April 3, 2013

Mark Millican: ‘The Bible’: More than entertainment?

Mark Millican

— Two angels fight like Ninja warriors, kicking and slashing a path out of Sodom before all hell breaks loose.

Samson, taught in most Sunday school classrooms as a hunky white guy whose flowing locks produced superhuman strength, is portrayed as a black man who looks like he could play tackle for the Falcons.

Then Simon of Cyrene, compelled by Roman soldiers to help a faltering Christ carry his cross to Golgotha, is also black.

All these images likely challenged some who watched the recent five-week series “The Bible” on the History channel — despite the fact Jesus hid out in Africa and angels have been known to kick a few demon butts. A TV audience of millions included those tired of “American Idol” and other reality shows who are evidently searching for something more than the next singing heartthrob or novelty act.

But are they … searching for something more, that is?

The answer appears to be mixed, according to the recent “State of the Bible” survey released annually by the American Bible Society. The report, as detailed at breakingchristiannews.com, finds 77 percent of Americans believe morals and values are declining in the United States — and the most-cited cause is a lack of Bible reading.

“But beliefs about the Bible and its role in society are becoming increasingly polarized — particularly when the data is examined by age group,” the news site said of the Barna Group findings for the society. “The research also uncovered a significant disconnect in belief versus behavior. While 66 percent of those surveyed agreed that the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life, 58 percent say they do not personally want wisdom and advice from the Bible, and about the same amount (57 percent) read it fewer than five times per year.”

As in previous years, the survey found that the Bible remains a “highly valued, influential force” in America. Specifically:

• The Bible continues to dominate both mind space and book retail space as America’s undisputed bestseller.

• One in six people reported buying a copy of the Bible in the last year.

• 80 percent of Americans identify the Bible as sacred.

• Americans have plenty of copies at their fingertips — an average of 4.4 Bibles per household.

• 56 percent of adults believe the Bible should have a greater role in U.S. society.

• But actual Bible reading and perceptions about the Bible have become increasingly polarized, with 6 million new Bible antagonists in the last year alone.

• More than half (57 percent) of those ages 18-28 report reading the Bible less than three times a year or never.

• While those ages 18-28 are the least likely age group to read the Bible, they are the most interested in receiving input and wisdom from it on several topics, including:

— Parenting (42 percent, compared to 22 percent of all adults).

— Family conflict (40 percent, compared to 24 percent of all adults).

— Dating and relationships (35 percent, compared to 16 percent of all adults).

— Romance and sexuality (30 percent, compared to 17 percent of all adults).

“Americans overwhelmingly recognize the decline of morality in our nation,” said Doug Birdsall, president of the American Bible Society, in light of the findings. “The good news is the Bible is the ultimate instruction guide on how to live a moral life. Unfortunately, more than half of Americans rarely, if ever, read it.”

The “disconnect” between belief about what the Bible is and does — and action when it comes to actually reading it — is troubling, he added.

“If we had a cure for cancer, wouldn’t everyone with cancer take it? Americans are telling us that the cure for declining morality is sitting on our bookshelves,” said Birdsall. “But more than half of Americans are simply letting the cure gather dust.”

Will “The Bible” miniseries, already being picked up by other cable channels — and other Bible-based productions that are under way — influence more Americans to read one of the many copies they already have in their home?

Could be.

If you’re one of those potential readers, do you believe spending time reading the Bible could change your life by providing more peace, confidence, assurance and positive expectancy for the future? Take my word for it, it can.

There are some things we don’t need a survey to tell us.

Mark Millican is a former Daily Citizen staff writer.