Today’s New York Times has a great piece, “Atheists Outdo Some Believers in Surveys“, in which atheists, Mormons and Jews easily outpaced Christians in a random Pew survey asking questions about world religions and religious figures.
Christian Evangelicals and Mormons led the way in correctly answering questions about Christianity. Meanwhile, 53% of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther, and 45% of Catholics thought communion was symbolic. Actually, I don’t know if it’s more surprising that 55% of Catholics still think it’s literal. Not sure you can win on that one.
The results didn’t surprise American Atheists president Dave Silverman who noted, “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”
Nor did the results surprise surly Vice producer Brian Orce, who scoffed, “Amazing. Another in the ‘No Shit’ series of articles along with ‘boys prefer violent games’ and ‘eating crap is bad for you.'” Lest Orce’s comments come across as overly sarcastic, the Times did actually report on a study demonstrating that males preferred violent video games.
Brian Orce is no stranger to religious trivia. Orce and I swung by a Wine and Chocolate party in Brooklyn a few years ago. The train got delayed between stops, and the crowd began casting mean glares at our inane banter, leading Brian to remark, “Wow! We’re those guys on the train everyone wants to shut up.” The conversation was posted on Overheard in New York, with the two of us labeled “Hipster #1” and “Hipster #2”.
We eventually got to the party, which was mostly NYU law students, and Orce got into an argument with one of them about the inherent violence in Christianity, declaring, “Jesus even says, ‘I come not in peace, but bearing a sword.'” The highly exasperated Christian law student he was debating with announced that he carried a bible with him at all times, and after Orce narrowed it down to the Book of Matthew, the room grew quiet as the three of us looked for the quote. Suddenly, the law student slammed the book down in frustration. It’s because he saw this: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew: 10:34 NASB).
Orce followed up, “Yeah, he was even like, ‘if you don’t have a sword, sell your shit and buy one.'” At this, even I assumed Orce had overplayed his hand, particularly because he had slurred his words and could not pinpoint the location of the passage. Unfortunately for the prematurely gleeful law student, in time we found this one too: “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one” (Luke 22:36 NASB).
Look folks, the debate that began in this country over 230 years ago when prominent deists challenged the basic assumptions of the Christian church in the name of Enlightenment rationality should be revisited today, with maximum vigor. Anyone who hasn’t read the excellent Christopher Hitchens book, God Is Not Great, should get themselves a cheap copy on Amazon right now. What Hitchens’ book reminded me was that the real argument against organized religion isn’t necessarily based on science, though this Indian dude wrote a hilarious post on his visit to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. The real problem of religious institutions is that their texts and churches are built on completely flawed history, often by flawed people who perpetuated that flawed history. You could show me scientific proof that the earth was the center of the universe, and “The Big Three” Western religions would still be premised on wild inaccuracies.
Anyway, organized religion and the need for its demise in the public sphere is a topic to be fully engaged another day, though having such an obviously agnostic U.S president means now is probably as good a time as any .
A final note on Hitchens though- his book came out the spring of 2007, shortly before I left New York for my sex trafficking research project in India. The night before my flight, I got a text message from a random number, and the text was simply a picture of the board outside a church advertising Sunday’s sermon titled, “Christopher Hitchens Doesn’t Know What He’s Talking About!”
I texted back, “Hilarious, but who is this?”
The response: “Sorry, wrong number. But glad you appreciated it.”
To end with a non-sequitor:
1. I don’t agree with a characterization of this as “hateful”. It bears no malice towards Christians, or any other religious person. I am not even making any concrete suggestions about organized religion, except that we have a rigorous debate on its place in public policy. I remain friends with Republicans and Miami Heat fans, despite far more vitriolic writing against those parties. Hate the game, not the player, I suppose.
2. Yes, there are smart Christians. I never said there weren’t. That said, people who are members of such a powerful body as the Christian Church absolutely should be responsible for their organization’s history. I don’t see how it’s remotely controversial to suggest that.
3. The New York Times article suggested that Christians in America could stand to learn a lot more about other faiths, as well as their own. This is indisputable. I am no religious expert, but I found the 15 question version of the quiz extremely easy. Americans should, in general, be working much harder to understand other peoples’ history and culture, as well as their own.