The U.S. is simultaneously saturated with religion and ignorance of religion. A paradox that isn’t to be worn like a medal of honor. In a country where religion is an undercurrent in a myriad of political issues and even practitioners’ swing votes cause presidential nominees to gravitate to Evangelicals and their ideologies, it is inexcusable that knowledge of religions is absent or greatly distorted. Even Christians seem to lack information about the historical origins and development of their religion. In fact, many Christians I know hardly peruse the Bible that adorns their nightstand or coffee table. Typically, they site ‘faith’ as the foundation of their religion, and because of that, the history and study of Christianity is viewed as irrelevant. The past isn’t applicable to their present. What happened in 2 C.E. is insignificant in comparison to going through a divorce, having to raise a teenager, or figuring out how to manage all the household bills.
If Christians do little to delve into the history of their own tradition, then it isn’t surprising that their religious illiteracy is pervasive, but that just brings to light the graveness of the situation. There is no critical analysis of the nation’s leading religion. Why do Christian practitioners not notice Jesus’ inclusion of women as his followers but not questions the oppression women have had socially in their societies? Why are the edits of the Bible not discussed? Changing words, excluding passage, and including passages alter biblical texts and their interpretations drastically. Why is cultural context never a thought in passage analysis? How has Christianity changed over its years of existence? These are all pertinent questions, but ones that don’t seem to be of importance to contemporary Christians. Social issues and the interpretation from a pulpit standing leader seem to have drawn focus away from individual thought and action.
Post 9/11, there were reports of attacks on immigrants who were thought to be Muslim. In actuality, the victims were Sikh. In no way is malicious and violent action condoned, but that simple distinction in headdress alone is absent in religious knowledge in the U.S. I once had a relative ask me if the word ‘love’ is to be found anywhere in the Qur’an, and it was difficult to swallow my disgust. The term Islam translates into “submission” or “surrender” to God. It does not mean hijack planes and attack the U.S. The 5 Pillars of Islam do not include jihad (and even then, the interpretation of jihad extends beyond mainstream views). The foundation of Islam is based on these pillars: profession of faith, ritual prayer, tithing, fasting particularly during Ramadan, and a pilgrimage to Mecca. No where is violent means mentioned at the heart of this tradition. People fail to realize that interpretations on the fringe are what gain most media exposure and command attention. I am always inclined to remember a phrase, “the silent majority.” The small group of Muslims who caused 9/11 should not be held as a blanket definition for their tradition. Just like there are numerous Christianities, there are numerous Islams. And when people associate violence and oppression with Islam, I ask that they turn to their own tradition and site the Inquisition, the witch trials, the Crusades, etc. How many lives were slaughtered? Christian deaths by Christian hands. Non-Christian deaths by Christian hands. For a succinct Christian history, I suggest the following: Christianity.
Considering ourselves the melting pot of the world, and being a primary force in international relations, it should be considered a responsibility for people to be knowledgeable of other traditions, especially their own! The separation of Church and State has awarded the religious freedom that the U.S. possesses, but it has not yet found a way to compensate for its absence in institutions that greatly influence citizens, particularly in the public school system. Here in the south, courses involving teaching the Bible as literature are being developed and introduced into public schools, but it’s being taught by teachers not educated with a Religious Studies background (preferably from an academic standpoint, not theological).
Religion can be included in academic environments without a theological agenda, but this has never been supplemented since extracting religious education from the public school system. The absence of religious education hasn’t replaced the multifaceted existence of religion in people’s lives and in societies. Obviously, the ignorance of such is resulting in grave consequences.
It can no longer be ignored that the world is a pluralistic place, and the responsibility entailed with living in a multicultural, multi-religious world should no longer be shirked by people.