Saturday, June 28, 2008

America…a Nation of Religious Illiterates?

A friend sent me this article which I found quite thought provoking. Isn’t it amazing that a people so focused on religion…in politics on down…can be so ignorant or illiterate about their own professed faith? In a day and age when modern religion crusades are upon us again and what a person has FAITH in determines their leaderhip capability seems paramount that a thinking person know and understand the various religions these conflicts are all about. I also think I will order Prothero's book on "Religious Literacy"...

The article speaks for itself and deserves a re-quote here on my blog…

The Great Disconnect
by Alexander Green

Dear Reader,
Surveys show that out of every ten Americans, nine believe in God, eight say that God is important to them personally, and more than seven report praying daily.
The United States is among the most religious nations on earth. But there is a disconnect here. Consider a few sobering facts gleaned from Stephen Prothero's new book "Religious Literacy":

* Only half of Americans can name even one of the four gospels.
* The majority cannot name the first book of the Bible.
* Only one third know that it was Jesus who delivered the Sermon on the Mount.
* Most Americans don't know that Easter commemorates the resurrection.
* A majority wrongly believes that Jesus was born in Jerusalem.
* Most Americans do not know that the Trinity comprises the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
* The most widely quoted Bible verse in the United States - "The Lord helps those who helps themselves" - is not in the Bible.
* Ten percent of Americans believe Joan of Arc was Noah's wife.

Personally, I'm embarrassed for my fellow countrymen. Evangelical David E. Wells says the Good Book is fast becoming "The Greatest Story Never Read." Historian R. Laurence Moore has a harsher assessment. He says Americans "are stupefyingly dumb about what they are supposed to believe."

Without some understanding of religion, for example, how can we possibly comprehend American history? The pilgrims risked their lives to come here and worship as they pleased. The American Revolution was launched with a declaration that men "are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights." It was the doctrine of Manifest Destiny that propelled Americans westward. Even the Civil War was enveloped in religious controversy. Most southerners believed they were on the winning side of a theological argument. ("Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ." Ephesians 6:5)

Without an understanding of religion, how can we grasp current events? Look at recent conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, or India and Pakistan. Each has religious underpinnings. When Osama bin Laden says his strategy is to engage "the crusader-Zionist alliance" in a clash of civilizations, most Americans don't even understand the reference.

How can we be ignorant of religion and consider ourselves informed voters? Faith looms large in controversies over government funding of stem-cell research, abortion rights, creationism, and gay marriage.

At least minimal religious literacy is necessary to appreciate great music, literature, and art. What are we to make of the paintings of El Greco or Bach's Mass in B Minor if we have no understanding of the religious beliefs of the era or the spiritual impulses of the artists?

How can we understand international culture without knowing something about the world's five major religions? Forget about understanding Buddhism's Four Noble Truths or the Five Pillars of Islam. Polls show the majority of Americans can't even name these two religions.

Prothero, the chair of the religion department at Boston University, observes that, "Americans are both deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion... Here faith is almost entirely devoid of content. One of the most religious countries on earth is also a nation of religious illiterates."

What is the solution? Education. We can educate our children in our homes. We can teach them in our places of worship. But we should also teach something about religion in public schools.

Some will argue this is unconstitutional. Not so.
As Prothero notes, the Supreme Court "has repeatedly and explicitly given a constitutional seal of approval to teaching about religion... [provided the crucial distinction is made] between theology and religious studies - between what Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg called 'the teaching of religion' (which is unconstitutional) and 'the teaching about religion' (which is not). "Most of us are sensible about this. After all, it is unlikely your fourth-grade teacher told you, "The pilgrims came to America to escape persecution. I can't tell you what kind." Unfortunately, teaching much more than this about religion will not happen in most school districts. Teachers, principals, school boards and textbook publishers simply don't want to wade into the firestorm.

Ironically, militant atheists - who don't want their children exposed to any religion - and fundamentalists - who don't want their children exposed to the wrong religion - have joined hands on this one. However, nothing can stop us, or should stop us, from educating ourselves. A good place to start is Prothero's book - which contains a dictionary of religious literacy - and, of course, the holy texts themselves.

As Marie Curie said, "Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood."

Carpe Diem,


1 comment:

Bibiana said...

Bueno, como siempre he afirmado, Norte America es un hermoso pais con gente buena.

Pero lastimosamente, desde el comienzo de la nacion, entiendo, que llegaron muchos inmigrantes con diferentes culturas, influencias diferentes, religiones y estilos de vida.

Todas estas iglesias con sus pastores, quieren ganar dinero y adeptos, por el poder y alimentar su ego.

No es nada religioso ni espiritual, es una lucha de titanes.

Asi nacio y crecio el pais, es muy dificil para intentar un cambio ahora, despues de tantos anos.