Friday, September 16, 2011

Guest Post: Religious Literacy: Americans Don't Know Their Stuff by Amanda Parker

Today’s post is by a young woman I’ve watched grow up, in fact, as her pastor, I baptized her. I am amazed and impressed with the adult she has become. I now tell her, “I want to be Amanda Parker when I grow up.” Her response to that is, “We’ve come full circle.”
Amanda’s blog, called Faiths of the District, deals with her experiences and thoughts on religious while doing religious/political/service work in Washington, DC.

My comment and one other on this post follows.

The U.S. is one of the most religious countries in the developed world, especially compared to largely secular Western Europe, but … Americans still know relatively little about religion.”

In 2010, the Pew Forum released a major study on religious literacy in America. The results were amazing: out of 32 questions, an average of 16 questions were answered correctly. Perhaps more interesting, though not surprising, Agnostics and Atheists scored the highest. And of course they did – most people who reach that point where they throw their hands up in the air and say “I have no idea what’s out there” probably did a lot of searching before they reached that point. Or maybe that’s just a simplification of my experience.
Below is a link to Pew’s religious literacy test (doesn’t contribute to the actual survey). I scored really high on it (14 out of 15 correct!) … but I’m not bragging.

OK, how’d you do?

Part of my motivation for starting this blog was to become more religiously literate and to share my findings. If I blogged more often I would probably achieve that.

Now I want to talk about religion and what that has to do with who you are.

In a 2008 poll, it was found that the more educated you are, the less likely you are to believe in god. That may explain why the “god-less” groups (athiests, agnostics and secular humanists, to name a few) are more likely to know the facts on religion than those who actually believe. They dedicate a lot of time to doing the research and poking holes in spirituality. I do that, too… a lot. But it’s really annoying sometimes. More importantly, I think people who are more religiously literate are better able to design a form of spirituality that works for them.

A dear friend directed me to this article – so much fodder for my flames: “With more years of education, you aren’t relatively more likely to say, ‘I don’t believe in God.’ But you are relatively more likely to say, ‘I believe in a higher power.’”

A little personal insight here – I’m doing the online dating thing and people are obsessed with talking to me about religion (Aside – interesting data on religion and compatibility:  Literally 21 of the 807 words in my profile have to do with religion and yet that’s all anyone can talk about.
The feedback is really interesting – some people just want to know what I believe, some want talk about the decline of society due to lack of religion, some people want to discuss/debate Kant and Dostoevsky, some people want a link to this blog, and some people want to tell me that “religion is the opium of the people“. Thanks, dude, but I’ve heard that one already. I want to be truthful about my stance on religion – I’m deeply spiritual. I do believe in a higher power. I am also very intelligent. Don’t hate.

Since we’re talking about religion here and I’m a firm believer that I have none of the answers, I want to close with asking why is religion important? Why is it not? What are its functions? Why is it awful? Why is it great?

Feel free to break it down in the comments section or just think about it on your own. Also feel free to bring Kant, Dostoevsky, Marx, Jon Stewart and anyone else you really care about to bat on this. Also, feel free to be anonymous. I know you’ve got it in you.
         LoveLoudly Says:
I stumbled across your blog through the Theology tag and I enjoyed your post. I’ve seen quite a few polls like these but I feel like they never quite make the larger leap. Its not just that people are less informed on religion but I would argue that people are becoming less informed on everything. Religion is a buzz-generating field to discuss but it seems that similar trends are occurring in everything from politics to economics. While most of the “West” (for lack of a better term) has nearly infinite information access we actually seem to be learning less and less. I have a personal inclination to pin it on the extreme shift towards an ideological rhetorical style of discourse over the last decade or two but i can’t offer particularly strong statistics or studies to back that up.
As to your specific questions, I would argue that religion (whatever one’s stance, mine is probably made clear by my avatar) as a whole is important because it makes up an inextricable and major part of an individual’s worldview. Coupled with (and perhaps indistinguishable from) philosophy, ethics, science and metaphysics (to name a few), they collectively define how we look at the world. Ontology and essence is a tricky subject but it doesn’t seem too untoward to at least suggest that our worldview is the most personal and essential element of our being. While there is certainly the option to deny organized patterns of religion and theology, to deny the importance of something like a personal understanding of theology is impossible.
On a more random note, based on some of your posts, you might be interested in my friend Tom’s blog. He spent the summer touring America visiting and commenting on most of the major mega-churches in the country.

Brenda’s comment:

Great post, ‘manda! One of my favorite answers is “there is a God-shaped hole in us that only God can fill.” Can’t remember who said it. I also think that simplicity on the near side of your thoughts about religion means nothing! Simplicity on the far side of your thoughts about religion mean everything. In other words, do the searching, do the questioning, do the study, then boil it down to the most simple premise you can believe in—there you have your God-shaped hole.

So proud of you!

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