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1/18/2005

A Nation of Religious Illiterates 

This is a soap-box issue for me, as an educator and a Christian. And there are no easy answers, and no really nice way to say it, so I'll just be blunt:

Americans -- both Christians and nonChristians -- are woefully ignorant of the Bible.

Non-Christians at least have an excuse -- it's not their holy book, after all. It's like asking Christians about something in the Koran or the Talmud. With the impact that religion has on our society, though, I think it would be a good idea for everyone to know what each religion teaches, and a little bit of the basics of each. Non-believers don't have that, and it causes a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings between people.

And the Supreme Court agrees with me.
In a majority opinion in a 1963 church-state case (Abington v. Schempp), Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark wrote, "It might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion ... and its relationship to the advance of civilization." If so, the education of nearly every public school student in the nation is woefully inadequate.
from the Tallahasee Democrat
In public education, the emphasis should be on comparing religions, and examining the contributions of each faith to American society. How many people are aware of the role that American Baptists played in the establishing of freedom of religion? They played a huge role, because in colonial America the Baptists were the ones being thrown in jail for their beliefs (including accusations of child abuse, for refusing to baptize infants). Not many know even the most basic facts of the influence of religion on our nation (both good AND bad), and we should not ignore these contributions because of a fear of lawsuits. Facts are facts, and should be taught.

I think, though, that before we can expect the average man on the street to learn the basics of our faith, we need to learn them. I've quoted Barna surveys before, detailing how many Americans consider themselves Christians and how many of them believe things that are contrary to the Bible. Ask a group of high school students in your church if the book of Hezekiah is in the Old or New Testament (hint -- it's in neither. The "books" of Hosanna and Jubilations are also good ones to use). Discipleship is seriously lacking in many of our churches -- and yet we expect the world, and the mainstream media in particular, to get facts right about matters of religion and faith.

What is the answer? I think that, to start with, we need to return to teaching and preaching the Bible, rather than offering motivational speaches and calling them sermons. Many churches are doing this already, but many many more are not. Bible study used to be something that was enjoyed and encouraged -- now it's a duty that we "have to do" if we expect God to do anything for us. Read some of the writings of the early Puritans, and think about this: they were written to average people, with average educations. The difference is that these people studied the Bible, and discussed it daily, like we discuss sports or TV programs.

I think we'd be amazed at the change in our churches, and in our society, if we returned to sincere, devoted study of Scripture, both in church and at home.


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