Prothero's Book

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Prothero's Book

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Edited: Mar 13, 2007, 1:07 pm

I came across an article in Newsweek that seemed interesting.

Title: The Gospel of Prothero

The article introduced Steve Prothero and his new book _Religious Literacy_.

A quote:
"When he began teaching college 17 years ago, Prothero writes, he discovered that few of his students could name the authors of the Christian Gospels. Fewer could name a single Hindu Scripture. Almost no one could name the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. ... He began giving religious literacy quizzes to his students, and, subsequently, to everyone he knew. Almost everybody failed."

The article was interesting to me because, well, obviously religion is a subject I like. But more than that, I often feel he's right. I know very little about religion and less about world religion. But compared to my neighbors and people I meet, I'm a genius. It's really sad! Religion is one of the powerful, enduring forces of humanity--if history is any evidence. As such, religious dynamics and suppositions are probably useful to know.

Seems to me, anyway...
Any thoughts?

Has anyone read Prothero's _Religious Literacy_ ? If so, can give us a quick account of it?

Mar 13, 2007, 1:55 pm

I haven't read that book, but I completely agree with you. I don't consider myself any kind of expert, particularly after reading all of the advanced degrees that the other members of this Group hold, but even I am used to receiving blank looks sometimes when mentioning some sort of religious tidbit or topic. It's also unnerving when the blank look comes from the practitioner of a religion, while discussing that religion.

Regardless of what religion (or none) that one practices, it is profoundly useful to have an understanding of what other people practice, what they believe, and why. And religion often has a definite interaction and profound influence on the behaviors of peoples and nations, both within the nation(s) and internationally.

Granted, I find the study of religions to be fascinating, but still, I think that a bit of religious knowledge---along with a bit of history, geography and so forth---helps us to be better citizens of our communities and of the world. And, here in the U.S., I think a bit of basic knowledge of Christianity, the Bible, etc., helps with cultural literacy as well. (E.g., the influence of, and allusions to, Biblical quotes and topics in literature...etc.)

I may have to give that book a look sometime; it sounds interesting. :-)

Jul 12, 2008, 12:03 am

I've read the book, and found it interesting, although he points out a major problem w/o giving any suggestions to how to solve it that I can remember. I think its not only sad, but dangerous when people don't know the basics of their own religion. I'm not a Christian per se, but I've been to church a few times, and most times if the minister was going to use a bible story in his sermon, he'd have to retell it during the sermon because nobody in the congregation had bothered to read the Bible. Most people apparently can't even name one of the gospels. The twelve deadly sins I can forgive unless you're a catholic, in which case you should know them front and back.

Jul 14, 2008, 8:26 am

I'm personally not so pessimistic...I have been in college classrooms for nearly 40 years and I find this generation to be the most intuitive, most spiritual and in many ways the most interesting of that time....but they aren't (in my experience) interested in bankrupt ideas from ancient texts that have not been updated for their lives and times (I'd suggest Joseph Campbell on this topic!) Dogmatic orthodoxy bores them...but give them something as challenging as "What the Bleep Do We Know" or "The Matrix" (trilogy) or any one of a hundred films and books that they can connect to and they are immediately engaged. The depth of their interest and engagement is almost frightening. What is important about naming the books of the Bible? Better to name the Egyptian sources for that Bible and how Christianity was rear ended by the Catholic church to become a political force in the world and was rung dry of its true religious aspects. The Matrix gives them a look at the Essene and a look at the real issues in contemporary religion in a way that is meaningful and enlightening....better that than who begat whom!

Jul 14, 2008, 7:54 pm

Its important, Susie, because it helps them understand whats going on around them. An understanding of Islam, for example, is extremely enlightening when trying to understand the motivation of Al Qaeda. It might not be something they thrive on, but its important for them to know since, like it or not, religion is still a force in the modern world, and your sabotaging yourself if you don't have a basic understanding of at least the Abrahamic faiths. No one is asking students to memorize the bible, or who begat who, just to know some basic information that can help them stay informed and understand whats going on in the world.

Jul 15, 2008, 3:23 pm

But....the questions that were asked and written about in the article are to "name five books of the old testament", etc. and that was supposed to "prove" knowledge of religion. That is not "education" it is memorization of useless information at best and indoctrination at worst, in my opinion. If you want to know about Christianity or "Abrahamic faiths" that isn't the way to do it....that was my point! In my experience students (and people at large) know a LOT more about religion and have a lot more sophisticated idea of "what they believe and why" than they are usually given credit for. The fact that so many of them have turned away from the organized churches and have gnostically embarked on their own spiritual journey proves it (to me at least!).

Jul 18, 2008, 2:58 am

I'm not saying that people don't have a right to their own religious quest, infact I think thats central to leading a good life, to understand fully what you personally believe. However, I also think to function properly in the world you have to have some knowledge of institutionale religion, which is what most people practice, and that includes stuff like the books of the bible, names of the Apostles, etc, but is not limited to that sort of knowledge.For example, when someone reffers to a verse in the books of Matthew Mark, Luke, or John, its pretty important to know that they're reffering to one of the gospels. It'd be even better to know a bit about the viewpoint that the author was writing from, but just knowing that they are the four gospels is a good start. Its important to know about the theologies, but that knowledge is useless unless you have the basic knowledge required to identify when someone is speaking from experience of a certain religion.

Edited: Jul 20, 2008, 9:54 am

It is important to know "about the theologies" and implied (it would seem to me) in that statement (if you really know the 'theologies') is that "basic knowledge required to identify when someone is speaking from experience of a certain religion". I'd still get back to (one of) the original reactions -- that merely knowing the names of a few books of the Bible (or any other text) isn't going to do you much good or prove much of anything. It certainly isn't going to give you the "knowledge of theologies" that you imply. Those who don't know that basic material are not (in all probability) going to engage in a "Christian" argument to begin with (or probably ANY other religious argument)'s just out of their realm of interest. I do think that people can find a path on their own without the aforementioned "indoctrination" to a specific religion or creed....your arguments seem to be very Christiancentric in my opinion. I think you can be a very good Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim without much of a background in Christianity. The same can be said for a "indoctrinated Christian" (which is what most members of organized religion are....they want to be "saved" by "doing something" --- Save me Jesus! I believe!) I grew up staunchly conservative Christian and I didn't know much of anything about other religions and I functioned just fine within the Christian is getting to those who are not happy "in the box" that educating broadly helps. Knowing the names of the books of the Bible or the names of Individual Sutras or any other superficiality of any specific religion isn't going to be much help.