Religious People Don’t Know Much

Pew recently came out with a report confirming what plenty of pastors already know.  Americans ill-informed about religion (Here’s the test). I recently purchased Stephen Prothero‘s book on Religious Literacy for the purpose of creating a basic minimum of what a confirmand should know about the faith and the church, adding the particulars of what makes Episcopalians distinctive.

I wonder if it would be helpful to have a basic universal test.  Prothero has a list of reasonable expectations for someone who participates in public life.  I don’t think every Episcopal student needs to know who all the Anglican divines were, but they should know about the impact of Elizabeth on the church, the framework of anti-puritan and anti-Catholic context in the thirty-nine articles; and some of the general tensions, such as evangelical, broad and Anglo-Catholic, within the tradition, without being triumphalist or parochial on our denominational identity.

Granted, a list can get unwieldy.   But knowing the ten commandments – and that there are different versions – the virtues and vices, having some of Jesus’ words known by heart; the order of the Pentateuch and the four Gospels; would seem important to any Christian participating in the public realm.

I wonder if clergy are afraid of teaching too much.  For every Atheist knows that one way to make atheists is to expose someone to as much religion as possible.  Give a young child a bible without commentary, and it will seem like an incomprehensible, dangerous and violent document.  But I suggest it is our duty to handle scripture not merely reverently, but honestly, offering the alphabet of a common heritage that is available to all.