Not long ago, we got treated to a new report detailing the further decline of Christianity in America. One part of it got our attention more than others: the study’s definition of Bible users. Indeed, there was a lot about that report that seemed to exist only so its publishers could squeeze extra sales out of their following. Today, let me show you the sheer self-interest in the State of the Bible 2022 report.
(Emphases and quotes come from original sources. Page numbers come from the State of the Bible 2022 report. Except as noted, page numbers correspond to the printed page numbers in the document itself, not their placement in the PDF file.)
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Situation Report: State of the Bible 2022
Ever since 2010, the American Bible Society (ABS) has conducted and then published State of the Bible reports. They also publish a whole range of Bibles, resources, and study/devotional guides (including a phone app). Their ministry arm collects money to send Bibles to various groups, including rural Chinese people and American active-duty military personnel.
And ever since 2010, a good five years before Christian leaders accepted that Christianity was well and truly in decline, this study’s creators have expressed alarm about their results. In that first year, the president of the ABS tells us, they discovered something that horrified them (but won’t surprise anybody outside of their faith):
I was troubled by the finding that 10 percent of Americans had an unfavorable view of the Bible. Speaking at a major inter-church conference about the survey, I must have sounded rather alarmist.
But don’t worry! A monk at that conference Jesus juked him, yanking him through public shaming back to the party line of enforced optimism in the ineffable plan:
The next speaker, a Dominican monk, gently corrected me. “I hear what you’re saying,” he began, “but let’s remember two things: God is not surprised by the data, and God already knows what he’s going to do with it.”
Apparently, “God” wanted Christianity to bleed more members and lose more credibility in the next twelve years, because that’s what then happened.
Now we’re at the State of the Bible 2022. Not much has changed since 2010. This time, the president of ABS is using much the same shaming technique on those reading the 2022 report.
It’s that bad.
Spotting self-interest in the State of the Bible 2022
Whatever else one can say about ABS, they operate a business. Its owners need it to support itself. And they have chosen to accomplish this goal through the selling of Bibles and Bible-related media. They operate charities that donate the same stuff to various people, and those charities need donors.
These annual reports, then, will first and foremost make readers think that it is of vital importance that they keep buying ABS products and helping ABS donate the stuff that ABS wants to donate to others.
ABS stresses that importance at what I regard as the strangest times in the report. They hit that beat often and with force.
It’s even funnier when one remembers just how disastrous it is to suggest Christians read their Bibles more often than they do. Any number of ex-Christians’ ex-timonies begin by remarking on how strange it was that the Bible itself sparked dealbreaking doubts in them.
And I’d be one of those myself.
How ABS betrays their self-interest in State of the Bible 2022
Like on page 16, the report creators mention that almost a quarter of American households do not own a single Bible! OMG! OMGWTFBBQ! They end that section thusly:
The work of Bible distribution is not completed. Many people still need God’s Word in languages and formats they can access.
HINT. HINT. Then, they discuss how to get “Bible Disengaged” (their emphasis) to read the Bible more often. They offer one possibility on page 19:
[C]ould churches, ministries, and publishers do more with those guides that say, “When you feel like this, read this”—and not only for the Bible readers in our churches, but for the non-Bible readers as well?
In turn, I bet they offer at least a few such resources already. A company that sells an honest-to-goodness “Hockey New Testament” and a Bible designed around self-healing one’s own trauma must offer those cheesy cards that tell people to read such-and-such Bible verses whenever they feel this-and-that way, like this one:
ABS is being as subtle as a truck fire in State of the Bible 2022. Next, they start wondering aloud if maybe people just need a Bible in, oh they dunno, like a different format or something. Maybe.
Oh look! They offer a lot of differently-formatted Bibles!
And apps! Did we mention their Bible app yet? It is theirs. And it is an app about the Bible. It is their Bible app.
(Sometimes, I just like saying “app.” App app app app!)
Self-interest! Self-interest everywhere!
It’s just so funny. Once you notice Christian self-interest, you can’t stop noticing it.
Here’s their call-to-action card on page 53 of the PDF (after the numbered page 28 of the document, and as always, emphases theirs):
Show people—especially those under age 25—how to start reading Scripture.
Consider the Start Here resource from American Bible Society
The link goes to a free downloadable file containing a one-year “Reading Plan” for the Bible. Then, the card suggests that Christians “create or curate mood-based resources to meet non-Bible Users at their point of need.”
