The Pew Forum on Religion and Public life has a new survey out (this is the full pdf.) If you have read any of Prothero (this book is the closest on topic), the survey seems to be made to beat one of his drums – the desperate need for religious education. Of course that would help him as a religious studies professor. In one sense I completely agree with him, “Americans are both deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion…It is time to address our national epidemic of religious illiteracy. I have called in the past for mandatory public school courses on the Bible and the world’s religions to remedy this problem. The time for such courses is now.” But I also have a severe disagreement with the idea of public school taught religion.
Why I have a severe problem with that is told by the pull line from the Pew Study – “Atheists and Mormons know more about Christianity than Christians.” (Here is a good round-up of links.) The ha-ha is of course they do, because the smarter and the more you know, the more atheist you become. Ha-ha, aren’t we so smart. My problem is not people knowing more. I’d love it if this data wasn’t true. My problem is that teaching the Bible or religion in a public school means it must be taught as comparative religion. The very act of doing that places the learner above or superior to what is being mastered. Placing yourself superior is never the act of a disciple. There is theological distinction called magisterial vs. ministerial and it is usually applied to reason. In the public sphere, reason is magisterial. That means that reason is the ultimate arbitrator of everything. What that means is that in teaching the Bible in a modern public school, the student’s reason is magisterial over the Bible. The student and teacher are superior to the Word of God. The ministerial sense of reason is more in line with the old Catholic phrase – “reason seeking understanding.” Or Biblically “I believe, help my unbelief”. The assumption is that the rule of faith – the bible is correct. Reason is a servant or a minister in helping understand how that is true. A magisterial reason, the only type allowed in a public school, is corrosive to faith. A ministerial reason is a help to faith, but it is not possible to teach that way in a public school.
Now for the graphs I promised. The first graph either says a lot about the quality of preaching, invincible ignorance, or I just don’t know what. What it says is that the level of knowledge on the religion questions Pew asked was completely invariable with worship attendance. Now maybe its just that the people attending weekly know a whole bunch about their religion and nothing at all about anything else. Its good that as a Lutheran preacher I take worship as being a spiritual activity of the Word of God. If preachers were being graded on “knowledge acquired” we’d all be flunked based on this.
The second graph takes a look at St. Mark’s attendance. I’ve got 140 names that have been to at least 1 service in the past year. Of those 140, 44 or 31% have attended less than 10% of the Sundays this calendar year. After carving out that group, the attendance is a little more normal distributed. Roughly 12 that attend monthly, 27 that attend almost twice a month, 26 that attend a little over twice a month, 17 that are present 3 out of 4 Sundays, and 14 that are present almost every Sunday. If the Pew survey is true, the 44 know more facts about Christianity than the others, and the rest all know about the same.
Also, to those 44, you’re on my list. I want to see you next week. Its good for your soul.
Bin Frequency Cumulative %
0% – 10% 44 31.43%
11%-25% 12 40.00%
26%-50% 27 59.29%
51%-75% 26 77.86%
76%-90% 17 90.00%
90%-100% 14 100.00%