Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me

So the good people at Pew did another survey, this time on religious knowledge. I did pretty well (I missed one question: thinking that the Second Great Awakening was the only one, I reasoned that Billy Graham was too late for it and Jonathan Edwards too early, and so guessed that the remaining name I did not recognize was the figure associated with “The First Great Awakening”). I can’t claim any special abilities here, as I am a lapsed Baha’i, and have almost toxic levels of higher education, and thus pick up all sorts of arcana by osmosis. I do wonder about the 1% who got them all right.

Now I really would like to have a rant here about religious literacy, which is one of my hobby-horses, but my expectations were low, so I can’t complain. Unsurprisingly, people know what a Koran is, though they are perhaps of two minds about what to do with them. Unsurprisingly, lots of people don’t know even the first thing about their own traditions (e. g., Catholics not knowing that they are committed to transubstantiation; Protestants not knowing who Martin Luther is). This does not trouble me much. I have no idea what the capital of North Dakota is.

There were some disturbing results. Hispanic Catholics do remarkably poorly on just about all the questions religious and non-religious, which suggests to me that we have a serious education policy problem going unaddressed related to English language fluency. Thanks to the near monopoly on citizen self-knowledge maintained by the law schools, many Americans still know next to nothing about their own constitutional order, thinking Brown v. Board of Education was about Darwinism, or that one is not permitted to learn about religion in public schools. This would go some distance toward explaining resentment over religion being driven from the public schools, widespread beliefs that the courts have betrayed the Founders (to what degree they have is another question, but alienation rooted in ignorance is unhealthy for the polity) or bizarre episodes like the recent one in which a Republican politician attributed the concept of separation of church and state to Hitler. And something very odd is going on indeed among the 28% who have no idea what political party is in power, but whatever it is, at least you can’t blame Fox News. But that there are even only 4% who believe Moby Dick was written by Stephen King makes me want to weep.

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One comment on “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me

  1. Pliny the Elder says:

    I got them all right, but I am not sure that is good. (On the other hand, my in-laws are Taoist and I live in a Hindu/Sikh community). I am more worried about the general literacy issues. How baffling the world must be to someone who does not know that Mother Teresa was Catholic or that Ramadan is an Islamic event (in many ways ythe central holiday of the religion).
    I wonder what percentage of folks could name even half the Supreme Court

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