Tuesday, May 29, 2007

More than three-quarters of Americans believe the Bible is literally the word of God or inspired by the word of God, according to a trio of Gallup surveys, with 19 percent saying the Good Book is a compendium of myth and legend.

The three surveys found that an average 31 percent of the respondents said that “the Bible is absolutely accurate and should be taken literally word for word,” according to Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll.

Forty-seven percent said the Bible was “the inspired word of God,” and 19 percent said it was a book of ancient fables, history and “moral precepts” recorded by man.

The breakdown of beliefs has not changed much recently: The average number of people who take the Bible literally, in fact, has remained steady since 1991.

A literal-belief structure, Mr. Newport said, has influenced a number of public issues, including teaching evolution in public schools, same-sex relationships, the role of a husband and a wife in marriage, observance of a day of rest, the idea of men-only clergy and even “seemingly unrelated topics” such as immigration.

Beliefs vary among religious groups. Among non-Catholic Christians, 45 percent take the Bible literally, while 46 percent say it’s inspired by God. The figure is 40 percent and 48 percent, respectively, among Protestants, and 21 percent and 61 percent among Catholics.

“It is interesting to note, however, that 10 percent of those with no religious identification still believe the Bible is literally the word of God, and another 26 percent say it is inspired,” Mr. Newport said.

The highest percentage of literal believers — 54 percent — was found among those who attend church weekly, followed by high school graduates (42 percent) and Southerners (41 percent). The three polls of 3,010 adults were conducted in May 2005, 2006 and 2007, and have a margin of error of two percentage points.

Other researchers have plumbed the nation’s biblical beliefs.

Seventy-eight percent of Republicans and 69 percent of Democrats say the Bible is “totally accurate in all of its teachings,” according to a survey of 1,006 adults conducted in January by the Barna Group, a marketing firm.

A Pew Research Center survey of 1,010 adults last year found that 67 percent of Americans say the United States is a “Christian nation,” compared with 60 percent a decade ago. A majority — 52 percent — said President Bush publicly mentions his faith “the right amount.” Fewer than half (47 percent) said the Republican Party was “friendly” to religion; a quarter said the same of Democrats.

The Bible continues to be the best-selling book ever. Americans alone buy 25 million Bibles a year, according to Publisher’s Weekly. Bible sales are now reaching $609 million a year, with specialty Bibles available for myriad “niche” audiences, from motorcycle riders to campers, brides and archaeologists. “Immerse,” a water-resistant Bible for troops overseas, is now available from publisher Bardin & Marsee.

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