Currently I am team teaching a class at Wildwood on the “Essentials of Theology,” an eight week tour of seven key doctrines of the Christian faith. As such, my antenna is up right now toward the topic of “knowing what you believe.” Because of this, I found two news stories last week to be particularly interesting.
The first story was a new report put out by the PEW research group on the religious knowledge of United States citizens. This study consisted of a survey that asked questions about religions (not just Christianity). About one third of the questions concerned Christianity, a third of the questions concerned other world religions, and a third of the questions related to issues of religious public policy or religious history. I actually took the quiz and found the questions to be quite straight forward and simple. They were all multiple choice. One of the Bible questions (for instance) was “Who is the Bible character most associated with leading the Jews through the Exodus out of Egypt?” One of the world religion questions was “What religion celebrates Ramadan?” One of the history questions was “What religion was Mother Teresa?” I got all but one question right when I took the test. (NOTE: To be fair, I have an undergraduate “minor” in religious philosophy and a graduate degree in Theology . . . but I thought the questions were fairly simple ones to answer.) What made this story interesting to me was the average number of answers that people got right. On average, Americans only got 16 questions right (out of 32). Further, in a breakdown of Christians, Catholics got 16 right, Mainline protestants got 16 right and Evangelicals got 17 right (on average). Interestingly, the highest scoring subgroup who took the test were the atheists, who got 20 right (on average). The scores of this test helped to remind me of how little Americans today know about issues of faith. To see the results of the survey, visit this site: http://pewforum.org/Other-Beliefs-and-Practices/U-S-Religious-Knowledge-Survey.aspx
A second story that broke last week was an interview between Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and HBO Political Commentator Bill Maher on Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor.” Though the interview covered a number of points, I was particularly interested in these two commentators discussion of religion. O’Reilly is a professed Christian and Maher is a professed atheist. O’Reilly is a defender of “traditional Christian values” and Maher makes movies spoofing religion like “Religulous.” Both men are quite articulate, and their conversation was very interesting. You can see their dialogue below via the wonders of YouTube:
As I watched this interview I was struck by the fact that Maher better articulated a Christian understanding of Scripture than O’Reilly did. While I do not agree with Maher’s conclusion, I do think he has done his homework. Christians do believe that the Bible is God’s Word and that it is truthful when it describes supernatural events (like Noah’s Ark) literally happening in the world. O’Reilly’s rejection of these events (even a rejection of the entire Old Testament) is a better illustration of modern day deistic syncretism than it is a demonstration of true Christian orthodoxy. Now I do not expect Mr. O’Reilly to be a theologian, but I am troubled by the fact that many American Christians who watched the program may actually think that O’Reilly “won” the debate and represented their understanding of Christianity. While I agree with O’Reilly’s ultimate conclusions and reject Maher’s attacks, I think that many components of both of their arguments are dangerous threats to true Christian theology.
For too long, too many Christians have looked to people on the political right as spokespeople and somewhat “prophetic” voices. While there may be many political issues that Christians and certain political commentators might agree on, we must never allow these political movements to define our theology or our faith. As Christians, we need to know what we believe and filter the perspectives and policies of talking heads against Biblical truth.
Do you know what you believe?
If you had been in the conversation with Maher, how would you have responded?
Does any of this really matter?
I would love to hear your thoughts . . .
“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect . . . ” – 1 Peter 3:15