religious ignorance...err, I mean literacy

  • When does the Jewish Sabbath begin?
  • In which religion are Vishnu and Shiva central figures?
  • What was Joseph Smith's religion?
  • Which Bible figure is most closely associated with leading the exodus from Egypt?

These are few of the questions asked in a recent poll conducted in the US by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. And the results, well, they are pretty dismal. As religious columnist, Douglas Todd, cites, the test's results reveal "that U.S. atheists and agnostics, as well as Jews and Mormons, know more about religion than do most of the strong majority of Americans who are Protestants and Catholics." Todd doubts Canadians would fare much better.

Give the test a try! - test your religious ignorance...err, I mean literacy.

In a culture of increasing religious and ethnic diversity, basic understanding can go a long way towards living well with one another. So what's the problem? In a country (Canada) that officially endorses multiculturalism, how can we engage the differences in our midst? Is it possible to reverse the sad results of the religious literacy survey?

Douglas Todd offers a simple proposal:

Canadians need to know not only what Christians and Muslims think. They need to understand what beliefs fuel the actions of their next-door neighbours, who are often likely to be Buddhists, Jews, Hindus or Sikhs...

[I suggest] we follow the European model and make world religion courses, also called world view courses, a regular and mandatory aspect of kindergarten-to-Grade 12 education.

As much as many university academics might hate it, I also suggest it would be beneficial to require one religious studies course of anyone wanting to obtain a bachelor's degree in Canada.

North American religious illiteracy threatens both our well-being as members of a civil society, and raises the spectre of grave misunderstandings in foreign policy.

Educators should not give in to the kind of unfounded anxiety that has traditionally barred efforts to make world religion courses a part of every Canadians' education.

Religious differences shouldn't be scary. Stereotyping and judgmentalism is scary. And as Christians, why wait for society to embrace education in religious diversity. How many churches hold courses on world religions (and I mean a course that doesn't call everything non-Christian a "cult")? Or when did you last visit a Buddhist temple or Mormon church? Or attend a Sikh Vaisakhi parade? We need to be learning.

Religious pluralism isn't an enemy. It's a reality. And if we don't engage this diversity, well, religious literacy will indeed be religious ignorance.


Ann Kroeker said...

Thanks for providing the link to the quiz!

David Warkentin said...

Your welcome Ann - I didn't go so far as to ask for peoples results!

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