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Don’t hesitate to question faith


In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, peoples from the world's leading religions were asked questions regarding the core teachings and history of major religions. The results reveal that atheists and agnostics answered correctly on more questions than did other groups. The following is a breakdown of the average number correct out of 32 questions by different groups.

White Catholic
White Mainline Protestant
Black Protestant

SOURCE: Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life

By Jordan Manalastas

Oct. 7, 2010 11:02 p.m.

There’s more than one dubious reason for clergy to love children. The other, less scandalous but equally predatory reason is that children will believe just about anything.

I recall the testimony of one former classmate, who proudly professed to knowing with certainty that every word of the Bible was the literal, absolute truth, without having read it. And I am reminded of that frightful biblical lesson: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

America, then, must be truly blessed; it is no coincidence that we are called a young nation. To perhaps no one’s surprise, a Pew Research study released last week showed that religious people tend to know less about their own faiths (let alone those of others) than do their non-religious counterparts. While we heathens didn’t score too much higher than the Mormons and Jews, the survey’s embarrassing results give a whole new meaning to the term “blind faith.”

Does that mean that religiosity is intellectual laziness? Quite the contrary ““ based upon my numerous squabbles with the faithful, I have found that religion requires some of the greatest feats of intellectualizing. When it comes to belief in things unseen, it may be too presumptuous to call ignorance symptomatic of faith. But it certainly is suggestive.

For faith is founded on a willing suspension of disbelief. Even the most sophisticated of religious thinkers revel in what is called “mystery”: the unknowable, the unquestionable. Tertullian is often paraphrased as having said, “I believe it because it is absurd”; Pascal wagered, too, along those lines. But when Ignatius of Loyola spoke of “sacrificing the intellect to God,” at least he knew what he was giving up.

Almost half of Roman Catholics surveyed had no clue that the Eucharistic bread and wine are meant literally to transform into Christ’s flesh and blood. (“That’s crazy. Of course it’s just symbolic,” my mistaken mother told me.) And more than half of Protestants failed to identify Martin Luther as the man who started all the protesting. There are other comical trifles our friends at Pew discovered, but you get the picture.

This was, albeit, just a quiz ““ some might say a trivial one. There are plenty of knowledgeable folk who fill the pews come Sunday, and there are plenty of unbelievers who don’t quite know just why they don’t believe. One thing, however, should be immediately clear: For one of the most religious nations on God’s green earth, we are remarkably religiously illiterate.

It is embedded in our culture. We “feel like” more often than we “think that,” which oddly sounds more shallow than the hallowed “believe that.” We have a deep-seated suspicion of “intellectuals,” and that very word is rarely found unescorted by “pseudo.” Skepticism ““ and by that, I mean true, sincere, unbridled searching that begins with a question, not a preconceived conclusion ““ is horribly underrated. It is no wonder that our faith should be so blind.

If there is one thing this survey shows us, it’s that the time is ripe to reconsider our values. Faith is one of those platitudes, so vague yet so pervasive, that we have sadly called a virtue. It is an ugly, sickly substitute for thought. But I would like to think that we’re no longer children, believing without reason, buying without question. The opportunities to deeply study and to speak about religion are nigh limitless at university; the important thing is to question it all. Nothing should be taken but on faith, though it may lead you, as I was lead, to denounce all that you once held to be true.

A religious acquaintance once told me not to worry; he too had gone through that prodigal “atheist phase,” but had since grown up and returned to the Lord. Despite the condescension, one glimmer of hope stands out: He was questioning and struggling and flirting with the dark side. In the end, that’s all we really need ““ a skeptic’s mind, a searcher’s heart, and a library. We have at least one of those things. Let’s work on the others, so help us God.

Need a dose of faith or a splash of skepticism? E-mail Manalastas at [email protected]. Send general comments to [email protected].

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Jordan Manalastas
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