Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What we know

By Capt. Fogg

So you're religious? That's a shame because I like to talk about the subject I've been interested in and have studied for at least 50 years -- but not with people of "faith." Scholars, linguists, archaeologists with and without faith are another matter entirely, but mentioning even the most elementary things about the Bible that one would learn on the first day of your first college class usually produces a reaction similar to Bela Lugosi encountering a cross, or a resounding and peremptory NO!

I've given up mentioning obvious facts like the separate and interleaved Genesis stories; one talking about Yahweh and the other, in a different voice, talking about the Elohim. The details differ remarkably. Ask your Sunday School teacher about the 100 days and nights of rain and Noah loading animals 6 by 6 and watch the reaction.

I'm talking about minutia, of course and I'm staying away from the conclusions to be made from them, but the level of ignorance amongst the most faithful is as astounding as the refusal to actually read the approved source documents much less the banned and earlier documents archaeology has provided us. It requires more than most can or will apply to the task -- and takes all the fun out of it, of course.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life took a poll earlier this year and the results didn't surprise me at all. It appears that Americans are a pretty ignorant lot in terms of how much they know about the Bible, the other religions of the world and things related to the status of religious life in the US, the urge to make public displays notwithstanding. Atheists and agnostics seem to know a good deal more than the general run of the faithful, although you're welcome to ignore the question of whether it's knowledge itself that produces doubt in the places certainty likes to dwell. It does seem that the more educated are -- well, more educated about these things.

Jews seem to do best of all in terms of broad spectrum religious knowledge, but that's not too surprising as religious education in that group is a much different sort of thing and educators may be less shy of difficult questions. They're less likely to get their theology solely from the polyester preachers on TV whose continued existence defies claims of divine forces at work in the world.

The most important lack, in my opinion, is that shown by American Protestants and Catholics who know very little about other religions compared Jews and Mormons and Atheists and that's something I can't explain easily. Less than half of us know that the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist or that most people in Indonesia are Muslim. A tiny 8% 0f us know that Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides) was Jewish and I'm sure most of those were Jewish as well.

Apparently the one fact we're most likely to know, is that teachers in public schools may not lead students in prayer and one of the things we're least likely to know is that it is indeed constitutionally permissible to study the Bible and other texts in a comparative religion course. The answer to that opens a whole new perspective in strategic public anger management, but I won't go there either.

Of course all of us seem to know that Islam is inherently and unavoidably evil and some can supply all sorts of reasons to substantiate it and even more reasons to be angry with you if you don't quite agree with it all, but ask what Ramadan is about and only half can tell you it's an Islamic holiday.

So what does all of this mean? Beats me. I do know that too much speculation about these things is likely to get my neighbors and associates to beat me too. After all, as a people we're quite possessive of what we don't know and have good reasons for not knowing it: and of course we are, as always, number one.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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