Religious (Yawn) Knowledge
Well, the blogosphere is abuzz this week with the results of a survey on religious knowledge conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life—particularly the fact that atheists and agnostics scored highest on the quiz. The sheer volume of words being devoted to these results makes me hesitant contribute still more. Whether it’s Christians desperately explaining the results away or atheists/agnostics pointing to them as yet one more piece of evidence demonstrating their intellectual superiority over their benighted religious brethren, it all gets very tiresome.
Nevertheless… and because, well, I just can’t resist saying something, I will offer two hastily-assembled reactions to the results of this quiz:
- No group has much to be proud of here. Even the top score—20.9/32 or 65% on a quiz where the questions really are very basic (see for yourself here)—is pretty sad. It makes me wonder about where we’re going culturally. How will we make sense of global history without some understanding of religion? To whom will/do we look for wisdom if not our religious traditions? Where will we go for ethical guidance? What resources will inform and guide our wrestling with questions of meaning and purpose? Do these questions no longer matter to us? Have we given up on them? Do we just pretend they don’t exist and go an amusing ourselves to death? Do we think they will be answered by analyzing the brain states of rats? I can’t help but think that a culture as religiously uninformed as ours is worrisome on a number of levels. Perhaps people are turning in droves to philosophy for answers to these questions… Or maybe not :). Something tells me that a Philosophy 101 quiz would yield even poorer results than this one…
- The Christian results are embarrassing and deplorable, but not because they demonstrate they’re we’re not as well informed or intelligent as agnostics/atheists or anything like that (although in some cases, this may certainly be true). Rather, they demonstrate that we’re not doing our job very well. I take it as axiomatic that a Christian’s primary duties are love of God and love of neighbour. Love of God would seem to compel me to learn and grow in knowledge of Scripture and tradition and the various other ways God has made himself known. Love of neighbour—especially in a pluralistic postmodern context—would seem to compel me to go to the effort of learning a bit about what my neighbours actually believe. This isn’t hard to do. Anybody with access to the internet can learn at least something about their neighbours’ beliefs, whether their neighbours are Wiccan, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, or anything else. And we don’t go to this trouble simply to add ammunition to our apologetics arsenal, as if learning about other religions is only useful to the extent that it can be used to prove that they are wrong. We do it because our neighbours are human beings (not potential converts), made in God’s image, with hopes and fears and existential needs very similar to ours, and because listening honestly to others is an act of love.
In both cases above, it seems like we think that religious knowledge just isn’t worth the bother. And in a socio-political context that is becoming increasingly pluralistic, that is troubling indeed.