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Frequent Bible reading can make you liberal

20 October 2011

Quite a lot of people have Bibles, and some of them may actually thump their Bibles — but do they read them?

The American stereotype is that Bible-thumpers are conservative, but it seems that people who actually read their Bibles, rather than just thumping them, tend to be more liberal, and the more they read, the more liberal they become.

Survey: Frequent Bible Reading Can Turn You Liberal | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction:

In 2007, the Baylor Religion Survey asked Americans how often they read the Bible on their own. (It was a five-point scale in this study, ranging from “never” to “several times a week.”) It also asked whether the federal government should expand its authority to fight terrorism—a reference to the Patriot Act. For each increased level of Bible-reading frequency, support for the Patriot Act decreased by about 13 percent.

Frequent Bible reading also influences views on criminal justice. As might be expected, respondents who were more politically liberal were prone to disagree with the statement, “The government should punish criminals more harshly.” Unexpectedly (at least given the conservative stereotype), the more frequently people read the Bible, the more they too are prone to disagree with the statement. This is not an anomalous finding: Support for abolishing the death penalty increased by about 45 percent for each increase on the five-point scale measuring Bible-reading frequency.

I can testify to this from personal experience. In my youth I went from liberal to progressive and back to liberal again.

In 1953, when I was 12 years old, I was passing through Sydenham, Johannesburg and saw a house with a big banner outside that read “Liberal Party of South Africa”. We had just had a general election, so I was aware of some of the political parties, but this was a new one. When I got home I asked my parents about it, and they said that “liberal” meant freedom, so I thought it was probably a good thing.

A few months later the school I attended (St Stithian’s College), which had started at the beginning of the year, was officially opened, and Mrs Mountstephens, the widow of one of the founders, unveiled a bronze plaque (which is still there if metal thieves haven’t made off with it), which said that the school was founded to provide “a liberal education with a Christian teaching”. We joked that while it may have been liberal, it wasn’t free, in view of the fees our parents had to pay.

But the school did just that. It did indeed provide a liberal education with a Christian teaching.

It was our Conservative Evangelical loony leftist geography teacher (who died recently — see Notes from underground: Steyn Krige, RIP) who dragged me out of my heathen upbringing and got me reading the Bible, and over the next two years I read the King James version from cover to cover, twice (the second time with the Apocrypha).

The headmaster, Wally Mears, was the son of Methodist missionaries, and chose the magazines and newspapers for the school common room, among which was the Liberal Party-aligned Contact. Once, when it was my duty to fetch the papers from his house and take them to the common room, he singled out Contact and told me “it gives the best idea of the position of the natives.” It sounded odd and old fashioned even then, but his heart was in the right place.

I left school and was induced by some friends to join the Progressive Party. After reading Neville Shute’s novel In the wet I rather liked the idea of multiple voting, and hoped that the Progressive Party might adopt such an idea. I even attended a party congress, where I suggested it, but it clearly didn’t appeal to any one else, and after endless wranglings over franchise policy with A rolls and B rolls I lost interest.

I went to the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg and majored in Biblical Studies, and so began reading the Bible again more seriously. And it became clear to me that whereas the National Party stood for racial discrimination, and wanted only whites to vote for the national parliament, the Progressive Party rejected racial discrimination, and wanted to replace it with class discrimination, with a qualified franchise that gave votes only to the rich and educated.

So the National Party said that only whites were fit to rule, and the Progressive Party said that only the wealthy were fit to rule. And the Bible turned their reasoning upside down and said that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, so no one was fit to rule. And the Liberal Party had the policy of one man, one vote, and that seemed somehow closer to a God who puts down the mighty from their seat, and exalts the humble and meek. In those days Anglicans used to sing that every Sunday at Evensong, so it tended to sink in, and the Orthodox still sing it every Sunday at Matins.

Studying the Bible again reminded me that the Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. The Lord sets the prisoners free, and helpeth them to right that suffer wrong.

It was the Bible that reminded me that when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.

And when Steve Biko was beaten to death in a prison cell and Phakamile Mabija was defenestrated from the Security Police offices in Kimberley, I could say, with the Psalmist:

You never consent to that corrupt tribunal
that imposes disorder as law
that takes the life of the virtuous
and condemns the innocent to death (Ps 94:20-21).

Yes, frequent Bible reading makes you liberal, unless your eyes are shut and your ears dull, so that you will not see with your eyes, hear with your ears, understand with your heart, and be converted and healed (Isa 6:10).


8 Comments leave one →
  1. 21 October 2011 8:27 am

    Hi Steve,


    Now that’s the sort of Christianity I think Christ would want to see more of. Not people who are too lazy to form their own opinions by reading for themselves, but who prefer to sit there and believe or think what other people preach at them, or tell them to.

    All the best,


  2. 21 October 2011 11:06 am

    I suppose it is relevant to note that this means politically liberal and not theologically liberal?

    • 21 October 2011 1:30 pm

      Yes, and I would say not economic liberalism (ie laissez-faire) either.

  3. 21 October 2011 4:50 pm

    Here in the UK I note that most members of the Liberal Party are probably atheists.

    Recently I emailed a local Liberal Party MP and asked her to remove my name from her email list. I had got fed up with her promoting Gay Marriage and Gay Rights.


  4. 24 October 2011 2:08 am

    If this post causes more people, both liberal and conservative, to read the bible, I’m in favor…

  5. 24 October 2011 9:31 am

    A wonderful post, Steve. This is something most religions I’m familiar with have in common, and I confess the sheer determined ignorance of tradition-thumping of neo-conservatives makes me hold them in far greater contempt than I charitably should. It’s not the ignorance I mind, per se, but the aggressive preservation of it. Also, as someone who believes very deeply in the divine, this dismissal of religion in the name of promoting it disgusts me. It seems to go against every instinct of charity, humility and fellow-feeling most religions I know espouse.


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