Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Are You Smarter Than an Atheist?

The religious blogosphere is humming today about a survey done by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that shows that atheists are more religiously literate than many people of faith. White evangelicals scored higher than white mainline protestants and these groups scored higher than minority groups. Also, those of us in the Bible Belt scored lower on questions about religious traditions other than Christianity.

This really does not surprise me. I have experienced many examples of religious ignorance. I was in a young adult Sunday School class when Pope John Paul II died and one lady in the class asked if Catholics worshiped God or the pope. It really stunned me that someone who regularly attended church and Sunday school would not understand a basic premise of the Catholic church. Unfortunately, this is not a unique instance. The survey showed that while 82 percent knew that Mother Teresa was Roman Catholic, 53% of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation. It would be comical if it wasn't so sad and dangerous.

This lack of education creates a breeding ground for misinformation which leads to hatred and violence. We see clear examples of this in the recent "mosque" controversies in New York, Murfreesboro, and other places around the country. People claim that Muslims want to bring Sharia Law to the United States and force women to wear burqas and veils. This claim is of course ludicrous, but ignorance of the basic premises of Islam creates the opportunity for this kind of nonsense to flourish. Another example is Congressional Tea Party candidate Renee Ellmers claiming that Muslims are terrorists and want to build a victory mosque at Ground Zero. Watch her get skewered by Anderson Cooper. It is vital for people of faith to understand the basic ideas of other religious traditions, if nothing else to prevent this kind of ignorance and hate from spreading. In addition, learning from other traditions help us to be better Christians.

It would help if we began by knowing more about our own traditions. It is a shame how many United Methodists do not understand basic Wesleyan theological ideas and traditions. Christ calls us to worship God with our minds as well as our spirits. Worshiping God with our minds means to devote ourselves to better understanding our own traditions as well as those of other people. God gave us brains to use not to roll around in our skulls.

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