December 04, 2007

Seeing the World Through Christian-Colored Glasses

I chanced up a something at the book store the other day, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn’t. The cover held the cross, om, laughing Buddha, star of David, and crescent moon. I flipped to the table of contents and frowned at the obvious biblical references. Chapter One: A Nation of Religious Illiterates, Chapter Two: Religion Matters, Chapter Three: Eden (What We Once Knew), Chapter Four: The Fall (How We Forgot), Chapter Five: Redemption (What to Do?), Chapter Six: A Dictionary of Religious Literacy, and finally the Appendix: Religious Literacy Quiz. I was expecting chapter headings more in keeping with the cover, concerning the various major world religions.

I flipped to the back to see if I could pass the quiz. Apparently I could since it only contained fifteen questions. One concerned Hinduism, two Islam, one Judaism, one Buddhism, and one on the First Amendment. The remaining ten were straight out of the Christian Bible (though parts of the Old Testament can be found in the Torah and Quran.)

Now, this is not a book review, I certainly did not read the entire thing. I skimmed the introduction which was plainly asserting that this is a Christian nation despite our constitutional verbiage and our toleration of other religions. The massive Christian majority makes it one. He speaks of the Dalai Lama like some kind of pop idol and the metaphor of a passing fad is not lost on me. So then, is it only important to be literate in the Christian religion? Apparently, Stephen Prothero thinks so. (Knowing the name of the Islamic book and holy month hardly qualify as Islamic literacy, but then neither does answering ten questions about the Bible, in my mind.)

I shake my head and put the book down. I am slightly appalled but really more sad. It is important, yes, to understand our Christian heritage so as to understand our history, the basis of our culture, and our possible future. But Prothero seems to forget that in that future, America is only a small country (population wise) in a predominantly non-Christian world. Mostly I am sad because he seems to lack a value for diversity of viewpoint, multiplicity of human thought, expression, culture, and spirituality.

I had hoped for better and am silently sad to see Buddhist symbol on the cover of such a book.

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