A lot of news outlets are picking up the top-line results of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s hilarious study, which reveals that the most religious Americans actually know very little about the religions they purportedly practice. Among the comical results:
- 55% of Americans incorrectly identified the Golden Rule as one of the Ten Commandments
- 57% of evangelical Protestants cannot identify the four gospels of the New Testament
- Atheists/agnostics and Jews (and Mormons) scored the most answers correctly.
Yes, you can make a reasonable assertion that one need not know the names of the four Gospels in order to be a good Christian, in the same way that one need not know the Bill of Rights in order to be a good American. There’s no entrance exam to vote for President; surely people can make their own religious decisions. Nevertheless, it’s surprising (or, you know, not) how deeply Americans believe in a vague idea of religion, rather than deeply understanding the religion itself.
There remains the problem of making an uninformed and willfully ignorant argument. I am a strong proponent of knowledge- and content-based education, particularly at an early age. Without a strong base foundation of knowledge, one cannot then operate with higher-level critical thinking. Without a base knowledge of the history and context of one’s religion, religious belief really does degrade into the atheist caricature of “one step above believing in Santa Claus.” It’s no surprise that the most important religious reforms in most religions involve bringing the holy text closer to the layperson, rather than further away.