May 15, 2006From the Archives
Da Vinci Code Confirms Rather Than Changes People’s Religious Views
Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code , has sold more copies than any other fictional work in U.S. history. With the release of the movie adaptation on May 19, interest in this controversial tale has risen substantially. A new nationwide survey by The Barna Group says that the book has impacted millions of lives -but perhaps not in the way that many Christians have imagined.
According to the Barna research, The Da Vinci Code has been read “cover to cover” by roughly 45 million adults in the U.S. – that’s one out of every five adults (20%). That makes it the most widely read book with a spiritual theme, other than the Bible, to have penetrated American homes.
The audience profile of the book is intriguing. Despite critical comments and warnings from the Catholic hierarchy, American Catholics are more likely than Protestants to have read it (24% versus 15%, respectively). Among Protestants, those associated with a mainline church are almost three times more likely than those associated with non-mainline Protestant congregations to have read the book. Upscale individuals – i.e., those with a college degree and whose household income exceeds $60,000 – are nearly four times more likely to have read the book than are “downscale” people (i.e., those without a college degree and whose household income is $30,000 or less).
Perceived Value of the Content
Among the adults who have read the entire book, one out of every four (24%) said the book was either “extremely,” “very,” or “somewhat” helpful in relation to their “personal spiritual growth or understanding.” That translates to about 11 million adults who consider The Da Vinci Code to have been a helpful spiritual document.
To place that figure in context, the Barna study revealed that another recently published popular novel about Jesus Christ – Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt , written by Anne Rice – was deemed to be spiritually helpful by 72% of its readers – three times the proportion who lauded Dan Brown’s book.
Changing People’s Beliefs
The study also explored whether or not the book caused people to change some of their religious beliefs. Among the 45 million who have read The Da Vinci Code , only 5% – which represents about two million adults – said that they changed any of the beliefs or religious perspectives because of the book’s content.
“Before reading The Da Vinci Code people had a full complement of beliefs already in place, some firmly held and others loosely held,” explained George Barna, the author of numerous books about faith and culture. “Upon reading the book, many people encountered information that confirmed what they already believed. Many readers found information that served to connect some of their beliefs in new ways. But few people changed their pre-existing beliefs because of what they read in the novel. And even fewer people approached the book with a truly open mind regarding the controversial matters in question, and emerged with a new theological perspective. The book generates controversy and discussions, but it has not revolutionized the way that Americans think about Jesus, the Church or the Bible.”
“On the other hand,” the researcher continued, “any book that alters one or more theological views among two million people is not to be dismissed lightly. That’s more people than will change any of their beliefs as a result of exposure to the teaching offered at all of the nation’s Christian churches combined during a typical week.”
The people most likely to have altered their religious views in response to the book’s content were Hispanics (17% of those who read the book), women (three times more likely than male readers to do so), and liberals (twice as likely as conservatives). Upscale adults were also much more likely than downscale individuals to shift their thinking based on the novel.
The Movie: A Blockbuster?
Industry observers expect the movie to be a hit. But how big of a hit is it likely to be? And what degree of influence is the movie likely to have?
The Barna study indicates that more than 30 million adults are likely to pay for a ticket to see the film – unless the early buzz regarding the film is negative. The company estimates that the movie is poised to break the $300 million box office barrier, based on the current level and intensity of interest expressed by adults. Reaching that plateau would place the movie among the top 20 movies of all-time based upon domestic box office gross revenue.
The statistics reveal that two out of every three people who are likely to see the movie have already read the book. That means more than 10 million adults who have not yet read the book are likely to journey to a theater to see the film.
Barna noted that if the movie has a similar level of influence on movie-goers as the book has had on adult readers, then about a half-million adults could be expected to change one or more of their religious beliefs based upon the movie’s content. The most significant impact, he noted, could well be on the young people who see the movie, since their belief systems are still in the process of development and are more susceptible to new teachings. Barna also mentioned the potential effect of the DVD on millions more people who do not see the movie in the theater, but rent or buy it for home viewing after the theatrical run is completed. “We know that in a home setting, young people frequently watch movies over and over, memorizing lines and absorbing ideas that they might not have caught during their first viewing.” He also stated that some studies have shown that movies have greater “stickiness” with information than do print materials, possibly making the movie even more influential than the book in terms of long-term impact on people’s spiritual development.
The Barna survey also indicates that the audience segments most likely to attend the movie are people under 35; Catholics; Hispanics; and political liberals. On the spiritual side, people who are not born again Christians are almost twice as likely to see the movie as are people whose beliefs classify them as “born again.”
The data in this report are based on interviews with 1003 adults from across the nation. These telephone surveys were conducted by The Barna Group, during May 2006, based upon a random sample of people 18 years of age and older living within the 48 continental states. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample of adults is ±3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. In the research, the distribution of survey respondents corresponded to the geographic dispersion of the U.S. population. Multiple callbacks were used to increase the probability of including a reliable distribution of qualified individuals.
“Born again Christians” are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”
Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.
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