Americans believe in religion -- but know little about it.
I found an interesting book review in the Washington Post this morning. At first glance it seems like it could be bad news for Americans. The author, Stephen Prothero in his book Religious Literacy What Every American Needs to Know -- and Doesn't
calls us ignorant. The good news is he says we don’t have to be. So for me this was an encouraging statement. We have it in us to educate ourselves on important issues concerning faith. The author of the article, Susan Jacoby and Prothero say Americans have room for improvement in there overall knowledge of what Prothero called “general cultural illiteracy.” Why is general cultural illiteracy which includes knowledge of religion important? The book review addresses this.
Prothero’s plea for improved knowledge of religion rises above the need for understanding of our culture because the nature of faith gives power to the ideas of faith. Faith issues can be channeled into forces for great good or for great evil as history has proved. If we are ignorant of these issues we walk blindly and have greater room for making erroneous assumptions and decisions.
A 2005 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that nearly two-thirds of Americans endorse the simultaneous teaching of creationism and evolution in public schools. How can citizens know what creationism means, or make an informed decision about whether it belongs in classrooms, if fewer than half can identify Genesis? No doubt the same proportion of Americans think that Thomas Edison said, "Let there be light."
How can we make informed decisions if we can not define the simplest of terms. Even worse Jocoby laments:
It is less surprising but more dangerous, given America's role in the world, that the public knows even less about Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism than it does about Christianity and Judaism. As Prothero notes, President Bush repeatedly declared that "Islam is peace" in the months after 9/11, while the prophet Muhammad was called a "terrorist" by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. "Who was right?" Prothero asks. "Unfortunately, Americans had no way to judge."
Prothero suggests various remedy for the reeducation of America on religious issues including required high school courses. Whereas Jacoby see the lack of reading in general as a great obstacle to the new generation of new media reared young people.
I think the reeducation of America is a great challenge for the people of faith to articulate their faith as never before. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It is time.