Religious Illiteracy in America


Mark Oppenheimer “Knowing Not”

Stephen Prothero Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — and Doesn’t(HarperSanFrancisco)の書評。著者のStephen Prothero氏はボストン大学宗教学教授。 American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Iconという著書もあるらしい。著者によれば、「宗教に関するリテラシー」は”effective citizen”であるためにこそ必要である。評者によれば、本書は大きく2部に分かれる;

Prothero’s corrective proceeds in two parts. First, he offers a diagnosis: a 100-page précis of American religious history that tells a familiar story, from the Puritans to today’s pluralism, remarkably well. He also argues, persuasively, that both conservatives and liberals are to blame for American religious illiteracy. Beginning with 19th-century Unitarians, liberal Christians dropped Bible learning for good deeds and progressive politics. But conservatives have also turned away from religious study. From Charles Finney in the Second Great Awakening to contemporary megachurch preachers, evangelicals have won converts by advocating enthusiastic faith at the expense of religious study. For most American Christians, Prothero laments, catechisms, confessions and even reading the Bible itself are often Sunday-school afterthoughts.

Conservative evangelicals, uniting in pursuit of political influence, played down old denominational differences. “Family values” became for the right what “justice” or “peace” was for the left — a catchphrase that obviates the need for religious literacy. The specifics of Prothero’s thesis are not new, but his formulation makes the culture wars seem more misguided than ever. Left, right, ecumenical, evangelical — we all abandoned the Bible.

最後の”we all abandoned the Bible.”に関して、評者のOppenheimer氏は、

I say “the Bible” because although Prothero gives generous space to Islam and other world religions, he is adamant, against multicultural pieties, that Americans most need to know Christianity. Prothero also risks angering liberals by dismissing popular writers like Karen Armstrong and Huston Smith, who “in the name of pluralism” have furthered the view “that all religions were different paths up the same mountain.” Prothero’s admirably old-fashioned opinion is that to rebuild core knowledge we must resist comforting ecumenical myths. He calls for requiring that all high schoolers take both a Bible class and a world religions class.

The second half of the book is a glossary of religious terms that “Americans need to know.” Prothero’s judicious selection includes descriptions of the major world religions, the largest Christian denominations, key figures from the Bible (Abraham, Judas Iscariot, the prodigal son), various concepts (nonviolence, jihad) and several living figures (Billy Graham, the Dalai Lama). For a sense, here are the contents of a pair of facing pages, chosen at random: hijab, Hinduism, Holocaust, Holy Communion.

But the bigger problem is with Prothero’s premise, that deeper religious knowledge would produce saner, wiser public discourse. Would wider knowledge of the Baltimore Catechism or New Testament stories really advance debates on, say, stem-cell research? Or would people find new reasons to cling to their old opinions?

Prothero, raised Episcopal, loves doctrine and Scripture, and I sympathize. But with some exceptions — a grasp of the Sunni/Shia distinction comes to mind — religious knowledge is not necessary to be a good citizen. It’s just necessary if one wants to be an educated person. It enriches our lives. That’s blessing enough.
さて、評者の著書にKnocking on Heaven’s Door: American Religion in the Age of Countercultureというのがあるという。これも面白そう。
ところで、最近の奴は馬鹿になったと嘆く”decline-and-fall book”というのがジャンル化されていることを知る。アラン・ブルームの本などを代表とするらしい。こういうのが好きなのは日本人だけではないんだ。