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BIble: left ahead?

Last year the former Fox News presenter and tea-party favourite Glenn Beck told US Christians to leave their churches if they heard the language of social justice being used. He might be surprised to discover that a recent survey shows that the more US Christians read their Bibles, the more likely they are to believe that in order to be a good person it was necessary to 'seek social and economic justice'.

In fact, the poll - the Baylor Religion Survey - has demonstrated that, overall, the more that people in the USA read their Bibles, the more progressive they become. Whereas previous surveys had concentrated on people who self-identified as Christian, the Baylor one cross-referenced answers with the amount of time people spend reading the Good Book. The answers have upended any assumptions about what can no longer be called the American Bible belt.

For instance, only 22 per cent of self-confessing evangelicals who are politically conservative with some college education and an average level of income - and who claim to be biblical literalists but do not spend significant amounts of time reading the Bible - will say that reducing consumption is part of ethical living.

But ask a group of people with identical demographics (evangelical, conservative, colleged, average income, biblical literalists) except for the fact that they do spend time reading the Bible, and the figure rises to 44 per cent.

Interestingly, the Bible is not more likely to be read by people who are progressive to begin with. The survey results suggest that conservatives are more likely to spend time with the scriptures - it's just that when they do, they are pushed to the left of the political spectrum. In short, the Bible turns conservatives into progressives.

At least on some issues. Conservatives who read the Bible became more likely to take progressive views on the death penalty, evolution or consumerism. But new questions arise on sexuality. Among all groups who read the Bible, opposition to homosexual unions increased.