So how concerned should we be about the new Pew US Religious Knowledge Survey. In results highlighted in major news media sources, the Pew Survey reported that self proclaimed atheists, Jews and Mormons knew more about Christianity and the Bible than self proclaimed Christians! The Pew Survey interviewed 3200 people and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and general Religious Knowledge. Atheists averaged 20 right answers, Christians 16-17 or about half right. 45% of the Catholics did not know their church teaches that the bread and wine of communion actually becomes the body and blood of Jesus. More than 50% of the Protestants did not know who Martin Luther was. Almost no one knew who Jonathan Edwards was. About half those surveyed thought the Golden Rule was one of the ten commandments and only about half knew the names of all four gospels. Overall, Mormons answered more of the questions from the Bible right than Christians did. The full analysis of the survey is at pewforum.org
I took the abbreviated quiz the NY Times had at its website today. Not too tough. But, then I wasn't surprised at the results of the survey. Seems like there is a similar poll about every year and it shows the same results. And I have been a pastor long enough to know Christian Education has fallen on hard times. Another of the survey's findings was this: few people read books about their own faith. While they may read the Bible once a week that's about the extent of their Christian Education. The survey found most people never read anything about other religious points of view. As the detective on Dragnet used to say, those are the facts, just the facts.
American Christians think that they don't need to think. Christianity is a relationship; we are saved by faith, not by thinking. Thinking leads to doubts and questions and life is too complicated as it is. We don't want to complicate our faith. Our minds are made up. What is there to think about, unless we are unsure of what we believe. Christian faith is supposed to make us feel better about ourselves, about life in general. So, if it is doing that, then it is doing its job. It is supposed to be a means of having a hope, a purpose in troubled times. If it is, why fix what ain't broke. So, do we really need to think. How concerned should we be when we hear about polls and surveys such as the one this week by the Pew Forum.
In the NY Times article, the president of the leading atheist organization in the country was asked to comment on how well atheists did on the survey. He said he was not surprised. He had always said atheists knew Christianity better than Christians did. He said he encouraged people to read the Bible, to study Christianity. Only then will they find out why they should not believe it. Interesting point.
Faith does not come by study, by thinking. It is a gift, the Bible says. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) believed that faith was the foundation for Christian thought. "I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand; for this also I believe, that unless I believe I will not understand." He went on to formulate the ontological proof for God's existence which is still useful today and he wrote Cur Deus Homo (why God became man), a seminal work on the atonement.
Knowledge does not save by itself. But faith seeks reasons. So the Church will always have a teaching ministry. The latest Pew Survey confirms what most of us already knew. There is still plenty of work to do.