Americans are rather religious people. By overwhelming numbers we say that we believe in God, but do we truly understand what we believe? Or, do we believe in God because, well, because we do? That is, unless forced to wrestle with the question of God's existence or presence, we simply assume it to be true. I grew up believing in Santa Claus, but at a certain age, I let it go. Is belief in God simply an unwillingness to face facts?
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life conducted a survey, asking via phone calls, a series of questions on religious knowledge, 15 of which can be found online. The results are rather disheartening. The average score on this quiz is 50%. That is an F! Atheists do best, scoring around 65%. That's a D, but still better than most Christians, evangelical or mainline, who score closer to the average.
From the executive summary we read:
On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.
But does it matter if Christians know the names of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), or that Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt, or that the majority of Pakistanis are Muslim? Or, when it comes to faith, is ignorance bliss? As long as I feel close to God, do I need anything more?
My answer is, yes, it does matter. Lack of understanding/knowledge can lead to major misunderstandings and misapplications of one's faith. It leads to stereotyping of others, leading to fear and mistrust, and even, in some cases, to religious violence. The question is: what do we do about the problem?
Well, we could:
- Teach comparative religions in our schools -- note I said comparative religions, with each religion being given equal footing in the conversation. (A majority of persons answering the questions didn't know that the Bible can be taught as literature or that comparative religions can be taught in public school).
- Be more attentive to teaching the faith in our churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples -- a reminder that our educational component has fallen short in recent years).
- Take personal responsibility and read about our own faith and the faiths of others.