Charleston’s premier atheist, Herb Silverman, loves a good debate, especially with the Holy City’s throngs of religious faithful. He especially likes when they toss Bible passages at him to reinforce their views.
In a favored game, he will throw back a lesser-known passage that contradicts the Scripture they’ve quoted.
“They’ll say, ‘That isn’t really in the Bible.'” Or, “You’ve taken that out of context.”
“But I usually cannot get them to tell me what that context is,” said Silverman, a mathematics professor emeritus, author and one-time gubernatorial candidate. He isn’t trying to convert them all to atheism, nor does he think they are wrong on all points.
“I just want them to think critically about what they believe,” he said. “A lot of them have only learned the good parts (of the Bible) or just whatever their minister has told them.”
Increasingly, the former Orthodox Jew appears to be correct on that point.
Even as the faithful rely on Scripture to wage battles against hot-potato social issues such as gay marriage and abortion, many adults today aren’t spending much time reading the holy books upon whose tenets they base highly impassioned viewpoints, recent studies show.
Take the Barna Group’s State of the Bible Report for 2014, released this spring. One in four adults it surveyed said they never read the Bible. One in 10 read it less than once a year outside of church. About the same number read it only twice a year.
That leaves nearly half of all Americans in a group it calls “non-Bible readers.” And the youngest adults, those ages 18 to 29, are least likely to read the Bible or to consider it sacred, according to the study funded by the American Bible Society.
This decline in biblical literacy alarms clergy and the most devoted lay people. After all, how can people receive – and spread – the “good news” if they don’t know it well themselves?
“This is a very serious issue,” said the Rev. Michael Bryant, dean of the Charleston Southern University’s School Christian Studies. “We have entered a new age that truly is post-Christian or anti-Christian.”