It's certainly an eye-popping finding, at first glance: Baylor University researchers are tentatively reporting, according to Christianity Today, that frequent Bible reading makes one more politically left-wing.
There's an important element left out of the headline, namely that, according to a graduate student associated with the research, it focuses on people who read the Bible outside church. Now, this invites more questions, doesn't it? For example:
- Do they mean, simply, people who read the Bible when they aren't in church?
- Do they mean people who get the Bible read to them in church?
- Do they mean those increasingly popular, independent non- and house-church folks, the ones who have taken Protestantism all the way to the end of the line and have decided to protest every single church around them?
The complications grow. For example, the researchers consider a greater propensity to oppose the federal government's massive new powers under the Patriot Act to be evidence of becoming more liberal. But here's the thing. I'm a strong proponent of American Founding principles-the kind of person these Baylor researchers would likely call a conservative. But as an advocate of the U.S. Constitution, I opposed the Patriot Act because I don't trust unchecked federal agents with weapons not to abuse the rights of American citizens.
Likewise my opposition to the death penalty-another indicator to Baylor researchers of liberalism. It's not that I'm particularly animated against putting someone to death for heinous crimes, or even above doing it myself, were the victims people I loved. But again, I've seen enough examples of abuse by thuggish police and crooked prosecutors to make me distrustful of the government's ability to apply this penalty in a just manner.
There are other questions, about material consumption and belief in science. But belief in consuming less is not inherently antithetical to conservatism, as Rod Dreher and others might note. And many of the great conservative apologists of the faith-as well as many great scientists for centuries-saw no need to set science and Christianity at odds. The right course, they believed-and I believe, is to properly delineate the sphere of each and respect what it can and cannot tell you (a lesson that the decidedly unscientific-when it comes to religion-scientist Richard Dawkins would do well to learn).
Finally, topping off these dubious findings, the researchers acknowledge that frequent Bible reading increases the likelihood a person will oppose-not support-abortion and same-sex marriage. So what, in reality, does this study show? Namely, that the good sociologists at Baylor might do well to take a political science course.
But I suppose that doesn't make for as catchy a headline.