, while 64 percent agree that Moses parted the Red Sea to save fleeing Jews from their Egyptian captors.
The poll, with a margin of error of 3 percentage points, was conducted Feb. 6 to 10 among 1,011 adults.
"These are surprising and reassuring figures -- a positive sign in a postmodern world that seemed bent on erasing faith from the public square in recent years," said the Rev. Charles Nalls of Christ the King, a Catholic-Anglican church in the District.
"This poll tells me that America is reading the Bible more than we thought. There had been a tendency to decry or discount Bible literacy among the faithful," he said.
"But this indicates a strong alliance among Americans with the inerrant word of God, as opposed to simply the inspired word of God, as viewed in the context of faith tradition," Father Nalls said.
The levels of belief in the stories, however, differed among Christians.
The poll found that 75 percent of Protestants believed in the story of creation, 79 percent in the Red Sea account and 73 percent in Noah and the ark.
Among evangelical Protestants, those figures were 87 percent, 91 percent and 87 percent, respectively. Among Catholics, they were 51 percent, 50 percent and 44 percent.
The stories still proved somewhat compelling among those who had "no religion." A quarter said they believed in Creation, almost a third said Moses parted the Red Sea, and 29 percent believe in Noah.
In anticipation of the Feb. 25 release of Mel Gibson's controversial movie, "The Passion of the Christ," the poll also found that 80 percent of Americans do not feel that the Jews of today bear responsibility for the death of Jesus Christ, against 8 percent who said they did.
Some critics contend that Mr. Gibson's film unfairly portrays Jews, although he removed a scene which depicts a crowd asking that the death of Jesus "be on us, and on our children," a phrase from the Book of Matthew.
Who killed Jesus, then?
"The big answer is, we all did," Mr. Gibson said in an ABC interview which aired last night.
The network's poll found some slight differences among respondents when asked about blame for the Crucifixion, however: 12 percent of evangelical Protestants, 11 percent of Protestants and 6 percent of Catholics said today's Jews still are responsible for Jesus' death.
Gauging American religious beliefs has been the focus of other recent surveys as well.
A Harris poll of 2,201 adults charting "Religious and Other Beliefs of Americans 2003" found last year that 93 percent of the nation's Christians believe in miracles, 95 percent in heaven, 93 percent in the virgin birth of Christ and 96 percent in Christ's resurrection.
In another survey of 2,306 adults released in October, Harris also found that 42 percent felt God was a male, while only 1 percent said God was a female. Thirty-eight percent said God was neither male nor female, and 11 percent said God was both genders.
The poll also found that 48 percent said God was a "spirit or power that can take on human form but is not inherently human," 9 percent said God was "like a human being" and 27 percent said God "does not take on human form."
Meanwhile, a Gallup Poll of 1,004 adults released Dec. 30 found that 61 percent of Americans believe "religion can answer all or most of today's problems," although 64 percent felt that religion is losing its influence on the nation.
Another Gallup Poll released in November found that six out of every 10 Americans said religion was "very important" in their lives -- compared with 28 percent of Canadians and 17 percent of the British.