From my (and probably your) internet front page this morning:
"A new survey of Americans' knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions, while many respondents could not correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths.
Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics who participated in the study didn't know that, according to church teaching, the bread and wine used in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ.
More than half of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation. And about four in 10 Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the greatest rabbis and intellectuals in history, was Jewish."
(By RACHEL ZOLL, AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll, Ap Religion Writer – Tue Sep 28, 12:02 am ET)
I am pondering the above sympathetically. I went to a Catholic boarding school (total immersion!) for three years and studied spiritual direction in a Catholic context, so I'm good on the Catholic stuff. I was an active member of the United Methodist Church and now the Presbyterian Church for many years and I've taught world history, so I'm good on Martin Luther. And I taught that history in an Orthodox Jewish school, so I know who Maimonides was.
But you know, you could write a similar assessment about me where science is concerned. I have no concept of even the most fundamental basics. like how electricity works, and popular articles about chemistry and astronomy might as well be written in Sanskrit for all that I get out of them.
So I'm sympathetic. But concerned, nevertheless.
I'm going to a meeting later today in which I expect to make the point that we Presbyterians are failing in our recognition, understanding, and expression of our identity as Presbyterian, Reformed, Protestant Christians. On all counts.
I'm one of the facilitators for the Kerygma Scriptural educational program we are beginning at my home church this fall. We usually have about 250 folks in worship on Sunday mornings; at least 70 have signed up for this class. I'd say people are hungry -- not only for religious knowledge but for paths into such knowledge.
I'm preaching at a nearby church on October 31, Reformation Sunday and All Saints' Eve. The regular lectionary gospel text for that day is the story of Zacchaeus, and I've been reading that wonderful Tomáš Halík book, Patience with God: The Story of Zacchaeus Continuing In Us, which I keep quoting at the top of my blog. I'm trying to figure out how to pull all that together, remembering a Reformation Sunday a few years ago in which the history and theology of the day never came up except in the singing of A Mighty Fortress (a hymn written by Martin Luther and set to the tune of a popular drinking song ~ which I learned in an adult education class taught in my home church by a Jewish college professor of liturgical music!). I was pretty sure that most people in the congregation had no idea why that particular song had been selected for that morning, and I'm pretty sure that a lot of people have no idea that the day on which we enjoy childish goblins and witches has serious religious significance.
To be honest, I have my Jewish students to thank for most of what I know myself. Endlessly curious about other expressions of faith, they prodded me constantly to learn and teach them. It's thanks to them that I spent hours researching both Martin Luther's pamphlets (and sadly horrific anti-Semitism) and the history of pumpkin carving.
So . . . what are you wondering about these days?