Religious Knowledge Comes From Getting to Know Others

In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

This was published in the Chicago Tribune religion blog, The Seeker, today.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, detailing Americans’ knowledge about religion. And it does not look pretty.

According to the survey:

More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45%) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ.

About half of Protestants (53%) cannot correctly identify Martin Luther as the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation, which made their religion a separate branch of Christianity.

Roughly four-in-ten Jews (43%) do not recognize that Maimonides, one of the most venerated rabbis in history, was Jewish.

As an American Muslim, this places fellow Americans’ still significant ignorance about Islam in perspective. According to another Pew survey, 65% of Americans know either “some” or “not very much” about Islam.

One in four Americans know “nothing at all” about my faith. Yet, as the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey points out, many Americans do not know much about their own faiths, either. Thus, it is not surprising that most Americans know little about Islam.

What does this mean?

We need to start learning about each other! No, I do not mean mandatory “World Religion” classes. The best way we can learn about each other, including each other’s faiths, is by engaging each other as citizens. That means getting to know our neighbors; getting involved in our schools; attending local block parties and ice cream socials; playing golf, or tennis, or softball, or football with each other; attending each other’s children’s birthday parties.

Inevitably, we will learn about each other’s faiths (or lack thereof). We will learn about each other’s likes and dislikes. We will learn about each other’s worries and anxieties. We will look out for each other’s well being. And we will come together as a people and stare down the faces of hatred and division, to the betterment of all.


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