It’s January 5 — do you know where your New Year’s resolution is? Only 75 percent of you will by the end of the week!
If your New Year’s resolution is to read the Bible through in 2015, you’re in good company.
It’s not in the top 10 resolutions list for 2015. Nonetheless more than 500,000 around the world have resolved to take part in just one organized read-through — Episcopalian minister the Rev. Marek P. Zabriski’s annual The Bible Challenge — with many multiples of that participating in church-size, small group, family or personal journeys (with that, I humbly say, “Stuff it!” to all of the post-Christianity, religion-is-dead” myth-mongers).
The numbers of people who have attained that goal, whether as a New Year’s resolution; all within a year; or simply ever, is respectable — 61 percent of evangelicals report having done so. So they say.
I’m skeptical — that number is way too high for the reality I’ve encountered. Maybe it was a study done in the 1940s when parochial schools and Sunday Schools were more ubiquitous and rigorous — when Bible reading was more compulsory (y’know, back in the the good ol’ days when people knew what words like ubiquitous and rigorous and compulsory meant). Heck, only 71 percent of today’s ‘Merican population possesses more than a “basic” reading level, and wholly 14 percent of us are illiterate — although the CIA Factbook credits our Great Nation with a 99 percent literacy rate.
I think maybe the 61 percent mean the bible, not THE Bible:
Pollster: “Have you ever read the Bible?”
Man on the Street’s Thoughts: “Fisherman’s Bible of Sport Trophy and Game — that’s gotta count!”
Man on the Street: “Oh yeah. Sure I’ve read it!”
Or, maybe the response is aspirational. Recent studies have found that when asked how often they attend church in polls, people tend to heavily skew up their responses when compared to actual attendance counts — anywhere from double up to five times over. Researchers attribute this to aspirational bias — the desire to be the kind of person one wants to be, versus the kind of person one really is. Whereas according to the study It’s likely that Bible read-through respondents are similar in this respect — and the real number is likely lower, and possibly much lower.
If you’re amongst the “39 percent” who presumably wants to but who hasn’t got it done yet, please set aside the Dan Brown self-flagellation kit and put the task in perspective:
- The modest completion numbers speak to the difficulty of the task — if it was easy, more people would have done it already.
- The Bible is not just “The Good Book,” but really is 66 books bound together into a single-volume anthology. Granted, some books are Bible-tract sized (3 John, the shortest at 219 words, would not even qualify for the #WPLongform hashtag), though Jeremiah is on par with Orwell’s Animal Farm — 33,002 : 29,966.
- Reading all 807,361 words of the Bible is on par with reading the entire Harry Potter series. (Well, leave The Deathly Hallows‘ 198,227 words out of the total of 1,084,170 to get closer parity). How long did it take you to do that? Excluding, of course, time spent waiting for the next book in the series to be published.
- Alternatively, it’s really more like reading the 37 collected plays of William Shakespeare (at 835,997 words, also similar in length to the Bible) given the differences in language, setting, culture contexts between then and now, etc. Like Shakespeare, while the Bible also has mystery, drama, intrigue, supernatural happenings, suspense, sex and betrayal, even the best translations aren’t highly readable.
So with those encouraging comparisons, set yourself up for success against the formidable task. Come back soon for Part II, which offers links to reading plans and tips for keeping this resolution!
The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.