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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What's Wrong With This Picture?

by digby

CHETRY: Well, as the Sam Cooke song goes, "Don't know much about history," the same could be said about religion. In a nation where the majority of people say they believe in God, most of us don't know the specifics, it seems, about religion.

According to the new book "Religious Literacy," Americans are shockingly ignorant about the bible, or any other holy book, for that matter. Its author says that one out of 10 Americans thinks that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. So -- that was only one out of 10 -- all right.

So, did -- we did our own test. We wanted to see if anyone knew who wrote the gospels.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael, maybe? Right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, I know then, but I just can't name them all.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So that's what I meant, like gospel writers... don't know.


CHETRY: Delia Gallagher is CNN's faith and values correspondent.

Now, I thought that one was pretty easy. For the record, tell us.


For the record, they're Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but surprisingly it was the question that most people had difficulty with, Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. So what were some of the other findings, Delia, about -- because the vast majority of people asked say they are religious, and many Christians don't necessarily know the specifics of the bible.

GALLAGHER: Yes. Well, you know, a lot of people will say they believe, and they are Christian, and they are practicing, but when it comes to really knowing your bible or even knowing about other religions, we found that a lot of people don't have a great breadth of knowledge about their history and their religious history.

So, for example, one of the things that I found was interesting in our little non-scientific survey, we should say, from some of those people that you saw there was that they did know about Islam's holy book, the Koran. So, you know, you can see that some of this is seeping through in terms of what's happening in today's world, but they don't necessarily know about Jewish and Christian scriptures in the bible.

CHETRY: All right. So why do we need to know this stuff?

GALLAGHER: Well, you know, it's -- religious history is history in general, so, of course, there is some value to knowing about history, and it's about the history of the Jewish and the Christian people. And then, of course, you have cultural references from today that refer back to the bible and presidents and pop songs, and all kinds of different references that a lot of people are sort of familiar with, but they don't really know where it all comes from.

CHETRY: Hey, does this sort of reopen the debate about whether we should be teaching religion in schools?

GALLAGHER: Well, this is part of the point that the author makes in his book. He blames the fact that were are religiously illiterate on the fact that in our schools we do not teach the bible either as history or as literature in any way.

The problem, of course, with that, as he points out, is that people are afraid to do this, because you will find yourself in court if you try to teach it, but not preach it. You know, there's a fine line between those two. And in our public school system, that is something that the schools are really afraid to get into, and one of the reasons why kids today and adults aren't getting any kind of bible history.

I agree that it's a little bit odd that the vast majority of people in a country that prides itself as the most religious in the world can't name the writers of the gospel, but really, whose fault is that? The last I heard, there were tens of thousands of churches in this country. Is it too much to ask that they be in charge of religious instruction? Isn't that their specialty?

I know that many of the conservative mega-churches spend most of their time instructing their parishoners on Republican politics and holding Christian rock extravaganzas so they don't have time for actual religious teaching. Understood. But maybe they could send their kids to the mainline and liberal churches once a month so they can get some actual Bible teachings. With all the pressure on public schools to find a way to teach biology that doesn't offend the Christian Right, they just don't have the resources to spend on special classes about Biblical references in pop songs and presidents 'n stuff.

I'm sure there are many churches that would be happy to accomodate those who want their kids (or themselves) to learn about religion.