Some faith adages roll off the tongue, like "God helps those who help themselves." But that particular saying is not biblical and, in fact, violates a primary scriptural teaching that only God determines a person's destiny, according to religion analyst George Barna.
To see how many people would agree with the saying, Barna included it among 14 statements in a survey of religious beliefs conducted recently by his Oxnard-based research organization. The survey was intended to see whether religious attitudes of Americans coincide with Old and New Testament teachings.
The results of Barna's dozen or so yearly surveys on faith and culture are meant to help Christian pastors and groups focus their ministries.
"God helps those who help themselves" is an ancient proverb that shows up in the literature of many cultures, including a 1736 edition of Benjamin Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanac." But it does not appear in the Bible and suggests a spiritual self-reliance inconsistent with Christianity, said David Kinnaman, vice president of the Barna Research Group.
Yet when asked to comment on the statement "The Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves," 75% of the 1,002 survey respondents agreed.
Kinnaman estimated that more than 30 faiths were represented in the random telephone sampling of U.S. adults, including Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Baha'is and Muslims. Atheists also were represented.
"The fact that most adults, born again or not, believe the Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves exposes our theological cornerstone--that we are the center of all things, that it is up to us to determine our destiny, and that God is merely our assistant, not our foundation," Barna wrote in his analysis of the survey.
Among other "conflicting positions" with the Bible, 61% of all respondents said the holy spirit is a symbol of God's presence but not a living entity, and 58% denied the existence of Satan; a substantial minority, 44%, said all faiths are basically the same.
Barna called "astonishing" the numbers of born-again Christians whose views appear to conflict with the Bible. More than 40% of that group believe that the "God helps those who help themselves" proverb is biblically based and that the holy spirit and Satan do not exist. More than 20% denied Jesus' physical resurrection and said Jesus the man was a sinner.