Religious People Don’t Know Much

Pew recently came out with a report confirming what plenty of pastors already know.  Americans ill-informed about religion (Here’s the test). I recently purchased Stephen Prothero‘s book on Religious Literacy for the purpose of creating a basic minimum of what a confirmand should know about the faith and the church, adding the particulars of what makes Episcopalians distinctive.

I wonder if it would be helpful to have a basic universal test.  Prothero has a list of reasonable expectations for someone who participates in public life.  I don’t think every Episcopal student needs to know who all the Anglican divines were, but they should know about the impact of Elizabeth on the church, the framework of anti-puritan and anti-Catholic context in the thirty-nine articles; and some of the general tensions, such as evangelical, broad and Anglo-Catholic, within the tradition, without being triumphalist or parochial on our denominational identity.

Granted, a list can get unwieldy.   But knowing the ten commandments – and that there are different versions – the virtues and vices, having some of Jesus’ words known by heart; the order of the Pentateuch and the four Gospels; would seem important to any Christian participating in the public realm.

I wonder if clergy are afraid of teaching too much.  For every Atheist knows that one way to make atheists is to expose someone to as much religion as possible.  Give a young child a bible without commentary, and it will seem like an incomprehensible, dangerous and violent document.  But I suggest it is our duty to handle scripture not merely reverently, but honestly, offering the alphabet of a common heritage that is available to all.

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One comment on “Religious People Don’t Know Much

  1. Laura says:

    I’ve never actually read the 39 articles and don’t know anything about the anti-Puritan, anti-Catholic context therein. I’m not sure it’s important to know there are the 39 articles–so you’ll have to tell me why that’s important basic knowledge for Episcopalians.

    One thing I think we tend to be guilty of is assuming that adults already have the basics so we can skip on to higher level things. We assume they know the 10 commandments, so we talk about the Deuteronomic Code and how it differs from the Levitical Code. And it’s not about dumbing things down, but I have found over and over that people in the pews have questions they don’t dare ask for fear of being thought stupid. How do we make sure people have the essentials–assuming we know what those essentials are.

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