Tell us something we don’t know! Pew poll discovers that Americans are ignorant about religion


In an article in today’s New York Times, “Basic Religion Test Stumps Many Americans,” Laurie Goodstein reports that Americans scored poorly in a test of basic knowledge about religion, according to a new Pew poll.  This will not be news to any clergy, although she writes, “Clergy members who are concerned that their congregants know little about the essentials of their own faith will no doubt be appalled by some of these findings:

  • Fifty-three percent of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation.
  • Forty-five percent of Catholics did not know that their church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine in holy communion are not merely symbols, but actually become the body and blood of Christ.
  • Forty-three percent of Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the foremost rabbinical authorities and philosophers, was Jewish.”

Appalled, yes, surprised, no!  I can’t imagine any members of the clergy who aren’t well aware of the ignorance of most people about religion. One of the biggest perennial tasks of local religious leaders is teaching their congregants about the basic tenets of their own faith, not even to mention other’s.

And preachers are well aware that they have to fill in a great deal of background for their listeners to have a context to understand even the most well-known biblical stories.

This lack of knowledge is not just a feature of the uneducated. I have known very intelligent professional people with Ivy League educations who were biblically and theologically illiterate.

The reasons for this are complex pieces of large cultural changes, but signal a pervasive secularism that shapes even religious people.

My own passion for what I call “remedial catechesis for adults” led to my writing A Course in Basic Christianity. You can learn what it is about and how to get it here.

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