Judi's Journal

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What we don't know can hurt us

By Judi Siegal

An article in a local newspaper caught my eye the other day. In a recent survey concerning Americans’ knowledge of religious belief, it showed that agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Catholics in answering questions, but although they were knowledgeable about other faiths, some respondents did not know the basic tenets of their own faith. For instance, Catholics did not know that the bread and wine used in Communion, actually become the Body and Blood of Christ, according to Church teaching and that the wine and bread are not merely symbols. The Protestants surveyed (more than 50 percent) did not know that Martin Luther was the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation.

If the respondents to this survey know little about their own faiths, it would suggest to me that they follow their respective religions with little regard for spirituality and do so in a manner lacking enthusiasm. It could also indicate that these people like to be told what to believe rather than thinking about what their faiths stand for.

The United States is one of the most religious countries in the world. We have more faiths and religions here because we have freedom of religious expression. Even though we are a country of diversity, our citizens know little about religion in general. We can no longer live as if there is only one faith in this country. We need to reach out to our neighbors, share in their rituals and learn about the different paths to God. There are people who have never met a Muslim or a Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist. What we don’t know can hurt us. What we do not know, we fear and from out of this fear comes prejudice.

In the survey, conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the respondents were asked 32 various questions, with different levels of difficulty. Atheists and agnostics scored the highest with 21 correct answers, while Jews and Mormons came in a close second with 20 correct answers. Protestants averaged 16 and Catholics had 15. And it was noted, that level of education was a good predictor of religious knowledge.

On questions dealing with Christianity, Mormons scored highest followed by white evangelicals. Jews, along with atheists and agnostics, knew the most about other faiths such as Islam and Hinduism. It does not surprise me that Jews know much about other faiths. Judaism embraces many traditions and the liberal prayer books contain texts and readings from different faiths. I also believe that intermarriage has an influence here as many Jews marry out of the Jewish religion. Many times in mixed marriages, the two different faiths are melded together in a kind of spiritual mélange when it comes to raising children.

As far as religious leaders go, I am sure most people would recognize the Pope as being head of the Catholic Church, but fewer than 50 percent knew that the Dalai Lama was a Buddhist leader.

Ignorance of religious traditions and beliefs is a very dangerous thing in today’s world. The recent incident of a Gainesville pastor threatening to burn copies of the Koran, Islam’s Bible, was shameful and disrespectful. It conjures up book burnings through the ages from Torahs and Talmuds to Bibles and other books considered heretical by those in power.

As we approach the 72nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, when the Nazis stormed and looted Jewish houses of worship and businesses in well-staged raids during November 9-10, 1938, setting the stage for the Holocaust to follow, let us keep in mind the importance of knowing about the religious beliefs of those who share our planet. As we study and learn about different faiths, we will discover that many of our Judeo-Christian beliefs are shared by others. There are many paths to God. When we recognize this, then will we learn to live in peace.