Sunday, 3 October 2010

Who Knows What?

There has been a flurry of interest in and much speculation about the recent Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey on US Religious Knowledge. The survey asked a cross-section of the American public about their knowledge of the various doctrines, practices and beliefs of their own and other religions. It also put the same questions to those of no belief.

Many have expressed surprise at the headline finding that atheists and agnostics had better scores than religious people, especially the evangelical Protestants and many Catholics. Daniel Dennett has written an article analysing the results and suggesting explanations for this disparity.

Whilst many in the UK and Europe have no doubt expressed a little amusement at this survey, I can't help but wonder, despite the common study of comparative religion in our schools, whether our results in a similar study conducted here would differ so greatly.

I am often stunned at the complete ignorance of the diversity of belief within the various Christian denominations, and the often false beliefs about other religious groups, if people are even aware of their existence. The ignorance of beliefs within their own religion and denominations is similarly common, if my experiences are anything to go by. It seems ridiculous to me, and I'm sure to many others that people are building their lives around the profession of religious faith, whilst being less than knowledgeable about the doctrines, practices and distinctions of the group which they choose to identify with. Furthermore, the ignorance of, and misconceptions about, other religions must surely be even more widespread.

Many people will regard this as having little relevance to them and their lives, but as religious fundamentalism shows little sign of abating, and is actually multiplying in the western industrialised societies, then this is relevant to us all. Had we the proper safeguards of a truly secular society, then we could ignore this to some extent, but we do not have such a society; religious influence is embedded within the establishment of many nations, regardless of the actual beliefs of their people. Nor can we ignore the blight that such ignorance has on the lives of individuals, whether in terms of the discrimination they may face, the opportunities denied to them, and the simple pleasure and clarity of the truth, when revealed. If you are going to choose to follow a faith-based religion, and embrace it's practice with all that that entails, then surely you should at least know what that religion actually professes, and what the alternatives are?


  1. I've also been thinking about this survey. The results do not seem surprising at all to me and fall right in line with my observations over many years. One of the many things about religious literacy in the United States is that so few are aware of what "separation of church and state" actually means. It does not mean that our educational system should neglect teaching about the role and diversity of religion in the United States. If the issues, histories, and challenges of religious diversity are neglected in public education and civic discourse, we essentially surrender the conversation to fundamentalism and allow a very few to define the terms of the debate. "Religion" gets condensed in sound bites and pretty stupid ones at that. Superficiality and sensationalism are good for ratings, but not much good for peace.

  2. Hystery,

    Did you read Daniel Dennett's analysis? What did you think?

    Not only do the majority of people (in both US and UK) not understand "separation of church and state", but they have little understanding, if any, of secularism, and how important both of these are to the protection of religious freedom (and freedom from it).

    I'm all in favour of the academic study of religion at school level, in the form of comparative religion, as long as it is done impartially, and considers all aspects of religion, and its impacts on society. I think that would be a valuable educational experience for children. It's very hard to see how that would happen in a country like America with the current religious/political climate; indeed, it's hard enough in Europe, without the political overtones that accompany religion in the US, and with the far lower levels of religious fervour that would presumably oppose such lessons, especially to the equality of treatment of faiths, and of non-faith.

    And there's no guarantee it would make that much difference to the survey results, as I am pointing out above, because it seems that, although the current schoolkids will be knowledgeable, the majority seem to forget almost all of it later. I guess that is true of much of what we are taught at school, but maybe more so in religion, as the domestic and national cultural background seems to drown out the school lessons; a further example being the status of acceptance of evolution in the US, strongly influenced by the religious beliefs taught and repeated outside school.

    Comparative religion has been taught in many schools in the UK, and much of Europe, for at least the past two decades, but many in their 20s and 30s still seem remarkably ignorant about it, though this may, at least in part, be a symptom of both a widespread disinterest in religion, and of the rise of fundamentalist ideas, which deny any such equal understanding of other religions, and the proper analysis of their own religious beliefs and practices. We can still try, though!

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    The prevailing thought of many is that since the Bible was not canonized until sometime between 300 and 400 A.D. that the church of Christ did not have New Covenant Scriptures as their guide for faith and practice. That is simply factually incorrect.

    The Lord's church of the first 400 years did not rely on the man-made traditions of men for New Testament guidance.

    Jesus gave the terms for pardon 33 A.D. after His death and resurrecting. (Mark 16:16) All the words of Jesus were Scripture.Jesus did not have to wait for canonization of the New Testament in order for His word to be authorized.

    The terms for pardon were repeated by the apostle Peter 33 A.D. on the Day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:22-42) The teachings of the apostles were Scripture. The words of the apostles were Scripture before they were canonized.

    The apostle Peter said the apostle Paul's words were Scripture. (2 Peter 3:15-16...just as also our beloved brother Paul , according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand,which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures...

    The apostle Paul's letters and words were Scriptures when he wrote and spoke them. Paul did not have to wait for canonization to authorize his doctrine.

    John 14:25-26 'These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to you remembrance all that I said to you.

    The words and writings of the apostles were Scripture and they did not have to wait for canonization to be deemed authoritative. The apostle did not use man-made creed books of the church or man-made oral traditions to teach the gospel of the New Covenant.

    Did the early church have written New testament Scriptures? Yes, and they were shared among the different congregations. (Colossians 4:16 When the letter is read among you, have it read in the church of the Laodiceans and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodica.) Paul's letters were Scripture and they were read in different churches.

    They were New Testament Scriptures long before they were canonized.


    Matthew A.D. 70
    Mark A.D. 55
    Luke between A.D. 59 and 63
    John A.D. 85
    Acts A.D. 63
    Romans A.D. 57
    1 Corinthians A.D. 55
    2 Corinthians A.D. 55
    Galatians A.D. 50
    Ephesians A.D. 60
    Philippians A.D. 61
    Colossians A. D. 60
    1 Thessalonians A.D. 51
    2 Thessalonians A.D. 51 or 52
    1 Timothy A.D. 64
    2 Timothy A.D. 66
    Titus A.D. 64
    Philemon A.D. 64
    Hebrews A.D. 70
    James A.D. 50
    1 Peter A.D. 64
    2 Peter A.D. 66
    1 John A.D. 90
    2 John A.d. 90
    3 John A.D. 90
    Jude A.D. 65
    Revelation A.D. 95

    All 27 books of the New Testament were Scripture when they were written. They did not have wait until they were canonized before they became God's word to mankind.

    Jesus told the eleven disciples make disciples and teach them all that He commanded. (Matthew 28:16-19) That was A.D. 33, They were teaching New Covenant Scripture from A.D. 33 forward. The apostles did not wait to preach the gospel until canonization occurred 300 to 400 years later.