Lack of Knowledge of Church History and Other Faiths

on October 2, 2010

USA Today:Most Americans believe in God but don’t know religious tenetsA new survey, released this week by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, finds that, although 86% of Americans believe in God or a higher power, they don’t know much about church history or other faiths.

The key findings were:

Doctrines don’t grab us. Only 55% of Catholic respondents knew the core teaching [of the Roman Catholic Church] that the bread and wine in the Mass become the body and blood of Christ, and are not merely symbols. Just 19% of Protestants knew the basic tenet that salvation is through faith alone, not actions as well.

Basic Bible eludes us. Just 55% of all respondents knew the Golden Rule isn’t one of the Ten Commandments; 45% could name all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

World religions are a struggle. Fewer than half (47%) knew that the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist; 27% knew most people in Indonesia are Muslims.

Even the mention of an Intelligent Designer can be cause for dismissal, suspension, or loss of tenure for a public school teacher or university professor.

The groups that fared best were atheists/agnostics, then Jews and Mormons, although highly educated people did best on the quiz overall. It must be noted, however, that a statistically insignificant number of people identified themselves as atheists/agnostics, thus headlines about the survey that blared “Atheists, Agnostics Score Highest” are highly misleading. Only 36% “knew teachers are allowed to teach classes comparing world religions,” and a mere 23% knew that “teachers can read from the Bible as an example of literature.”

The findings hardly seem surprising, considering that recent generations of young people have gone through a U.S. education system in which the topic of religion has been largely ignored (or if it is brought up, it is ridiculed). After all, even the mention of an Intelligent Designer can be cause for dismissal, suspension, or loss of tenure for a public school teacher or university professor. God, prayer, and Bible study have largely been removed from public, civic, and community life. In liberal colleges students are being told in comparative religion classes that all faiths are basically valid. If every faith leads to God, then why study them? Isn’t one as good as any other? We live in a secularized culture that has embraced moral relativism and has lost the foundations upon which it was built—the authority of the Bible as the Word of God. If the foundations are destroyed what can the righteous do (Psalm 11:3)?

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