Mindset List Shows What America Has Lost

Few freshmen recognize the biblical reference to the Good Samaritan.

Few freshmen recognize allusions to the Good Samaritan.

Beloit College’s Mindset List provides another indication that America is moving further from God and the Bible. What can we do to stop the slide?

Each year a much-watched list created by two professors in Wisconsin helps older generations of Americans understand the mental frame of reference of the entering college freshmen. Beloit College’s former Public Affairs Director Ron Nief and Humanities Professor Tom McBride annually create and publish “the Mindset List.”

Originally designed to encourage older professors to beware of making dated references in their courses, it has turned into a yardstick of technological and cultural evolution, explaining what has “always” and “never” been true for entering students.

Some of the items on the newly released list for the class of 2016 are humorous. For example: “Thousands have always been gathering for ‘million-man’ demonstrations in Washington, D.C.”

Mindset List displays biblical disconnect

Sadly, however, one item on the list show a fateful religious and moral disconnect: “The Biblical sources of terms such as ‘Forbidden Fruit,’ ‘The writing on the wall,’ ‘Good Samaritan,’ and ‘The Promised Land’ are unknown to most of them.”

An Associated Press article explains: “They’re also less likely to identify with a specific religion. … ‘When I teach Shakespeare or Milton there are a lot of biblical allusions,’ said McBride, an English professor, ‘and I have to explain them all.’”

Until just a few years ago, the Bible was the centerpiece of American culture, the foundation of our laws, the underpinning of our education and morality. Even people who weren’t Christian or actively religious knew the narratives and the moral framework of the Bible; virtually all treated it with great respect.

Now increasing numbers of young Americans have rarely if ever opened a Bible or heard it read. In popular culture they hear more insulting than reverent references to the Good Book.

The source of wisdom and understanding

But consider what God said to Israel, a downtrodden nation of recently freed slaves.

When God gave His instructions, centered around the 10 Commandments, He told them, “Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’” (Deuteronomy 4:6).

As recently as the 1960s, the United States, still partly guided by the Judeo-Christian values that God gave Israel, was a nation viewed by most people in the world as a wise and understanding people.

In 1962, responding to a toast by President John Kennedy, French Culture Minister André Malraux summed up this admiring view: “The United States of America is the only country which has become the leader of the world without having sought to become that leader, the country to which is entrusted the future, the destiny of mankind. … And it is really strange,” Mr. Malraux concluded, “that in so many millennia there is for the first time today … a country which has become the leader not through conquest but by seeking justice.”

Our historical and religious understanding has become so muddled today that many would reject even the thought that America’s search for justice, and ultimately her greatness, stemmed from her Christian faith. But honest and impartial students of history cannot escape the truth of that powerful connection. The founding fathers were guided by biblical tenets in writing the U.S. Constitution, and the Bible provided the wellspring of American education and societal mores until very recently.

A great loss

America has lost its moral compass; that is why it is losing its greatness and is plagued by a growing list of problems.

Speaking of the Word of God, Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). The truth of the Bible can free us spiritually, but when followed it can also liberate us from a great host of ills that increasingly plague our society: crime, violence, abuse of all kinds and the dishonesty that underlies much of our political discourse and our economic woes.

If we want true solutions, we need to get back to the basics: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).

The further the nation moves from the Bible and the God who inspired it, the further it will fall from the former greatness that was His blessing. And so it is deeply troubling that young Americans show a growing ignorance of the Bible and a growing ambivalence toward or even rejection of Christian principles.

What can you do?

How can you counteract this mind-set in your family?

  • Get to know the Bible yourself; read from it every day.
  • Read the Bible to your children. Try starting with stories in Genesis, Exodus, Judges, Daniel and the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). They will be captivated and enlightened.
  • Help them memorize the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20), the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10) and the fruit of the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:22-23). Songs that set these lists and other Bible lists to music are effective ways of teaching them to children; you can find them at Christian bookstores or websites that sell Bible helps.
  • Examine your life to see how well you apply the principles contained in God’s Word. Help your children do the same; point to the Bible as our moral guide.

Though America is increasingly ignorant of the Bible—and paying a high price for it—as individuals we don’t have to be. We can still reap the rich benefits, both spiritual and physical, that come from knowing and applying the wisdom of the Holy Bible.

Learn more in our section on “The Practical and Priceless Benefits of Bible Study.”

About the Author

Joel Meeker

Joel Meeker

Joel Meeker is a pastor, writer, editor and administrator. He serves as regional director for the French-speaking regions of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, and as chairman of its Board of Directors.

Read More


Discern is published every two months and is available in digital and print versions. Choose your preferred format to start your subscription.

Print subscriptions available in U.S., Canada and Europe


Please choose your region:


Discern Article Series

Christ Versus Christianity
Walk as He Walked
Christianity in Progress
Wonders of God's Creation
Ask a Question