Not long ago the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life did a Religious Knowledge Survey with 32 questions. The average number of correct answers across all groups was an average of 16 of those 32 questions answered accurately.
The numbers are fascinating. Each number represents the number of questions answered accurately from that group:
White Evan. Protestant 17.6
White Roman Catholic 16.0
White Main Protestant 15.8
Nothing in part 15.2
Black Protestant 13.4
Hispanic Roman Catholic 11.6
In terms of religious knowledge, the people who are the most knowledgeable about religion, and considering that most of the Pew Forum questions were about Christianity, the most knowledgeable about traditional Christianity, were the people who are Jewish, Mormon, or Atheist/Agnostic.
These are an interesting top three. People who are Jewish are, of course, not Christians. The core of Christianity is that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and Judaism rejects this. Atheists and Agnostics do not believe or seriously question any sort of divine being.
Mormons are part of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints. Mormons do believe in the divinity of Christ and very much consider themselves to be Christians. Without attempting to be controversial or affirm or repudiate their beliefs, much of Christianity is affirmed by the people within it and if Mormons consider themselves to be a part of Christianity, it is not for anyone to say otherwise. It would be fair to say, however, and again, this is not criticism, many of their beliefs are pretty different from much of Christianity.
One thing is for sure, the people who are not mainstreamed within Christianity, know more about Christianity than those who are in the mainstream.
It can be contended that, as Christianity has shrunk dramatically over the years, that a lack of knowledge has played a role in this. People simply do not know much about their faith. There are, I believe, some reasons for this.
First, I suspect many Christians live in something of a bubble in terms of their own faith tradition. They are aware what their church teaches, but are not very curious as to what other churches teach. They often are unaware of what other traditions teach and do, and presume they do know.
I have lived in the Roman Catholic bubble and the Mainline Protestant bubble. I have learned that the Protestant perspective of Roman Catholicism, and Roman Catholicism are very different. I’ve also learned that the Roman Catholic perspective of Protestant is different from the Protestant perspective.
I recently read an article from a Roman Catholic blogger who was writing about the failure of the Protestant Reformation. He knew a great deal of the Roman Catholic perspective of Protestantism, but didn’t really understand the tradition. He THOUGHT he did, but he didn’t. One thing he grossly failed at what recognizing that there is not one Protestant perspective on things. His being trapped in the Bible caught him.
It works the other way around as well. The average person within Protestantism does not understand the Roman Catholic perspective on Sacramental Theology and Holy Communion. Ironically, part of that lack of understanding comes from not knowing they do not understand.
Bubbles can trap us.
A second thing is that we often lack the curiosity to neither learn nor take the time to learn. I know many churches from all traditions work hard to educate everyone. I have never known a pastor who was unwilling to lead a class when asked. Yet, that is rarely asked of clergy. It should be.
A third thing is often clergy. If people fail to do continuing education, read, and grow in their own knowledge, they fail as leaders of knowledge.
People need, in my humble opinion, to take the time to learn what their faith teaches, but also have open hearts and minds to learn what other people believe and teach. We will all find we are a lot closer to one another than we often thought.