The talk of freethinking sites on the internet today is the Pew Study that showed how atheists and agnostics scored highest on a test of widespread basic religious knowledge. They were closely followed by Jews. Scoring more poorly were Protestants and Catholics. One of my colleagues just wrote about it on the Chicago Tribune’s blog.
One of the great bonuses of being a member of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis, is having colleagues like Rabbi Adam Chalom, Ph.D. He is dean of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism in North American and rabbi of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in northern Chicago. He also grew up in Rabbi Sherwin Wine’s congregation. The first time I heard him speak, I said to myself, “This is the Jewish intellectual voice I’ve been looking for!”
Unlike me, Rabbi Chalom usually gets right to the point:
Some incorrectly assume that atheists, agnostics, Humanists etc. are hostile to religion out of ignorance; in fact, many of us are fascinated by the phenomenon of religion, even if we do not accept its traditional premises.
One of the things that intrigues me about religion is how well it serves some really basic human needs. The success of Secular Humanistic Judaism (even if it is still small) can provide a model for the creation of more non-theistic fellowships or churches where these needs can be met without appealing to faith in a supernatural entity.
Rabbi Chalom continues:
The mistake comes from assuming that religious truth is self-evident – once you hear it, you will automatically believe it. The truth is that reading religious texts does not make you religious – I have read from the New Testament, the Quran, the Tao te-Ching, Greek Mythology and many others, none of which converted me.
I would only add from my personal experience that my intimacy with Jewish religious literature couldn’t make me a believer.
Another reason that more atheists and agnostics demonstrated a command of the material is that we are not afraid of the subject matter. Richard Dawkins and others have suggested that we need universal and completely objective comparative religious studies in the schools. I agree. Atheists are absolutely unthreatened by knowledge. Let’s teach people what all of these religions believe. I think we’ll find we have more non-theists.
In the meantime, the best we can do is to continue to build good humanist institutions that will be here waiting for them when they’re ready.