As we discovered recently, the term “Bible User” is a special one in State of the Bible 2022. It means someone who voluntarily engages with the Bible three or four times a year in any format whatsoever. And that number has dipped alarmingly this past year, from 50% in 2021 to 39% in 2022 (page x). Here’s their breakdown of the numbers claimed by respondents:
And when the study creators ask about Bible use, here are the formats respondents could pick:
Incredible. Half of their users overall said they listened at least sometimes to podcasts to get their Bible time in. Or watched a video somewhere that was “Bible-based.”
At some point, State of the Bible 2022 starts to feel like a Christian attempt at parody
I bet ABS wishes they were joking here. This is absolutely dismal. Remember, all someone needs to do to be called a “Bible user” is read some Bible verse or hear it or enroll to engage with it a few times a year. That’s somewhere between the north end of “monthly” and the south end of “rarely” in the above graph.
I just can’t. When I got to page 28, which gloats about “the great deal of curiosity” Americans have about the Bible, I just about could not breathe for laughing. This would be the most Kafkaesque parody ever if it weren’t so stultifyingly, ponderously self-fellating.
Yes, we can all tell that Americans are incredibly curious about the Bible. We can tell cuz of how many of them even look at a Bible more than three times a year. Yep, that’s a surefire hint right there.
Americans’ “curiosity” about the Bible sounds more like what Rimmer says about failing his exams in Red Dwarf: “No! It would be a rare—nay, freak occurrence!”
The path to using the Bible to learn about Jesus (would probably piss off evangelicals)
On page 55 of the PDF file, we find a subsection about how ABS thinks people come to Christianity through the Bible. I don’t think they’re completely wrong here, but they mix a lot of wishful thinking into their few data points.
Here’s what State of the Bible 2022 says about how people use the Bible to arrive at Christian faith, paraphrased by Yr. Loyal &tc. Corr. Captain:
- They must be at least semi-indoctrinated in Christianity in childhood. If their home lacks a Bible, chances are good nobody in the household cares much about the religion based on it.
- All the same, nobody becomes Christian without reading the Bible somehow. They include listening to or watching it in any form, which I suppose might indicate sermons or evangelistic exhortations. This part sounds like pure ABS hopefulness in salesmanship form. I honestly can’t think of anyone I ever met as a fundagelical who just read a Bible verse or chapter and converted based on that. I’m sure they exist, but it seems like someone has to make the actual sales pitch for the customer to bite.
- Most people who convert have experienced a “disruption.” Yes, this seems true too. Christians need people to be vulnerable to their come-ons and threats, and nobody’s more vulnerable than someone who’s just faced a serious life change lately.
- Those disrupted people wonder if the Bible might help them in this unfamiliar new state. “It’s all about ‘me’,” ABS tells us. So they dig in.
- Jesus Power flows into the new Christian…
- … giving them their shiny new Jesus Aura.
- Now, the new convert carefully studies the Bible to figure out how to live as a Christian. I’m sure this effort will prove just as informative for them as it was for me.
- Hooray Team Jesus! The new convert starts “flourishing!”
At any one of those stages, ABS likely has a product to meet the need. In reality, of course, we know that almost nobody gets to step 7. State of the Bible 2022 already told us this.
State of the Bible 2022 was written by Bible salespeople
I would hardly expect ABS to put out a big study showing that the Bible is next to useless in recruiting new Christians. Or that studying it carefully can lead to two Christians having radically different interpretations of its troubling, maddeningly-self-contradictory texts. Or that reading it could backfire dramatically by deconverting a Christian whose faith is teeter-tottering over the edge of imploding doubt, as it did in my personal case.
Seminary graduates have spent many years studying the Bible, learning to write fluently in its primary languages, and learning about its books’ backgrounds and possible contributors. And even they don’t know what significant parts of it really mean. There’s a whole term called hapax legomena that indicates words that only appear one time in the Bible and don’t have any known meaning. As that link tells us, the Hebrew Bible itself has about 400 significant ones and 1500 overall.
(The considerably shorter New Testament contains 686; 1 Peter contains 62, while 2 Peter contains 54. Two of the terms we still don’t understand, malakos arsenokoitai, are considered by learned bigots-for-Jesus to forbid homosexual sex of any kind between gays or lesbians. This is almost certainly not true.)
Regardless, one thing we can safely say about the Bible is that it does not enthrall Americans much. And I can really understand why. Most of it is fusty, overblown, and difficult to understand even in modern-sounding vernacular like the ABS “Good News Version” of the Bible. What normies can understand sounds bizarre and unpleasant, or like victim-grooming at best. Nor does it take long to realize that its ancient writers are describing a world that does not actually exist, as I did when studying “prayer” that fateful day I deconverted.
