Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Survey: Americans don't know much about religion

"A new survey of Americans' knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions."

I wish I found this surprising. It's not that I wish to sound self-righteous or anything; I actually wish people would study the religions to which they devote their lives. As a friend of mine pointed out, religious texts are like end-user license agreements. People either skim or don't read them, scroll to the bottom, and click "I accept." You owe it to yourself to at least know the details of your own religion.


A few years ago, I was on vacation in Ohio, visiting my mother. It was the first time I'd been back to Ohio since moving to the West Coast, and it was also the first time I'd seen her face-to-face since coming out. We had several less-than-pleasant conversations about my sexuality, along with my participation in an atheist nonprofit. As you can imagine, god was used a reason to alter my behavior. I left feeling bitter and misunderstood.*

For her next birthday, I decided I'd get her something meaningful, rather than the standard assortment of mom gifts. So...I got her a copy of Julia Sweeney's "Letting Go of God" monologue. A bold move, for sure, but my point was to show her one woman's spiritual journey, and how it eventually led her away from god. This wasn't to change my own mother's mind, but simply to make her understand a bit of my worldview. And it's hard to get offended from Julia's story--she's funny, honest, but never rude or aggressive.

My mother called me one day after she'd started listening to it, and her major criticism was Julia's discussions of the Bible stories. She actually had no idea whether or not these (what I would consider common) stories were true, like Abraham being commanded to sacrifice Isaac, or the story about Sodom and Gomorrah. It was interesting that I, the atheist, ended the conversation by seriously suggesting that she read the Bible. She's been a Christian for 60 years, and yet she's never actually read (much less studied in depth) the one book that supposedly means so much its followers. I don't mean to pick on her, but this mentality, this lack of education about one's own religion, is frightfully common in this country. If this is your belief system, you owe it to yourself and to others to learn everything there is to know about it. Especially if you're going to use that book as a justification for discrimination and moral decisions. Know what the whole thing says, not just the cherry-picked parts that are convenient for whatever statement you're trying to make.

*Since that time we've come to a better understanding about these topics, even if we still do disagree.

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