Why do women take the Bible more literally than men? 2-25-19
February 25, 2019
Did you know (I didn't until recently) that women are more likely than men to read the Bible literally? Which is to say that a larger percentage of women than men agree with this statement:
“The Bible means exactly what it says. It should be taken literally, word-for-word, on all subjects.”
I find that gender gap surprising. But a new study from researchers at Baylor University suggests some reasons why it seems to be true. I've just linked you to the study itself, but you probably won't be allowed access to the whole thing unless you've already set up an account with the site. So for the rest of us, here is the press release from Baylor about all of this.
Another reason to read the release instead of the study is that the language in just the abstract of the study is at times almost impenetrable, towit:
"We assess the gender gap in U.S. Christianity by examining in a national sample (Baylor Religion Survey 2010) a particularly robust measure of religiosity: biblical literalism. Women are more likely to report biblical literalism than men in bivariate comparisons, but we argue that intimate attachment to God is a related intervening mechanism. The results of this study indicate: (1) intimate attachment to God is associated with more literal views of the Bible, (2) after accounting for attachment to God women are no longer associated with increased literalism, (3) divine proximity‐seeking behaviors are associated with more literal views of the Bible, (4) proximity‐seeking moderates the relationship between attachment to God and Bible views, and (5) gender moderates the relationship between both attachment to God and proximity‐seeking behaviors and Bible views. The evidence presented here provides a plausible mechanism by which gender differences in biblical literalism may be accounted for."
(Have you been busy with any bivariate comparisons today or studying any divine proximity-seeking behaviors in related intervening mechanisms? Yeah. Me, either.)
As I read this, however, the authors of the study believe that because woman are socialized to have deeper and warmer relationships in general, including their relationship with God, they are naturally led to read the Bible more literally and, thus, are less likely to argue with or challenge the voice of God they find there. Reading the Bible literally, the researchers say, leads to thinking that "God is more like a person, someone you can talk to and who also talks back.”
I don't know how, exactly, to evaluate such studies. But my gut instinct tells me that this conclusion is a reach. My instinct -- which may well be wrong -- would be that when one reads the Bible literally the result is a more distant relationship with God because God, especially in a literal reading, is so mysterious, so strange, so other.
And literalism strikes me as representative of a low view of scripture, requiring little from readers in the way of interpretive work. Indeed, I don't know how you can take the Bible seriously if you take it literally. They seem mutually exclusive enterprises.
At any rate, at least these kinds of studies keep theologians and other scholars employed. And that's a good thing, right?
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THAT CATHOLIC CONFERENCE ON ABUSE
The Vatican conference on sexual abuse in the church wrapped up Sunday. I'm not sure it accomplished much specific, but time will tell. Pope Francis repeated some things he's said in the past about this horror. What matters is what, if anything, happens next to protect children, hold abusers accountable and change the church's institutional structure to prevent future abuse. I think that latter task will be the most difficult, though perhaps the most necessary. Ask me in 10 years how things are going.
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P.S.: My latest Flatland column -- about a Kansas City church making a difference in a tough neighborhood -- now is online here.