Most of the questions seemed to revolve around a few popular books or books recently adapted into movies, like The Hunger Games, The Hobbit, or Life of Pi, but Barna also asked about the Bible: how many people claim to have read the entire Bible? What generations are these readers from? What faith do they claim?
Honestly, I found the results surprising all around.
20% of American adults claim to have read the Bible all the way through. That would be pretty impressive to me. I've known a lot of folks, evangelicals, who will use a One-Year Bible or a similar reading plan, and so, with a little discipline, they'll get through the book in a matter of time. And I'm sure a lot of other people, like myself, have gotten all the way through the Bible by a more... roundabout... and drawn out process. It was probably eight years of reading here and there--oh! I've never heard of this book, better read it too--and rereading this or that, before I got through the entire Bible. If it took me that long, someone who really enjoys reading and studying scripture and who thinks it's of vital importance to his life, I can't imagine how people who don't enjoy reading the Bible or who don't have a religious impetus for reading it could get through.
A lot of these people are non-Christians. 18% of Americans who claim a faith other than Christianity, and 9% of Americans who claim no faith at all, say they've read the Bible. (Now, I'm assuming Mormons would be 'non-Christian' by Barna's standards--though I could be wrong on that--and so the number of individuals of other faiths who've read the Bible might be less surprising than it looks at first blush.)
My first reaction to this was: 'Huh. And how many Christians have read the Quran?' Or any other non-Christian holy books, for that matter? (And you can't count the Hebrew Bible. That's cheating.) I had to read some things majoring in religion at a public university, but otherwise I'm not so sure I'd have ever read texts like the Bhagavad-Gita or the Yoga Sutra. I'd love to see some more numbers comparing the inter-faith reading of different groups, because this sure leaves me feeling like Christians are going to be the least interested in learning about other beliefs.
You can check out the rest of the results here.
Like I said, these results surprised me. Frankly, the '1 in 5 have read the Bible' actually sounds a little questionable. 1 in 5 Americans have read Leviticus? They've read 1 Chronicles 1-9? 1 in 5 have read every word of the Psalms, of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel? I find this more than a little hard to believe. Surely, surely, there's a degree of 'oh, sure, I've read the Bible!' affecting those results. Sometimes, when a book or author is so influential and so talked-about, I think it's easy to assume you've read them, feel like you must have read them, even if you haven't. But I'm just speculating here--maybe these numbers are right on.
I hope people do read the Bible, though.
One of my aims in preaching and teaching is to get people interested in it and excited about it--because I think it's an interesting and exciting book (which is helpful when it's also very long and absolutely essential!).
I told a group once that I think the Bible is a bit like Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. We assume we know the character--we've seen the Disney cartoon, or we've read an abridged, children's version of the tale. Quasimodo is the kindly, lonely, misunderstood bell-ringer of Notre Dame. And he has quite a singing voice. Yet when you read Victor Hugo's classic, you find that the hunchback is much less Disney, much less kid-friendly, than you thought. He's grittier, more real. For instance: not only does he not sing, but he barely speaks, because years of ringing the cathedral bells has left him deaf--he uses sign language.
The Bible's grittier and more real than you'd expect. It's not the collection of brightly-colored kids' stories you learned about in Sunday school. And like Hunchback, the Bible's more stirring and more beautiful than the popular conceptions floating around could ever convey. I hope people read it.
How about you? What do you think of these numbers? Have you read the Bible all the way through? How did you do it? What made it difficult? What could help?
Have you read any sacred books from other faiths?