Is Ignorance Bliss? Thoughts on Pew Survey on Religious Knowledge

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.    


Brian said…
One small step that I would like to see is a return to good old-fashioned Bible study. We don't need expensive pre-packaged curriculum to gather together, read the text, and discuss it in love.

I also think us on the left side would benefit by teaching our kids some Bible memorization. I know it is considered "evangelical", but I don't see why it has to be. I wouldn't want it to be a stressful event, just help kids memorize some verses a a church.

These are not offerd as solutions, but as pieces of the puzzle.
Allan R. Bevere said…
Bob, a helpful post.

In my experience, not only do many Christians not know that the Bible can be taught as literature in public schools, but in my itinerant travels as a UM pastor I have discovered that a rather alarming percentage of educators in our schools do not know that the Bible can be taught as literature.
David said…
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David said…
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Brian said…
David - Edwards is a hoot! You'll have a good time reading him. He's most famous for his sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". The old boy was a marketing wiz.
David said…
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