13 March 2007

Don't Know Much About Religion.

Professor Stephen Prothero re religious literacy (or the lack thereof) and why it matters - and what might be done about it:

For the past two years, I have given students in my introductory religious-studies course at Boston University a religious-literacy quiz. I ask them to list the four Gospels, Roman Catholicism's seven sacraments, and the Ten Commandments. I ask them to name the holy book of Islam. They do not fare well.

In their quizzes, they inform me that Ramadan is a Jewish holiday, that Revelation is one of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, and that Paul led the Israelites on the Exodus out of Egypt. This year I had a Hindu student who couldn't name one Hindu scripture, a Baptist student who didn't know that "Blessed are the poor in spirit" is a Bible quote, and Catholic students unfamiliar with the golden rule. Over the past two years, only 17 percent of my students passed the quiz.

. . .

In debates about the fate of the Middle East, the propriety of gay marriage, and the politics of Islam, the stakes are too high to defer to politicians and pundits. Given the ubiquity of religious discourse in American public life, and the public power of religion at home and abroad, we Americans — whether liberals or conservatives, believers or unbelievers — need to learn about evangelicalism and Islam for ourselves, to see for ourselves what the Bible says about family values, homosexuality, war, and capital punishment, and to be aware of what Islam says about those things, too.

Each of the world's great religions has wrestled for centuries with the foundational questions of life and death and whatever (if anything) lies beyond. Each has developed sophisticated theologies for making sense of other religions, for regulating war, for fighting injustice. But we as a nation are forgetting those hard-won theologies, replacing them in many cases with bromides that only an advertising hack could be proud of — bromides, it should be noted, that are themselves ripe for replacement whenever a sexier advertising pitch comes along. Moreover, the politicians and pundits eager to exploit those bromides for partisan purposes — to turn God, Jesus, and Muhammad into pawns in their political and military games — are legion.

From this nation's beginnings, it has been widely understood that the success of the American experiment rests on an educated citizenry. Today it is simply irresponsible to use the word "educated" to describe college graduates who are ignorant of the ancient creeds, stories, and rituals that continue to motivate the beliefs and behaviors of the overwhelming majority of the world's population. In a world as robustly religious as ours, it is foolish to imagine that such graduates are equipped to participate fully in the politics of the nation or the affairs of the world.

Here's the whole thing.
Via Mere Comments.


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