November 30, 2010

The U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey

By Francis Nye

A recent survey conducted by the Pew Forum shows that most Christians are ignorant of the history and tenants of their own faith, including the bible. What is even more shocking is that it appears that atheists have a better understanding of Christianity then actual Christians. These are among the key findings of the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, a nationwide poll conducted from May 19 through June 6, 2010, among 3,412 Americans age 18 and older, in English and Spanish. Jews, Mormons and atheists/agnostics were over-sampled to allow analysis of these relatively small groups. On average American Christians scored no better than 16 out of 32 on the survey of religious knowledge. This is a failing score by any standard. What is more shocking is in a battery of questions regarding the bible, white evangelicals only scored on average 7.3 correct answers.

Unfortunately when individuals think they understand their faith and in reality don't it can have a tragic side effect.  Over the centuries people who misunderstood or misinterpreted the Bible have done terrible things. The Bible has been misused to defend bloody crusades and tragic inquisitions; to support slavery, apartheid, and segregation; to persecute Jews and other non-Christian people of faith; to support Hitler's Third Reich and the Holocaust; to oppose medical science; to condemn interracial marriage; to execute women as witches; and to support the Ku Klux Klan. Shakespeare said it this way: "Even the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose."

We'd like to believe that no person of good will would misuse the Bible to support his or her prejudice. But time and time again it has happened with tragic results.

In the 16th century, John Selden pointed at two Latin words carved into a marble wall in an ancient church in Rome: "Scrutamini Scripturas," which means search the Scriptures. "These two words," Seldon said, "have undone the world."

In one way, John Selden was right. Misusing the Bible has drenched the planet in blood and tears.  But in another way, he was wrong. Most people who misuse the Bible DON'T search the Scriptures. They simply find a text that seems to support their prejudice and then spend the rest of their lives quoting (or misquoting) that text.

Even when we believe the Scriptures are "infallible" or "without error," it's terribly dangerous to think that our understanding of every biblical text is also without error. We are human. We are fallible. We can  misunderstand and misinterpret these ancient words often with tragic results.

The survey as a whole is not really that surprising to me. It has been my experience that most Christians are clueless when it comes to their own holy book. Many feel the bible is the final word for most Christians.  It is really disappointing that the Christians have placed so much religious stock in this text.  That if they actually understood it in its true context, its origins, and taken as a whole most would disavow themselves from this book. The biblical authors have created a great many inconsistencies in its attempts to reconcile facts that do not stack up historically, scientifically or according to the archaeological record.  The bible actually does more harm to their cause than it does good in this day and age.  Christianity would be better severed without the bible as it was written so many centuries ago.  I would even dare say that the people that took the survey would have done better if it was not for all the confusing and nonsense facts that are in the bible.

Comments On: The U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey

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