Tracking religious illiteracy

By Simon Barrow
October 22, 2007

Both in the UK and the USA, 'religion' is discussed furiously. The loudest voices, including some prominent anti-religious figures and a range of what could be called zealous religiosi, are often those least equipped for thoughtful debate - and least interested in acquiring the skills and data.

Gordon Houser notes in a recent edition of The Mennonite: "[I]n his book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—and Doesn’t (Harper San Francisco, 2007)... Stephen Prothero makes a strong case that the United States is a nation of religious illiterates and that such ignorance has dangerous consequences in a world where religion plays an increasing role.

"He then shows how this illiteracy has increased in the past century. He argues that “teaching about religion is an essential task for our educational institutions,” that “the primary purpose of such teaching should be civic,” i.e., 'to produce citizens who know enough about Christianity and the world’s religions to participate meaningfully—on both the left and the right—in religiously inflected public debates. High school and college graduates who have not taken a single course about religion cannot be said to be truly educated.”'

"Prothero gave his college students a religious literacy quiz, and most of them flunked it... [A]ccording to a Gallup poll, born-again Christians are only marginally better informed about the Bible than other students.

"This ignorance is reflected in debates between Christians. Prothero writes: 'Believers don’t disagree on theology much because theology has ceased to be remembered. They disagree instead on cultural politics—on ‘family values’.'"

The Mennonite:

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.