But to Bible salespeople, there needs to be this huge, urgent need for Bibles in America. Americans need it bad, they need it now, and they need all the study guides for it that they can get. It’s the most relevant, life-changing book in America! Its salespeople promise us this! They wouldn’t lie, would they?
Sidebar: Why I stopped buying Zen Buddhist books
After I deconverted, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia. (There’s an Atlanta, Idaho, so I feel the need to specify. Pedantry isn’t just a hobby; it’s my way of life.)
For a few years, I’d been cultivating an interest in Zen Buddhism. I found its meditation exercises grounding and calming.
When I moved to Atlanta, I learned about a new pagan bookstore in town, Phoenix & Dragon. (It still exists.) They had a great selection of books about every religion and philosophy under the sun, so I began buying Zen Buddhist books from there.
One day, I was standing in one of their aisles trying to decide which book I’ll get, and I suddenly found enlightenment. Seriously. My realization felt like a real voice speaking from beside me in gentle, kindly tones:
You already know everything you need to know about Zen Buddhism.
Now you must actually do it.
Right then, it felt like my entire world had just been shaken up and set in proper order again. I felt perfectly calm, even though my close-focusing viewpoint had zoomed out to reveal a much bigger (and more awe-inspiring) picture than I’d ever suspected possible.
So I put the book back on its shelf. I never again bought another instructional book about Zen Buddhism.
(However, I got other stuff from there, like this delightfully daffy book that I couldn’t possibly pass up. Cuz c’mon. Knowing me like you do, are you even surprised that it went home with me? Also, they had an unbeatable selection of silver jewelry and interesting incense.)
It seems to me that Christianity should be a bit more like that. Why do Christians need to study for a lifetime, anyway, if its primary commandments straight from Jesus are “Love God with all your heart, soul, and might, and love your neighbor as yourself”? Why do they need an old book of myths to tell them how to do that? Instead, it seems like the more a layperson nowadays drills down on studying and memorizing the Bible, the more it seems like they do it as a tribe-approved substitute for following those two simple rules.
Or, for that matter, why do Christians need to study the Bible to maintain their beliefs in Christianity and convert to it, if the basis of their beliefs is real and self-evident? I don’t need a library full of books to tell me the Sun is real. Or that hospitality and community involvement are good qualities to show toward others, as my flavor of neopaganism taught. My life reinforces both truths every day, even though it’s been years after I drifted out of neopaganism.
What I’m saying is, there’s a reason I converted way more people to Hellenismos, and did it every time by accident, than I ever did to Christianity after many years of trying my very best.
The Bible accidentally shows us that the Christian god can’t possibly exist
I’d love for more people to read the Bible. That’s one of the best ways imaginable to deconvert Christians as well as to deter non-Christians from converting.
I will never in my life ever forget one Roll to Disbelieve commentariat member’s chapter-per-week runthrough of the entire Bible, and all the puzzling, weird, incomprehensibly off-putting things he discovered in it. Nor another person’s beautifully-told rendition of Jesus’ attack on the Jewish temple vendors in a similar series of studies: Jesus and his followers arriving in Jerusalem and surveying the situation, then deciding it was just a bit too late in the day to grandstand properly. So they headed for an inn with plans to make a properly-staged big scene the next day.
(I don’t want to embarrass them by naming them, but I know exactly who they are. I appreciate so much that they did all that work!)
These ongoing reviews of the Bible have made it forever impossible for anyone who read them to think of the Bible as a divinely-inspired book, much less an accurate accounting of a real live god’s demands of humanity. And it was just normal folks who did it.
To borrow from something posted in the Discord: It would not be hard at all for a real live god of Yahweh’s generally-defined nature to create a Bible that really looked and felt both divinely-inspired and accurate. I’ve no doubt I’d find such a book life-altering in every way, and also no doubt that I’d believe with all my heart and soul and might that its god was real.
The Bible is not that book, and Yahweh is not that god. It’s that simple.
State of the Bible 2022 simply confirms what most people already knew about both matters. There is no amount of specialty Bibles, emotion-guide cards, and study guides that’ll induce belief and lifelong affiliation in enough Americans to turn the Good Ship Christianity back around to Port Dominance and away from the iceberg rising in the mists before its prow. But its creators need to sell all of that stuff, and quickly.
Though I do find it useful in a lot of ways, I just can’t forget that to its creators, it is ultimately a potent sales tool.
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