In Pew Forum survey released Tuesday (9.28.10)
(http://onfaith.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/2010/09/is_religious_knowledge_importa/all.html) atheists and agnostic surpass all other groups in their knowledge of religion. How do you explain this?
Is knowledge of religion important? Why?
“Jesus Christ died for my sins.” That was President Obama’s reply – within hours of the Pew survey’s religious-knowledge-in-America report – to an audience question, What is your religion?
Now we “know” the President’s religion. Or do we? Since his reply is New Testament Christian, it cannot put him in any narrower category (for Pew surveying) than Christian: it’s not Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Liberal-Progressive, Evangelical, or Pentecostal.
Obama was not asked the comparatively trivial question, What do you know about religion? Not that the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life survey of Americans’ knowledge of religion was trivial: so pervasive is religion in human life that ignorance of religion is ignorance of humanity. But the “religious knowledge” Obama’s questioner wanted him to acknowledge turned out to be his “knowledge” that Jesus Christ is his Savior and Lord. In comparison with the religious person’s inner knowing, the outer knowing of survey-categorizable and -processable data is trivial. And the generalizations popping out at the end of the production line are more laughable than enlightening, but sound significant when the survey’s manager eagerly speaks the most shocking of them on television (as he did on the Lehrer Show the evening of the survey’s release).
Thus far, I have addressed the two kinds of “religious knowledge,” (1) inner-personal experience, and (2) outer-objective data. Persons swimming upstream against a culture’s first kind will be better informed in the second kind. In a godless culture, believers in God will “know” more about religion: in a godly culture, unbelievers in God will “know” more about religion.
Finally, I must put this week’s On Faith questioning in the correlation of the human ways of knowing and the human ways of thinking. I’ll call the later “minds,” though they are aspects of the one human mind.
1 The EMOTIONAL mind. This is the oldest and still the most powerful aspect of human awareness. It’s an academic prejudice that emotions, feelings, are not aspects of but to be contrasted with “mind.” But the street meaning of “mind” is consciousness. The two are so semantically close that often one hears “I feel” and “I think” as synonymous ways of introducing the expression of one’s conviction or opinion. With this mind, we don’t just feel, we know (for example, when we have “fallen” in love).
2 The ESTHETIC mind. While cultures differ in detailing what is beautiful, always and everywhere the beautiful is honored and celebrated over against the anti-beautiful, the ugly. We know beauty when we see-hear it – when our senses pick it out and raise it up.
3 The RELIGIOUS mind. We have experiences which refuse to be captive to dailiness, to our powers of control and comprehension – “transcendent” experiences of the beyond, the more than – experiences of being addressed, confronted, called. instructed, guided. How we express these experiences differs from culture to culture, and can no more be merged into one understanding than the different languages of the different cultures can be merged into one. This unmergeability in religion is no more irrational than is unmergeability in language. We come to know a language, to know that we’ve fallen in love, and to know (in Obama’s case) that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord.
4 The MORAL mind. While there are cultural differences in the definition of “the good,” the sense of good/evil is irreducible in human beings, and in its absence we call persons psychopaths/sociopaths. We know right from wrong, good from evil. (In the Bible’s first chapter, goodness – the Creator’s goodness in the creation of the world – is mentioned seven times.)
5 The RATIONAL mind. This, the latest to evolve, is unique among our minds
(again, aspects of our consciousness) in providing objective data by verifiable/falsifiable intellectual processes. This way of knowing has greatly increased our ability to do evil (as well as good) to one another and to the natural world. The prejudice that this way should have exclusive right to the use of “knowledge” – the scientistic prejudice – continues to have a depersonalizing and culturally impoverishing influence on human life.
The Pew survey, while not worthless, is easy to overvalue in that it is a product of the rational mind, which in the West is, among the ways of knowing, overvalued.