Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Many Americans Know Little About Religion

I'm rarely surprised when I learn that Americans know little about anything but I think that this is somewhat telling:

A new survey of Americans' knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions, while many respondents could not correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths.

Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics who participated in the study didn't know that, according to church teaching, the bread and wine used in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ.

More than half of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation. And about four in 10 Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the greatest rabbis and intellectuals in history, was Jewish.

The survey released Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life aimed to test a broad range of religious knowledge, including understanding of the Bible, core teachings of different faiths and major figures in religious history. The U.S. is one of the most religious countries in the developed world, especially compared to largely secular Western Europe, but faith leaders and educators have long lamented that Americans still know relatively little about religion.
I was not raised religious as a child but rather than leaving me ignorant on the subject I was encouraged to learn more about it and then decide for myself what I believed. I would explain the results of this survey by positing that many of those who are raised so are not similarly encouraged to think for themselves and question authority but are rather told what to believe from an early age when a child's brain is very similar to a sponge as it relates to knowledge and information. They're told what to believe and they do so without thinking any more about the subject.

This line of thought always reminds me of two of my favorite quotes about thinking for one's self. The first is from Homer Simpson:
Kids are great, Apu. You can teach them to hate the things you hate and they practically raise themselves now-a-days, you know, with the internet and all.
And the second is from comedian David Cross:
I don't have kids but I might someday and if I do I think that I'd like to raise them Amish. You know, instill in them those hard working Amish values and beliefs. And I'm sure they'll eventually have some questions: "Father, how come you get to watch television, and we can't? And how come you get to play video games and read with the lights on and we don't get to?" And I'll get down on a knee and gentlely say to them, : "Well, Sweetie, that's because Daddy's not Amish, and you are. You see, that's what you believe. Now hurry off to bed, you have to get up early tomorrow to harvest my breakfast. Ahh, Amish kids..."
Think for yourself and question everything, especially what you've been told and what you think you already know.


Anonymous said...

I saw this article before work this morning. I took the quiz and scored 29/32. I missed the Jewish Sabbath, Ramadan and another one somewhere between 11-17 that I forgot to make a mental not for.

I have to say that I was a little disappointed about missing the Jewish Sabbath. I actually thought to myself, "I think they're the ones who begin on Friday and let it run to Sunday", but then I second-guessed myself and went with Saturday. Stupid call!

Oh well, at least I scored better than 20. I was a little worried that I wouldn't.

JBW said...

I got 29/32 as well, one L. I chose Saturday for the Jewish Sabbath as you did (total guess), I didn't know that Protestants believe salvation comes through faith alone (that's all I know about Protestants from what I can tell; they need better marketing) and I obviously don't know shit about the First Great Awakening (I thought Jonathan Edwards was that guy who talks to people's dead relatives on that "Crossing Over" show).

Incidentally, I learned what Ramadan was when Hakeem Olajuwan was fasting during the playoffs in the mid-nineties. That's how I roll (and learn).