What Do the Religious Know? It Turns Out, Not So Much

Jesus Christ!

DUH-O! - Athesists and agnostics are found to be the most knowledgeable about religion, but that's no reason for atheists and agnostics to break out the confetti and dance on the table in celebration.

I’ve debated hundreds of religious people over their preferred Tome of Enlightenment™ and found it interesting that a new poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life validates my own anecdotal evidence – that some of the most pious are also some of the most ignorant of their own religion.

In fact, the study finds that not only do religious people often exhibit a shocking ignorance of their Bible, Quran, Torah, et al, but agnostics and atheists like me actually know more about them than those who depend on them for their moral guidance.

I’m what you might call a friendly atheist. I don’t get too worked up over many things believers think they’re divinely empowered to do, because in many cases, it doesn’t really matter. For example, is a dollar with “In God we Trust” worth less than a dollar without?

Believers as Aggressive SOBs?
On the other side of the fence, agnostics and atheists sometimes look at the religioned as aggressively ignorant SOBs who won’t stop discriminating against their fellow humans until they get to dance around the infidels nailed to the biggest cross around. But, that doesn’t mean everyone on both sides is an argumentative crapweasel intent on converting their opposites to a life of enlightenment and wisdom with extreme prejudice.

However, I can get worked up when it comes to believers imposing their beliefs on not only atheists and agnostics, but believers of religions not their own. It’s as harebrained for Muslims to assume Christians are, to a person, supporters of the most insane beliefs about Islam as Christians feeling divinely justified in depriving Muslims if all manner of Constitutional rights.

As a former Christian, I’ve come to believe the Bible is a wonderful work of literature, and on the whole, not a bad checklist for leading a morally good life. I know, and support, that others may differ. The biggest differences I have with most Christians are that I see the Bible as the work of man and where we’ll each end up when we die. I try to stay tolerant of views that oppose my own because that’s the compact I’ve made with myself – to allow believers the freedom to believe anything they want, so long as they respect my freedom to not believe.

I don’t believe I have the corner on biblical wisdom by virtue of answering more questions on a survey form, but I do think there is meaning – even non-biblical meaning – in how believers sometimes conduct their own religions.

Because My Bible Tells Me So
In all my personal religious debates I’ve ended up in the same place. I offer logical and scientific reasoning to explain things and, faced with the disagreement, almost every Christian explains away events or beliefs by saying, the Bible tells me so.

I have a feeling that part of this rhetorical impasse comes as a result of selective readings of religious texts – in other words, believers simply pretending Biblical quotes to the contrary aren’t there…when it’s convenient. The result is a disincentive to learn more about their religions. After all, if you only believe that parts of a religious text apply or that they apply differently to those you don’t like, what’s the point in digging further to find the inconvenient and inconsistent things hiding in the dense text?

There are many believers who dig hard and try to reach a level of religious understanding that clearly many of the people in this survey have no use for. And there are plenty of hypocritical muttonheads among the non-believers. I’d caution the non-believers to not do any fist-pumps over the survey though.

The poor showing of the believers isn’t doing believers OR non-believers any good. Without finding some middle ground where we can all learn to coexist, our philosophical culture wars and quite real hot, shooting wars, will continue unabated.

And, that is a situation that science can’t tolerate and isn’t what God wants.

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