Religious Illiteracy–Americans Follow Religions They Know Little About

Susan Jacoby, author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, reviews Religious Literacy for The Washington Post. Religious Literacy, by Stephen Prothero, chair of the religion department at Boston University, shows that while Americans may be religious, they know little about religion. Jacoby writes that, “Prothero sees America’s religious illiteracy as even more dangerous than general cultural illiteracy.”

As examples of religious illiteracy Jacoby notes, “Fewer than half of us can identify Genesis as the first book of the Bible, and only one third know that Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.” She wonders, “How can citizens know what creationism means, or make an informed decision about whether it belongs in classrooms, if fewer than half can identify Genesis?” She provides further examples:

Approximately 75 percent of adults, according to polls cited by Prothero, mistakenly believe the Bible teaches that “God helps those who help themselves.” More than 10 percent think that Noah’s wife was Joan of Arc. Only half can name even one of the four Gospels, and — a finding that will surprise many — evangelical Christians are only slightly more knowledgeable than their non-evangelical counterparts.

Not surprisingly, knowledge of other religions is even worse:

It is less surprising but more dangerous, given America’s role in the world, that the public knows even less about Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism than it does about Christianity and Judaism. As Prothero notes, President Bush repeatedly declared that “Islam is peace” in the months after 9/11, while the prophet Muhammad was called a “terrorist” by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. “Who was right?” Prothero asks. “Unfortunately, Americans had no way to judge.”

Despite little knowledge of religion, far too many Americans will allow go along with those who want to substitute their religious views for science education in the schools, and allow the religious views of some to dictate public policy on social issues.

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    stevesh says:

    So many Americans are religious illiterates one would almost think religion was taught in the public schools.

    Did they interview Howard “my favorite is the Book of Job from the New Testament” Dean?

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