Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Religious Literacy

It hardly needs saying, but a lot of people think they know more about God, the Bible, Jesus, etc., than they actually do. In fact, Religious Literacy has been on the decline in North America for a long time. I'm not just lamenting the fact that people don't understand the Doctrine of the Trinity, I'm speaking of the kind of basic knowledge that would seem to be part of the common cultural vocabulary.

Doug Cowling pointed me to a recent article in the National Catholic Reporter that points out that people's ignorance of non-Christian religions is just as bad:
“That paradox is this: Americans are both deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion,” he writes. “They are Protestants who can’t name the four Gospels, Catholics who can’t name the seven sacraments, and Jews who can’t name the five books of Moses. ... One of the most religious countries on earth is also a nation of religious illiterates.”

Prothero blames the emphasis on emotionalism that began during the Second Great Awakening, which also provided the roots of evangelical Protestantism. In other words, if Jesus is my best friend, it doesn’t matter that I can’t name his 12 apostles. (source)

I remember once having a conversation with someone once who steadfastly held to a belief that was simply not true, historically speaking. The evidence was overwhelmingly on my side, but she kept saying that it was merely my opinion. I realized that it was because the issue had religious implications that she felt free to completely ignore the tools of rational discourse that are the foundations of western knowledge. Somehow, when it comes to faith, people are allowed to think whatever they want, even in those cases where they are simply being ignorant. Sigh.


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