When Ignorance Is Not Bliss
Vol: 108 Issue: 28 Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Hindus are asking for the introduction of a new subject, “comparative religion” to be included in American high schools to teach the basics of major world religions, including that of atheism.
Hindus evidently recognize, as do Muslims and Christians, what atheists vehemently deny – that atheism is a religion of faith, just like all the others.
Indeed, I am often humbled by the blind faith of atheism – I wish more Christians had that kind of faith. I mean, just look at the faith obstacles atheism has overcome.
Atheism acknowledges no doubt, no ambiguity of perspective, no divergent doctrines. Atheism is the certainty that man is the supreme being in the universe and that there is no God, no higher power, no afterlife and no future accountability.
By definition, an atheist who does not have absolute faith in his position is automatically moved over one column into the “agnostic” category.
If you know, then you have a religious knowledge — whether that knowledge acknowledges or denies God is irrelevant. If you do not know, then you are an agnostic. An atheist knows his stuff and wants to convince you that he is right.
An agnostic is best described as ignorant and apathetic – he doesn’t know and he doesn’t care. An agnostic doesn’t want to convince you . . . if anything, he wants you to convince him.
A recent Pew poll found that most American Christians are ill equipped to either refute the atheist or educate the agnostic. More than that, the poll found that on average, the atheist and agnostic know more about Christianity than many who claim Christianity do.
A majority of Protestants in the poll, for instance, couldn’t identify Martin Luther as the driving force behind the Protestant Reformation, according to the survey, released Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Four in 10 Catholics misunderstood the meaning of their church’s central ritual of communion, incorrectly saying that the bread and wine used in Holy Communion are intended to merely symbolize the body and blood of Christ, not actually become them.
(Catholicism teaches the doctrine of transubstantiation, which teaches that during the Mass, the wafer is literally ‘transubstantiated’ into the actual Body of Christ and the wine in His literal Blood – it only still looks like bread and wine.)
So why would an atheist know more about religion than a Christian? American atheists and agnostics tend to be people who grew up in a religious tradition and consciously gave it up, often after a great deal of reflection and study, said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum.
“These are people who thought a lot about religion,” he said. “They’re not indifferent. They care about it.”
Atheists and agnostics also tend to be relatively well educated, and the survey found, not surprisingly, that the most knowledgeable people were also the best educated. However, it said that atheists and agnostics also outperformed believers who had a similar level of education.
The groups at the top of the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey were followed, in order, by white evangelical Protestants, white Catholics, white mainline Protestants, people who were unaffiliated with any faith (but not atheist or agnostic), black Protestants and Latino Catholics.
Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists were included in the survey, but their numbers were too small to be broken out as statistically significant groups.
Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University and author of “Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — And Doesn’t,” served as an advisor on the survey.
“I think in general the survey confirms what I argued in the book, which is that we know almost nothing about our own religions and even less about the religions of other people,” he said.
He said he found it significant that Mormons, who are not considered Christians by many fundamentalists, showed greater knowledge of the Bible than evangelical Christians.
The Rev. Adam Hamilton, a Methodist minister from Leawood, Kan., and the author of “When Christians Get it Wrong,” said the survey’s results may reflect a reluctance by many people to dig deeply into their own beliefs and especially into those of others.
“I think that what happens for many Christians is, they accept their particular faith, they accept it to be true and they stop examining it. Consequently, because it’s already accepted to be true, they don’t examine other people’s faiths. … That, I think, is not healthy for a person of any faith,” he said.
Among Christians, the survey was delighted to report that eight in 10 people surveyed knew that Mother Teresa was Catholic. Seven in 10 knew that, according to the Bible, Moses led the exodus from Egypt and that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
Why do Mormons and atheists know more about the New Testament than Christians? To some degree, I think Reverend Hamilton got the right answer, although I question his conclusions.
Mormons, agnostics and atheists know the answers to the questions better than many self-proclaimed Christians because they have to defend their positions more often than Christians do.
And the only defense for an indefensible position like atheism is a strong offense.
Which is why so few Christians come out on the winning side of debates with atheists. Atheists don’t have to defend unbelief – the burden of proof is on the believer. Atheists need only present a scenario that the believer can’t defend.
Can you defend stoning a disobedient child to death outside the gates of the city? Or explain why God sent two she-bears to kill forty-two children for mocking Isaiah’s bald head?
So it’s not too big a surprise that unbelievers know more about such passages than do most Christians. Nail a Christian with one seemingly impossible passage – and the debate is over.
Christianity is the Alpha Dog – atheists seldom bother to attack Mormons, JWs, Hindus, Muslims, etc. Why should they? There’s no challenge there.
Moreover, from the enemy’s perspective, there’s no threat. His objective is to prevent the lost from coming to Christ, not from becoming religious. As the poll proves, the more religious one is, the less one knows.
Which is exactly where the enemy would prefer to keep his prey – in the dark.
What the poll confirms is the existence of what I call ‘cultural Christianity’ – more than three quarters of Americans, when polled, list their religion as ‘Christian’ – but it is doubtful that one in ten of that number are born-again, Blood-bought, saved believers.
The rest are the ones reflected by this poll – which is why we started the Omega Letter in the first place, some nine years ago next month. Every day, we meet people in our daily lives who think they are Christians because they were raised in a Christian culture, but who have no idea what the Bible teaches about salvation.
Or we find ourselves in discussions with those who have studied the Bible in search of the hard questions they can use to debate believers. We try and find the answers to those hard questions so that you are prepared with a ready answer when the questions come up.
The Omega Letter is somewhat unique among Christian websites on the net in that we focus our efforts on the saved, rather than the lost. Our mandate is to equip the saints for the mission, rather than trying to carry the message all alone.
We can only reach out to those who come to our website – lost people seldom seek out Christian websites – most visitors to Christian websites are already Christians. So most of our visitors are Christians. Why preach to the choir?
Instead, we endeavor to obey the mandate given in 2nd Timothy 4:1-4:
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” (2nd Timothy 4:1-4)
The time has come when they will not endure sound doctrine. They have heaped to themselves teachers, having itching ears. They have abandoned the truth in favor of fables.
“For thus hath the LORD said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” (Isaiah 21:6)
Poll after poll demonstrate the truth of this prophecy. This poll is no exception. We are living in the time of which Paul was warning. This is our time.
“Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.” (Revelation 1:3)
Maranatha! The Lord is coming!