By Angela Abbamonte
If a person were to walk up to you on the street and ask if you knew who led the biblical exodus out of Egypt, would you be able to answer? Then, what if they asked whether Catholics believe communion is a symbol, or if the bread and wine actually became the flesh and blood of Christ? After that, what if they asked you in which religion are Vishnu and Shiva central figures?
Surprisingly, in a study about American religious literacy, the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life found that atheists and agnostics in the United States know more about world religions than Christians.
Some evangelical Protestants are not concerned with this fact. I have talked to many people who say, “If I know the truth then why should I know what the rest of the world believes?”
It is a valid question, but it is not a valid excuse for not knowing the basics of other world religions.
Religious literacy for Christians does not simply mean we know more about other people. It means we are better equipped to have real conversations with them about faith and help lead them to the truth we already know.
One of my friends from my semester interning in Washington, D.C., has a passion for Muslims. She has spent time researching Islam and understanding what they believe. She also has several friends who are Muslim and even met some new ones when we were in Washington. At one point she was even invited to go to a feast, celebrating the end of Ramadan.
One thing I took away from that semester was her passion for people of other faiths. She spent time educating herself and asking questions of her friends, and saw it as an opportunity to open the door for them to ask questions as well. She never hid who she was, but she also never hit anyone over the head with a Bible.
I found this study on the Pew Forum website and saw a quiz there to test one’s religious knowledge. It is a simple 15-question quiz that asks basic questions about world religions. It was eye-opening to realize I had to guess about some of the most basic questions related to other religions. How am I to engage in religious conversation with someone if I do not even know the dominant personality of his or her religion?
Our religious beliefs do not prevent us from knowing more about the world we live in. Atheists and agnostics know more about world religions because they often spend time researching in order to make an informed decision not to believe in anything in particular.
If they are so well-read and we try to tell them Christianity is different, yet have little evidence to back that up, how effective can our witness be?
Another fact the survey brought to light was white evangelical Protestants on average got 7.3 of the 12 questions about Christianity correct. People who boast knowing the one true God missed basic questions about key Bible characters and the Ten Commandments.
As Christians, how are we to say we know the true religion that leads to eternal life in heaven if we do not even know the basics? And how are we to talk to others of different faiths if we do not know the basics of their religion?
I do not believe it is wrong to read religious texts of other faiths. Studying books, such as the Book of Mormon or the Quran, can enable us to have informed discussions with people in those faiths, possibly leading into a discussion of the message of Christ.