Not much, evidently. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, atheists and agnostics know more about religion than the practitioners of those religions. Jews and atheists scored highest, followed by the Mormons. White, evangelical Protestants and white Catholics came next, followed by white, mainline Protestants. Yeah, a lot of the people we mainliners look down our noses at know more about faith than we do. All of which backs up something I’ve said before: we suck at religious education.
I came to that conclusion a few years ago. In case you didn’t know, I’m a Methodist (you should know, I never shut up about it), which is about as mainline as it gets; with 8 million members, the United Methodist Church is the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the United States. I was raised a Methodist and, when I came back to church after quite a few years away, it was to a Methodist church. I’m comfortable there, I like what they teach and what they stand for. The problem is it took a lot of digging on my own to find those things out. When I’ve asked pastors why they didn’t preach more about Wesleyanism, they said “Don’t you think that people would be bored?” Excuse me? If you’re bored by the tenets of your faith, then maybe you’re in the wrong place. But, all the blame can’t be laid at the feet of the Church. A good portion of that blame must be shouldered by us, the lay people. Just remember, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”.
What do I mean by that last remark? The people in the pews need to take their faith more seriously, that’s what. Too many “Christians” don’t want to make an effort to learn anything, they want their pastor/Sunday school teacher/Bible study leader to tell them what to think. Which leads to Sunday school lessons and Bible studies that need more bite, instead of the lame-ass crap that passes for Christian education right now. Studies based on pop culture (TV shows, movies, etc) or lite theology (Rick Warren, Max Lucado) aren’t really teaching anything, but they make us feel good about ourselves. It enables televangelists like Joel Osteen and Eddie Long to preach the abominable prosperity gospel. I don’t claim to be a Biblical scholar, but I am familiar with the book and with the message of Jesus and I don’t recall anything about getting rich or feeling good about myself. As I recall, Christianity is directed a little more outward.
We need to deal with this for less than selfish reasons, too. The main one of those being that our kids are getting the message loud and clear. The National Study of Youth and Religion found that many American teens aren’t quite Christian. What they believe is something called “Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism”, which is characterized by five points:
- A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
Teens think religion is “nice” and a good thing. Translation: Religion is okay as long as it doesn’t cost me anything. That’s a lesson they’ve from us and they’ve learned it very well. So, not only are we dropping the ball for ourselves, we’re letting our children down at the same time. And, that’s not “nice”.