It has been a season of consternation about the religious illiteracy of America. Prompting fresh knowledge of our ignorance is Stephen Prothero's new book, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — And Doesn’t . The book cites research showing that even Christians are poorly acquainted with the Bible. Familiar with Benjamin Franklin's aphorism "God helps those who help themselves"? Three-quarters of us, Prothero reports, wrongly believe it comes from the Bible. Only one-half of us can name one of the four gospels of the New Testament. (For the record, they are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.) Only a third can identify who delivered the Sermon on the Mount. (Answer: Jesus.)
The worry about religious illiteracy is well justified given the powerful influence of faith on American culture and politics. So it's understandable that we're also witnessing a renewed determination to teach about religion in public schools. The Georgia Legislature has approved a law allowing the teaching of the Bible in public schools. According to a recent Time cover story endorsing Bible instruction, public-school courses on the Bible, while far from numerous, are increasingly popular around the country.
That's all well and good, provided the curricula and instructors respect the crucial difference between promoting religion and teaching about religion. But here's a suggestion that will test our seriousness about developing religious literacy in this country. Let's also teach about Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and the world's other major religions. Especially, let's teach students about Islam...
I agree, but still have my doubts about whether it can be done well in a high school setting. Tolerance and respect of others wasn't something I learned from my high school Social Studies teacher.