Monday, April 9, 2007

Religious Ignorance

Stephen Prothero, the chairman of Boston University's religion department has just written a new book 'Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - And Doesn't, that raises serious questions about Americans' knowledge about religion--both about their own religion, and the religion of others. As this article reports:

Prothero and others have found a shocking lack of knowledge about the religions to which Americans purport to belong, bested only by their ignorance of religions to which they don't belong.

Surveys say only half of America's adults can name any of the four Gospels. Most Americans can't name the first book of the Bible.

Only one-third know that Jesus (not Billy Graham) delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and most Americans think Jesus was born in Jerusalem. (It was Bethlehem.)

What is especially interesting, however, is Professor Prothero's discussion about the lack of religious knowledge even among the faithful:

In this country, Christianity, in particular, has migrated from doctrinal and narrative components to a focus on religious experience that doesn't appear to require a knowledge of the Scriptures, Prothero believes.

''Being a Christian has become synonymous with having a born-again experience or opposing abortion and stem-cell research,'' he said. ''American Christians focus on loving Jesus rather than learning what he taught.''

. . .

The problem is not hypocrisy, Prothero says, so much as ignorance.
''When I give my students the religious literacy quiz that's in my book, I find Catholics who don't know the Seven Sacraments, Protestants who can't name any of the four Gospels and Jews who can't name the first book of their Bible. That doesn't make them pseudo-religious. It just makes them believers who don't really know what they are believing in,'' he said.


Prothero's prescription is apparently more non-sectarian education about religion in schools . In my view, however, Prothero's survey suggest that churches themselves need to do a better job of educating their own members about their own faith.

4 comments:

ALM said...

The "On Faith" online discussion at WashPost and Newsweek recently had an extended discussion with heavy hitters in the panel. The general conclusion seemed to be that it was unwise to have a class specifically devoted to Religion (necessarily Comparative Religion, so as not to favor one religion over another) at the secondary school level due to the sensitive nature of the subject. Such a course topic should be given at the college level.

It is up to the parents to ensure that their children are educated in the religious path they are following. And this is usually readily available.

A link to the discussion:

http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/2007/03/religion_in_schools/

janinsanfran said...

Amen to the notion that churches need to educate their members about the fundamentals of their belief systems. I think "insiders" -- the existing membership -- assume they know what should be known -- and that newcomers will assimilate it just has they have. Only, more and more in a secular society, nobody has assimilated much.

Chuck Blanchard said...

I agree with both of you. I think that religious education is first and foremost the responsibility of families and the Church. We make a mistake when we assume that everyone who worships with us has knoweldge.

Chuck Blanchard said...

I agree with both of you. I think that religious education is first and foremost the responsibility of families and the Church. We make a mistake when we assume that everyone who worships with us has knoweldge.