It Still Comes Down To Knowledge

A recent survey indicates that when it comes to religion, atheists and agnostics know more about the subject than do those that actually believe in the superstitions of their particular faith.  What does that say about religion in general, and particularly about knowledge? Many atheists, especially those that regularly debate theists,  find that the Christians’ understanding of their own scriptures  are often quite deficient, sometimes bordering on the nonsensical. On the flip side, many an atheist will tell you that it was the Bible that caused their atheism; that a good, thorough reading of the Bible, with all its violence, immorality, and contradictions, is more than enough to turn anyone off of religion, especially Christianity. But in order to have the Bible spark such a response, one must be knowledgeable about the Bible in the first place.

Which explains the results of this survey. Atheists as a whole know more about religion than do people of faith. Why? Because knowledge is important to us, on the assumption that the best way to understand and believe in something is to know about it. But once you know even a little about religion, it is easy to reject it as a delusional, superstitious holdover from our past, rather than the means to ascertaining all truth. Actual knowledge of religion, placed in its proper historical, cultural and sociological context, dictates such a conclusion.

One of the reasons for this is the old chicken/egg argument  -which came first, the Bible or faith? Given the fact than many people who profess to believe could not articulate a good reason for their belief, and given the results of this survey, it seems that many people believe in the Bible because belief comes first. They want to believe in something, they have this sense, this feeling, that there is something beyond them to believe in, but they don’t know empirically what it is, so along comes a religion with a book that says “here’s everything you need to believe” and they swallow it hook, line and sinker. They may say they read the book, but they don’t read it critically to determine what truth it holds, but rather to confirm the belief they already hold. That is why it is one of the most cherry-picked sources of authority in the world. Those portions of the book that contradict their beliefs are simply ignored.

In effect, they don’t need to know anything. They simple need the desire to believe in something – what Daniel Dennett calls “belief in belief” – and they’re off and running.  Knowledge of anything, then, isn’t the point of religion, so it’s no wonder that the religious might fare worse than atheists regarding their knowledge of religion.

Here’s a good example:

An overwhelming 89 percent of respondents, asked whether public school teachers are permitted to lead a class in prayer, correctly answered no.

But fewer than one of four knew that a public school teacher is permitted “to read from the Bible as an example of literature.” And only about one third knew that a public school teacher is permitted to offer a class comparing the world’s religions.

Christians, for instance, will tell you that their god hears all prayers, that he knows everything, even your deepest thoughts. Jimmy Carter once confessed to committing adultery by simply thinking about (lusting after)  other women. Yet since the Supreme Court outlawed teacher-led prayers in school, you’d be hard pressed to find a Christian who doesn’t believe that “God has been kicked out of public schools”, in effect believing that no one can pray at school.  Balderdash, but why know something when you can believe the opposite? Any child can pray anytime he/she wants to in school, provided it doesn’t disrupt the class and that the teacher isn’t forcing him/her to do so.

Try explaining that to a Christian who doesn’t want to believe it, and you’ll understand the meaning of the phrase “falls on deaf ears”.

13 thoughts on “It Still Comes Down To Knowledge

  1. “In effect, they don’t need to know anything. They simple need the desire to believe in something – what Daniel Dennett calls “belief in belief” – and they’re off and running.”

    Funny that Mormons appear to have done quite well on the test, and they do claim to know that their faith is true. They don’t really say “I believe,” it’s always, “I know the church is true, I know Joseph Smith is a true prophet, etc.” This is how they are taught to “bear their testimony” and to evangelize, by saying that they “know.” What’s ironic about that is they they aren’t taught to investigate/research their own religion, they are taught that they can only “know” by praying and receiving a “witness of the spirit,” in other words, if you get warm fuzzies, that’s God telling you it’s true. I wonder how they can be so knowledgeable and yet so completely set against real religious education?

    • Seems like I’m always finding a way to plug my YouTube channel on SI’s blog and this is no exception! In fairness to me, I think you will find that this most recent video of my speaks very much to the points in your comment. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYUvGqd3yC0

      @ Spanish Inquistor – WTF… I’ve plugged your damn blog on my videos so I refuse to feel guilty about this.

      Really.

      Not guilty in the least….

      • I refuse to feel guilty about this.

        You only get to feel guilty if you were raised Catholic, which I know you weren’t. Catholic guilt is hard to shake.

        Funny, though, as you were posting this, I was adding the Ancient Atheist to my blog roll. No connection. After I added it I checked my page and found your comment. No Shit!

        • Seeing my name there with NonStampCollector is a real honor. What a fantastic YouTube channel that has always been.

          Considering adding “MisterDeity”. Another wonderful channel channel – even if he does a lot of e-begging. At least he even does THAT in a funny way!

        • The fact that Mormons scored higher than most other religions in the test SI refers to, probably has something to do with the proportionally high number of former Mormons who are so eloquently speaking out all over the Net.

          Yeah, Mormonism (LDS) is about as wacky as the strangest of religions (ranking up there with Jehovah’s Witness, Scientology, etc) but once a Mormon breaks the chains – Look out world.

          I was an active Mormon until I was 16, though not a very reverent or successful one. By 18 I was full-on atheist. Looking back, I give the absurdities of the Mormon faith a lot of credit in me seeing the light at that time in my life. If I’d been a Methodist or something, it might have taken many more years.

          • That’s an interesting take on it – I have seen others say that the feeling of being unique and special because of their peculiarities is actually something that inhibited them from leaving Mormonism.

            • I could see that too. Everyone is going to have their individual reactions. Mine likely isn’t the most typical. Still, there are a lot of former Mormons out here, doing a mighty fine job of deconstructing the whole dogmatic religious mindset.

  2. I’ve mentioned it before, but in my younger days I was required to take a bible study course given by a Dr. Clarence Goen who was a professor at Wesleyan in the DC area. His specialty was bible history, he was a “Southern Baptist” (as were my parents) minister. I’m very glad I took it. It was interesting and informative.

    I remember that he knew me quite well, his son and I used to go drag racing together, but my parents were very keen that I should take this course to “make me a christian”.

    He tried to tell them that in most seminaries, the bible study courses were what usually “killed faith” or confirmed doubts, but they “had faith” that I would, as they say “see the light”.

    This course took us through the bible, it’s versions, how they wound up the way they did, what was meant by certain things. It also dealt with personalities involved in the construction and selection of the various canons.
    Very interesting, I can tell you, not least of which was observing my fellow class members and their reactions to what was being taught.
    We started off with close to sixty people, ended with eight, of which I was one. Dr. Goen said it was fairly consistant.

    Most left because they just didn’t like what they were hearing, “Fact” over “Truth”. Most were angry. Especially when he showed them inconsistancies and they discovered that what they “knew for a fact” was quite a bit different.

    We’re about of an age, SI, do you remember that Dale Evans song that was popular back in the fifties, “How Do I Know? The Bible Tells Me So”.
    In my experience, it isn’t really what any book tells them, it’s what they WANT the book to tell them.

    It’s true, most people really believe in believig rather than really examining what they’re doing…

    I’ve been told in my life, “…you have to believe in SOMETHING…!”
    The part that I don’t like is the part that eventually comes and the crowd at your door with the hood and the rope say, “You HAVE to believe in something”. And it damn well better be what THEY believe.

    • We’re about of an age, SI, do you remember that Dale Evans song that was popular back in the fifties, “How Do I Know? The Bible Tells Me So”.

      I remember the song, but don’t remember Dale Evens singing it. I do remember the Roy Rogers show on TV, and they would sing together.

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