Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Religious Literacy, or Lack Thereof

A new Pew Forum study points out something that shouldn't shock anyone: "Americans are by nature a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant about religion" (thanks to the New York Times for summing up the issue so well).

In my admittedly brief lifetime, I have never seen a time when people in this country seem to be so judgmental about other religions. And that's saying something, given that the rise of the religious right happened not long before I was born. 

This study by the Pew Forum confirms what I've been thinking for a while now. The reason that so many people are expressing such strong and frequently hateful opinions about other religious groups is because they are completely ignorant about who these groups really are. If all you know about Islam comes from 9/11 footage and American flag-burning rallies in other countries, then it's easy to hate Muslims. Fear is rooted in ignorance, and this study documents the ignorance that feeds the fear and hatred we are seeing right now.

The most interesting part of this study is that atheists and agnostics consistently had the best scores on the  test, because they have given the most serious thought to religious questions, as opposed to many religious people who just accept major truth claims without questioning them at all.

So here's my question for you all. How much do you need to know about other religions to give you license to criticize them? Take a short version of the Pew Forum's quiz on CNN's website. Does your score show that you know enough about other religions to make intelligent, informed comments? Or does it tell you that you have some more to learn?

I'll share my score on the quiz later, but I want to see what other folks have to say first.

Tuesday evening update- the Pew Forum site has a 15 question version of the quiz, and you can compare your results against their statistics. Take the quiz here, report your score (if you want), then decide if that gives you sufficient ground to critique another faith tradition.


Brad Smith said...

Dude, I just posted that on my facebook page! I thought the story was fascinating because it's something that Janie and I talk about frequently as we live in south carolina. We see 1000's of these kinds of people who are hateful or have ignorant views because they're told to or because they don't know any better. I just think that pursuit of knowledge should be greater in a person who espouses religious views because it would seem they would want to know more about their God and the world created for them. But, instead they seem to think that the hereafter is the only important thing and that everyone and everything else can just fall by the wayside. Great post bud and I'm glad I'm not the only one who saw that story.

Brad Smith said...

Oh yeah, and I got a 10/10!!!

Emily. :) said...

I got a 90! Not too shabby.. just missed the one about Indonesia's main religion.