Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Church Failure

A Nation of Faith and Religious Illiterates

The sociologist Peter Berger once remarked that if India is the most religious country in the world and Sweden the least, then the United States is a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes. Not anymore. With a Jesus lover in the Oval Office and a faith-based party in control of both houses of Congress, the United States is undeniably a nation of believers ruled by the same.

Things are different in Europe, and not just in Sweden. The Dutch are four times less likely than Americans to believe in miracles, hell and biblical inerrancy. The euro does not trust in God. But here is the paradox: Although Americans are far more religious than Europeans, they know far less about religion.

In Europe, religious education is the rule from the elementary grades on. So Austrians, Norwegians and the Irish can tell you about the Seven Deadly Sins or the Five Pillars of Islam. But, according to a 1997 poll, only one out of three U.S. citizens is able to name the most basic of Christian texts, the four Gospels, and 12% think Noah's wife was Joan of Arc. That paints a picture of a nation that believes God speaks in Scripture but that can't be bothered to read what he has to say.

I was wondering how Jesus came to glorify wealth and love war. I guess this explains it: churches aren't preaching the Bible, but increasingly they're preaching Republicanism:
How did this happen? How did one of the most religious countries in the world become a nation of religious illiterates? Religious congregations are surely at fault. Churches and synagogues that once inculcated the "fourth R" are now telling the faithful stories "ripped from the headlines" rather than teaching them the Ten Commandments or parsing the Sermon on the Mount (which was delivered, as only one in three Americans can tell you, by Jesus). But most of the fault lies in our elementary and secondary schools.
I'm sure the schools could be teaching religious studies. I'm not opposed to that, if they reach a wide array of religions rather than proselytize for any one. How likely is that in, say, Georgia?

But of the 38 percent of the US population who go to church weekly, a small chunk know what should definitely be common knowledge about Christianity. If churches can't teach the basics any better than that, they really are failing their members.

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