A record-low 20% of Americans now believe the Bible is the literal word of God, according to a new survey from Gallup. That's down from 24% the last time the question was asked in 2017, and half of what it was at its 1980 and 1984 high points.
The survey also found that a new high of 29% say the Bible is a collection of "fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man." According to Gallup, this is the first time significantly more Americans have seen the Bible as not divinely inspired than as the literal word of God.
The largest percentage — 49% — chose the middle ground of the Bible is inspired by God and not all of it is to be taken literally.
According to Gallup, the shift in attitudes about the Bible is not surprising, given that a number of indicators show a decline in overall religiosity among the adult U.S. population.
These indicators include declines in formal identification with a religion, self-reported membership in a church, self-reported religious service attendance, personal importance of religion, and a decline in belief in God.
Gallup's question about the Bible includes people who identify with religions other than Christianity, which is about 9% of adult Americans, according to the polling company's latest estimates.
Additionally, the sample includes those who do not report having any specific religious identity at all.
Among those who identify as Christians, a 58% majority say the Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything is to be taken literally, while 25% say it should be interpreted literally, and 16% say it is an ancient book of fables and legends.
Broken down by denomination, 30% of Protestants say that the Bible is literally true compared to 15% of Catholics. Nearly two-thirds of Catholics say that the Bible is the inspired word of God, but every word should not be taken literally.
As in 2017, Gallup found that belief in the literal Bible is highest among those who are more religious and have less formal education. Those identifying as Evangelical or Born Again are much more likely to believe the Bible is literally true, though the percentage is well below 50%, according to Gallup.
How Americans see the Bible is important because the Bible is often used as the basis for policy positions on moral and values issues, including abortion and LGBTQ relationships, Gallup said.
The polling company has been asking Americans about their views on a literal interpretation of the Bible since 1976.
The survey was conducted May 2-22 using a random sample of 1,007 adults, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
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