In college, I’d sometimes get stopped by Christian groups asking if I would want to take a short quiz. Being the trivia nut that I am, I would say yes. They were pretty simple questions from the Bible. Things like: Who gave the Sermon on the Mount? I’d get these questions correct, turn in my form, wait for them to say, “Wow, nice work! Would you like to come to our Bible study?” and then tell them I was an atheist. The look on their faces was always priceless. I also wondered why if I got all their questions right, why I would even need to attend a Bible study… but that’s besides the point.
Stephen Prothero, the author of Religious Literacy, thinks that everyone should know the basic beliefs of all the major religions. It’s not about believing them or accepting them. It’s about knowing them well enough to understand what some other people base their life off of. For example, can you name the Five Pillars of Islam? How about “single sacred text of Hinduism“?
Prothero writes in his book:
In today’s world it is irresponsible to use the word ‘educated’ to describe high school or college graduates who are ignorant of the ancient stories that continue to motivate the beliefs and behaviors of the overwhelming majority of the world’s population… In a world as robustly religious as ours, it is foolish to imagine that such graduates are equipped to participate fully in the politics of the nation or the affairs of the world.
What does Prothero suggest?
According to the New York Times:
He proposes that all public high schools require one course on the Bible and one on the world’s major religions. He proposes that colleges require all students to take one course in religious studies. He thinks that this can be done without proselytizing and fully in accord with the Constitution.
What about atheism? Does religious literacy require the study of nonbelief? Certainly, Dr. Prothero said. At least in the West, he explained, atheism is part of the religious conversation: You cannot understand religion in the modern West without taking atheism into account, and you cannot understand atheism without understanding its religious context.
I would be curious to know how atheists do on a test of religious literacy compared to Christians. My suspicion is that atheists know about other mythologies a lot better than people who believe in a specific one of them.
I still anticipate it’d be tough to teach a course on the Bible without finding some teachers who use it as an opportunity to proselytize. But, as frequent commenter Bjorn writes (via email):
… I think the attempt should be made. Religion is all around us, to be ignorant of others beliefs, whether you are an atheist or not, is lazy and irresponsible. Dr. Prothero does make it clear that atheism should be studied as well, which is good to see, as atheists have been invited more and more into theological debates.
(Thanks to Bjorn for the links.)
[tags]atheist, atheism, Christian, Sermon on the Mount, Bible, Stephen Prothero, Religious Literacy, Five Pillars of Islam, Hinduism, New York Times, Constitution[/tags]