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Ignorance is (religious) bliss

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To fervently believe in something that’s hypothetical is the essence of religious faith, you could say. But to insist on believing something that’s actually not true is the definition of a delusion.

Ten percent of Americans believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, according to a Harris poll. That figure was cited last week in a New York Times op-ed written by Nicholas Kristof. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/27/opinion/sunday/kristof-religion-for-1000-alex.html?_r=0

Secular Americans are largely ignorant about religion, but, in surveys, religious Americans turn out to be scarcely more knowledgeable,” Kristof wrote.

Many Christians might feel that criticism for not knowing the particulars of what they believe is mere quibbling. They believe in something called the Bible, which is the word of God. Whatever it consists of they swallow, out of so-called faith, which absolves them from having to get their facts straight by actually reading it.

That’s entirely consistent with human nature. We all believe in all sorts of things on faith (not the religious variety), without knowing the facts. Such as: the world is round. (It’s an oblate spheroid. Don’t ask me what that is; I just like the sound of it.) Or: tomorrow follows today. (It always has, but time is totally subjective, so who knows when tomorrow’s events may turn out to precede today’s?) We’ll never know all the details – there isn’t enough time – but that’s not to say that we should not try to establish some sort of foundation in fact for our beliefs. Especially if we wish to convince others to embrace those beliefs.

Kristof quotes Stephen Prothero, the author of the book, “Religious Literacy.” “Americans are both deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion,” says Prothero, who calls ours “a nation of religious illiterates.” Given that there are so many other big things we’re ignorant about – math, science, geography -- should that worry us unduly? Yes, says Kristof. If we want to know the world around us, we should know all we can about different religions, because religion will always be an elemental part of the world.

From time to time I run into – undoubtedly you do, too -- those exasperating people who say, “I don’t need to know what’s in the Bible. It’s all true.” Needless to say, a fruitful conversation about religion with such folks is not in the offing. What’s even more exasperating is the swaggering atheist, who doesn’t know what he doesn’t believe in.

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