Stephen Prothero, chair of the Religion Department at Boston University, has done Americans in general, and religious communities in particular, a great service by laying out in methodical fashion our religious illiteracy. In his book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn’t, he makes the claim that religious illiteracy is as pervasive as cultural illiteracy, and more dangerous. He says that it is more dangerous because religion is the most volatile constituent of culture and because religion has been, in addition to one of the greatest forces for good in world history, one of the greatest forces for evil.
Interestingly, Dr. Prothero’s argument is neither that liberal education needs religious studies nor that real faith requires religious knowledge. The argument he puts forth is that we need religious literacy in order to be an effective citizen. Religious illiteracy makes it difficult for us to understand what is happening in our world today. For example: Without a knowledge of the Bible of the Quran, it is difficult to make sense of a world in which people kill and make peace in the name of Christ or Allah. How are we to understand international conflicts in the Middle East without understanding and weighing the role of Jerusalem in the sacred geography of the Abrahamic faiths?
Religious literacy, as Dr. Prothero defines it, refers to the ability to understand and use in one’s day to day life the basic building blocks of religious traditions – their key terms, symbols, doctrines, practices, sayings, characters, metaphors, and narratives. All of these concepts are currently being employed in American public life. Consider suicide bombings in the Middle East, the enduring popularity of end time predictions, and the ritual cycle of presidential elections, to name a few.
The gospel according to John instructs Christians to “search the scriptures.” However, here is a sampling of a lack of searching being done: only half of American adults can name even one of the four gospels. Most Americans cannot name the first book of the Bible. Only one-third know that Jesus, not Billy Graham, delivered the Sermon on the Mount. Ten percent of Americans believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.
The church needs to provide opportunities for growth in faith and knowledge. Please let me know if there is an opportunity for you to grow in faith and understanding through KPUMC.
Here is a sampling of questions from a religious literary quiz Dr. Prothero gives his students. The answers will be published in the next newsletter:
- Name the four gospels.
- Name a sacred text of Hinduism.
- What is the name of the holy book of Islam?
- Where, according to the Bible, was Jesus born?
- President George W. Bush spoke in his first inaugural address of the Jericho Road. What Bible story was he invoking?
- What are the first five books of the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Old Testament?
- What is the Golden Rule?
- “God helps those who help themselves.” Is this in the Bible? If so, where?
- “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” Does this appear in the Bible? If so, where?
- Name the Ten Commandments. List as many as you can.
- Name the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.
- What are the seven sacraments of Catholicism? List as many as you can.
- The First Amendment says two things about religion, each in its own “clause.” What are the two religious clauses of the First Amendment?
- What is Ramadan? In what religion is it celebrated?
- Match the Bible characters with the stories in which they appear. Draw a line from one to the other. Hint: Some characters may be matched with more than one story or vice versa:
Adam and Eve Exodus
Paul Binding of Isaac
Moses Olive Branch
Noah Garden of Eden
Jesus Parting of the Red Sea
Abraham Road to Damascus
Serpent Garden of Gethsemane