Wednesday, January 12, 2005

One Nation, Under a Dimly Understood God...

Stephen Prothero, in the LA Times (via A&L Daily). He's arguing that the U.S. needs more education about religion in its primary schools, which is to be distinguished from religious education.

Things are different in Europe, and not just in Sweden. The Dutch are four times less likely than Americans to believe in miracles, hell and biblical inerrancy. The euro does not trust in God. But here is the paradox: Although Americans are far more religious than Europeans, they know far less about religion.

In Europe, religious education is the rule from the elementary grades on. So Austrians, Norwegians and the Irish can tell you about the Seven Deadly Sins or the Five Pillars of Islam. But, according to a 1997 poll, only one out of three U.S. citizens is able to name the most basic of Christian texts, the four Gospels, and 12% think Noah's wife was Joan of Arc. That paints a picture of a nation that believes God speaks in Scripture but that can't be bothered to read what he has to say.

Seems plausible to me, though this argument could easily be twisted into "Prothero says cure for religious extremism is more religion in school." Still, it's interesting where he ends up in this op-ed:


A few days after 9/11, a turbaned Indian American man was shot and killed in Arizona by a bigot who believed the man's dress marked him as a Muslim. But what killed Balbir Singh Sodhi (who was not a Muslim but a Sikh) was not so much bigotry as ignorance. The moral of his story is not just that we need more tolerance. It is that Americans — of both the religious and the secular variety — need to understand religion. Resolving in 2005 to read for yourself either the Bible or the Koran (or both) might not be a bad place to start.

4 comments:

[ tyler curtain ] said...

Yes. Because if he had been properly educated then he would have been able to distinguish his kill, and murder a Muslim instead of a Sikh.

Abhorrent--ignorance murdered Sodhi? No, murderous, anti-Muslim sentiment killed Sodhi, if that was what motivated the actions.

I would love to claim that the moral of the story is Thou Shalt Not Kill. Instead the moral is, Thou Should Know Whom It Is Thou Kill. Sigh. Or something.

[ tyler curtain ] said...

Yes. Because if he had been properly educated then he would have been able to distinguish his kill, and murder a Muslim instead of a Sikh.

Abhorrent--ignorance murdered Sodhi? No, murderous, anti-Muslim sentiment killed Sodhi, if that was what motivated the actions.

I would love to claim that the moral of the story is Thou Shalt Not Kill. Instead the moral is, Thou Should Know Whom It Is Thou Kill. Sigh. Or something.

Amardeep said...

Tyler,

I didn't notice it before, but I think maybe his attempt to connect Sodhi's murder to the point about education about religion fails for the reason you're alluding to.

His real point is, if you have more education about religion (along the European model) you might end up with a little less spontaneous religious passion. That seems valid to me, though I don't think negative psychology is any kind of basis for policy.

Loretta said...

Balbir Singh Sodhi was killed by a gun.

When I was in junior high we learned about world religions. Public school, small town, upstate New York.