“Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant about religion,” writes Laurie Goodstein in her article written for The New York Times, Basic Religion Test Stumps Many Americans. The survey found that atheists, Jews, and Mormons were more knowledgeable than Christians regarding a wide range of religious topics. On average, atheists answered about five more questions correctly (Out of thirty-two questions) than Protestants and Catholics.
Why does this matter?
I have a habit of going on CNN.com and reading articles having to do with religion. But more than the contents of the articles, I am interested in the reader comments. Here are a few that caught my attention. These are based on a CNN article written about the same survey.
“I just laughed and shook my head when I read: “For example, it’s not evangelicals or Catholics who did best – it’s atheists and agnostics.” Well yeah, there’s a surprise! This is what’s so damm scary about religion; people blindly following whatever they’re told without question or doubt. Only education and embracing other cultures will erase the ignorance that religion has cursed on our societies. I’m a proud atheist!”
“Atheists know more about religions than religious people. And it’s based on this knowledge that they choose not to believe it. So is it implied that religious people are too ignorant to know any better?”
“And it’s painfully obvious that the poorer and less educated a population is, here in the U.S. as well as in other 3rd world countries, the more religious they tend to be. Naturally, this belief in a wonderful, magical afterlife gives them incentive to get through the drudgery of their lives here on Earth. I say that’s fine if it gets them through the day, but in the end they will have suffered a less robust life based on their ignorance and, to top it off, they’ll rot in the ground and turn to dust just like everyone else. There is no grand prize awaiting behind door number three!! Live life to the fullest NOW!”
“Religion is slowly leaving. Now speed up.”
“Turn churches into museums. Gorgeous, historical architecture, but nothing good ever came OUT of them.”
“How do you know a teaching is false, if you don’t even know what the teaching is? Rejecting information without understanding it is willful ignorance.”
When I read through the comments after these types of articles I usually find a few ideas repeated in different ways.
- The more educated a person, the less likely they are to be religious.
- Believing in God and/or an afterlife is silly.
- Science and technological progress are making religion an unnecessary evil.
- Reason and faith do not go together.
I encourage you to search through CNN’s online archives to read these comments. Sure, there are a few people who represent the faithful, but the overwhelming majority appear to stand opposed to religion. The few who stick up for their faith are usually clumsy with their words and quickly overtaken by the objectors. It is a rare find to come across an articulate Christian with deep conviction about the faith they live by. At least in this realm.
In the beginning, followers of Christ were heavily persecuted for their beliefs. Most of Jesus’ twelve disciples (Later apostles) were put to death in a number of agonizing ways. These first believers carried the message of the gospel (that God has lived among us, and shown us how to live, and provided Himself as a means to save us from sin and the things that ensnare us through his death and Resurrection) After this came two-thousand years of church history. Christianity became Christendom (when government and society came to be defined by the church) and the foundation for Western civilization (even though it started as an eastern religion). Why am I saying all of this? Because modern American Christians are the result of all this history. The first Christians were persecuted heavily and had to be ready to die for their faith in Jesus. Modern American Christians are largely very comfortable. And with this comfort comes a tendency toward ignorance. I am a part of this. I admit it. I am too comfortable.
One who has to live by faith every day in order to struggle through life has more than “religious knowledge.” They have experience with the undeniable presence of God.
My father once told me about a Chinese Christian who came on American television to speak with a prominent pastor. The pastor told the Chinese man that they were concerned for their safety due to persecution, and prayed for them often. But the man of faith quickly responded, The Holy Spirit has told us to pray for the church in America. We are persecuted, but we are strong in the faith, and led by the Spirit. The pastor broke out in tears, recognizing how true this man’s words were.
A lack of religious knowledge does not concern me. What concerns me is a lack of spiritual conviction. I believe this survey reveals a symptom of a more serious ailment.