Reflections: Religious Illiteracy
By Mel Borup Chandler.
Most people recognize that school and learning in our country is much different than it was a few decades ago. Today it seems that in the United States there is more of an emphasis on “soft sciences” rather than hard sciences like math, engineering and more empirically-styled science. Worldwide our children are less prepared to compete globally because of it, and yet we seem to have a firm handle on how to efficiently run businesses that far surpass the productivity of our foreign competitors. The only question is, how long will it last? Eventually the “brain drain” will catch up with us; we see it coming, but seem to be paralyzed in making hard choices to reverse the trend.
Most of the Western and some of the Eastern world has also prided itself on being Christian. Americans consider themselves to be the most religious among developed nations and seem to have done a pretty good job through the nation's short history in implementing the core beliefs of Christianity into its constitution, law and government. But in these days, even that seems to be in jeopardy.
In late 2010, the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life released an extraordinary document on the state of our religious faith in the United States. In their study on the religious knowledge survey it seems only Mormons and Jews ranked equally in their understanding of religious faith and teachings, and Jews do not consider themselves to be Christian, but share some commonalities in American culture. Here in America we have a religiously saturated society. Ironically, those with the most notable religious knowledge were atheists and agnostics. Based on the information in the study one can conclude that it takes more knowledge to be a non-believer, than to be a member of any other religion.
You need to know about Catholicism and Protestantism to get along well in America, but apparently the reverse is not true for Mormons or Jews. Mormons and Jews have been victims of religious prejudice and bigotry right here in the United States. One only has to look as far as Mitt Romney who faced the “Mormon Question” repeatedly during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Pew asked 3,421 adults 32 questions about basic religious figures and history designed to measure not only their knowledge of Christianity, but those of other major world religions, also. The results were dismal. Of course, surveys are a “soft science” method, but the suggestion is that many Americans are shallow, superficial and even simplistic in the assessment of their faith and core values. Just because we quote the Bible, or in the case of Mormons also ascribe some of those values to the Book of Mormon, and seem to be able to ascribe a Christian value as a source for the mores of our society, apparently on closer inspection, we are not so well informed. We apparently do not really know what the Bible says and a “one size fits all” answer to every answer of faith doesn’t seem to be working.
According to Pew, slightly more than half of Protestants even knew who Martin Luther was or who other fathers of the reformation were. Also less than half of Americans knew the Dalai Lama was Buddhist. It is a great surprise, but also unnerving. In today’s world, because of our advanced technology, communication, and ability to transport and travel, we are exposed to other major world cultures and religions more than at any time in history. Ask yourself how much you know about Muslims and Islam, other than the scant amount you may have learned since Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran. What about Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, all religions that far outnumber Christianity and Judaism in believers. What about the religions of India, China, and Southeast Asia? As with any great journey it starts with a single step. You are the person who should and will take that first step if you are alarmed with America’s failing report card on religious education, and Mormons and Jews should not rest on their laurels. I suggest we step up our game, use our religious curiosity and intellect because the result of religious illiteracy and liberty is often spiritual indifference. Indifference is a killer for our society and is as much as a threat to our national security as a lack of hard science majors.