Thursday, April 30, 2009

Illiteracy Part Deux: Religious Illiteracy

A brief follow-up to yesterday's post.

It is often said that we "live in a post-religious society." Or "post-Christian." I don't think this is necessarily true, at least not in the United States where 75% of the citizens identify with the Christian label.

A more accurate description might be "religiously illiterate." Individuals are ill-equipped to grapple with the complex and often confusing world of spirituality. So they either opt out entirely, or embrace an easy fundamentalism.

Most cannot name the four Gospels, or tell you who wrote the book of Corinthians. They could hardly identify the difference between a Catholic and Protestant, let alone a Sunni and Shiite. A 2000 Gallup poll shows that 70% of Americans believe "you can be religious without going to church." Is it any wonder that more people are choosing to tune out altogether?

Again, what is needed is a return to basics of the faith. Clear articulation of doctrine. A more widespread understanding of religion. Personally, I believe that Religious Studies ought to be a mandatory part of the high school curriculum. A mind that is well-educated about various religions and their denominations is more free to choose his or her path, not less.

I caught this hilarious skit from That Mitchell and Webb Look on BBC America:

Comedy aside, it makes some good points. Religious belief is becoming more "me" focused, rather than "we" focused. Our communities must reach out and embrace the "other." Without being jerks, of course! Which we Anglicans are quite good at.

There has been a shift away from the wealth of information found in a community, to the individual's personal interpretations and worldview.

Or, as the Vicar says, "You've thought about eternity for twenty-five minutes and think you've come to some interesting conclusions, have you?"


ex_fide said...

I love that clip. It reminds me of the time I got shouted at in the confessional by a very old priest who couldn't really hear what I was saying, so he shouted "speak up, boy!" and then reiterated my confession in a loud voice which must have been clearly audible to the queuing penitents.

Davis said...

I can never -not- watch this clip. it is perfect in every way.

Thom Curnutte said...

He shouldn't have a moustache, though. Good traditionalist men don't behair their faces.

eric said...

Joseph, that is wonderful. Must remember to get further details on that story.

Davis - agreed, it is crafted to perfection.

Thom - what?! What about the Orthodox? I suppose if we're talking about Jesus...

Thom Curnutte said...

I was kidding, but I've actually heard that before.

JN1034 said...

These past two posts have me thinking ... a lot ... and it hurts. Make the madness go away! Now that I've finally acquiesced to global religious illiteracy as the standard, you want me to think change could happen?

Once, long ago, I recall telling my students that they stood at a crossroad of religious history unlike any other time. Now they could study and read, in gluttonous fashion, all the books and tracts that our ancestors relied upon the clergy to tell us (and control us) about. Never before in human history did we have the plethora of information so readily available to make students just as educated, if not more, than their professors and clergy. And we're blowing it.

We've lost the cue to delve into the important in preference for the interesting. We are a prima facie global civilization, exactly what Jesus warned us about: "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (Jn 7:24), a discernment of the heart.

Somewhere we've lost the exercise, the asceticism, the humility of thinking through the invisible, by means of analogy, leading us to greater thoughts, not only to see what is up ahead, but to make it so. To know what is possible, and to be that. And to find pleasure in doing so.

IMHO, we've become a people illiterate of the heart. And we all know that where the heart is, there's our treasure (Mt 6:21). It would be advantageous to teach heart above all.

Craig said...

Clerics of the western church are not permitted to wear beards. It was decided by some council (I don't know which one..)

In the UK religious education is a statutory requirement, but the level of religious literacy is far worse here than in the States. But the stuff that passes for RE is often pretty pathetic (I know- I used to teach it!)

Thom Curnutte said...

A buddy of mine- a priest- was harangued about his bveard incessantly. ;-)

Joseph said...

as far as the beard goes, i dislike very strongly a beardless priest. :) (i'm Orthodox)