Absolutely Backwards

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life recently conducted a survey* of US-ians about their knowledge of religion. CNN finds the results "surprising."

US-ians didn't do too well on the quiz, especially, uh, religious folks. On average, atheists and agnostic people answered the most questions correctly.

CNN theoblogger Stephen Prothero argues that because "all careful observers" know religion is a major force in politics, the US should institute mandatory school courses in "the Bible and the world's religions."

Here's the thing....

When I was a student at a public high school, we learned about the world's religions (and the Bible) in a mandatory course on world history. In my paying gig, I spend a lot of time examining students' college transcripts. A lot of students take 100-level courses in civilization that include material on religion (even the Bible), and general education requirements typically encourage this behavior.

In other words, I'd appreciate it if Prothero didn't imply that the government is enforcing ignorance about religion, an argument so hackneyed it makes Jenny Lind look like ABBA. The sad truth is that people, including religious people, aren't actually paying attention to the historic and scriptural bases of religion, and all the Jars of Clay concerts in the world aren't going to change that. That's a "surprising" narrative, I suppose, if one is used to constantly hearing about how secular America is.

Here's yet another thing...

If a religion we don't know anything about is a major driving force behind policy, we could rectify things by learning more about Christianity in the public school classes we're already attending or the Sunday sermons many US-ians are attending. Alternatively, we could make a concerted effort to make the US secular. You know, stop basing policies on misconceptions of one of the world's five major religions, especially since, you know, some of us live in the US, too.

Sure, you could argue that the U.S. is the only place on Earth where folks' knowledge of religion is deficient, but I doubt you'd succeed. Besides, religion isn't about knowing things, it's about believing things. If we're interested in global politics, I'd argue that the right answers are the answers people are giving us; cultural studies, and not history holds the key to understanding what's going on.

Ultimately, I suspect that Prothero is simply terrified at the prospect that Christopher Hitchens knows something about religion. At the very least, I agree with him on this point. It is indeed scary to admit that Hitchens knows anything about anything.

*The survey is here, but the Pew's servers are presently unable to handle my mad theological skillz.

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