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Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't

Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't


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The United States is one of the most religious places on earth, but it is also a nation of shocking religious illiteracy.Only 10 percent of American teenagers can name all five major world religions and 15 percent cannot name any.Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that the Bible holds the answers to all or most of life's basic questions, yet only half of American adults can name even one of the four gospels and most Americans cannot name the first book of the Bible.Despite this lack of basic knowledge, politicians and pundits continue to root public policy arguments in religious rhetoric whose meanings are missed—or misinterpreted—by the vast majority of Americans."We have a major civic problem on our hands," says religion scholar Stephen Prothero. He makes the provocative case that to remedy this problem, we should return to teaching religion in the public schools. Alongside "reading, writing, and arithmetic," religion ought to become the "Fourth R" of American education.Many believe that America's descent into religious illiteracy was the doing of activist judges and secularists hell-bent on banishing religion from the public square. Prothero reveals that this is a profound misunderstanding. "In one of the great ironies of American religious history," Prothero writes, "it was the nation's most fervent people of faith who steered us down the road to religious illiteracy. Just how that happened is one of the stories this book has to tell."Prothero avoids the trap of religious relativism by addressing both the core tenets of the world's major religions and the real differences among them. Complete with a dictionary of the key beliefs, characters, and stories of Christianity, Islam, and other religions, Religious Literacy reveals what every American needs to know in order to confront the domestic and foreign challenges facing this country today.

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About Rickety Fences, Church and State and Noah's wife, Joan

One of the best books written recently on religious literacy or lack of it. Carefully and interestingly outlines religious awareness and religious values of the country when it was established, chronicles how it changed and why and how we got to be where we are today, a God-fearing nation of religious illiterates. Can reasonably educated people in this country today really think that Joan of Arc or Noah's wife? Apparently so. Some of Prothero's best work is on the separation of church and state. The observation that the fence separating church and state is rickety and full of holes and has been that way, he observes, "since George Washington put his hand on the Bible and took an oath in the name of god to uphold a godless constitution..." Good stuff, good thought, and in keeping with most of this book. It does, at times, get a little too academic and "over-the-top," but the points are strong, necessary and well made. A valuable addition to religous throught and discourse of today. The Dictionary of Terms at the end is worth the cost of the book, and should make this book a keeper for every American's library.

"A. D. Does Not Mean "After Death"

Stephen Prothero has written an engaging and provocative companion volume to Hirsch's earlier "Cultural Literacy." Like Hirsch, Prothero seeks not to proselytize but to improve through enrichment the nature of "civic education" in the United States. A vast ignorance in religious matters, like that Hirsch discerned in cultural, hobbles the citizenry in its understanding of contemporary debates as well as in its fulfilling the requirement within a properly functioning republic that it be an informed populace. The depth of the ignorance Prothero documents is brought home to me semester after semester as college students declare that "A.D." means "after death." I can only assume they think Herod was successful in the slaughter of the innocents and that the infant Jesus of Nazareth was murdered in the year 1. When I ask where they've picked up this bit of counter-intuitive misinformation, they reply universally that they were taught this by high school teachers. If this is so, Prothero has shown only the tip of the iceberg of religious ignorance in our most religious of countries.

Why There Should be a Fourth "R"

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Religion. When I was in elementary school, I often asked, "Why do I have to do this?" and "Why can't I just work on stuff I'm going to need in real life?" Now that I'm living real life as an adult, I see how essential things like Bible stories, nursery rhymes, learning to count money for my piggy bank and memorizing multiplication tables really are for life as an effective, functional, contributing adult citizen. The author is able to engage the reader in the subject of religious studies, without being religious, self-righteous, or condescending. He brings up many more points about basic knowledge of facts and subjects that have been abandoned by the educational system that results in a less-than-informed citizenry and the dire consequences of a population that may end up voting against their own interests. This is an excellent book, easy to digest and even easier to spread the word about. Read it, think about it and tell others.

A Must Read!

Great subject, the book flows. Frightening to think we Americans are as dumb as stone religiously. Prothero goes past the "F" for Religion and gives us concrete ideas on how to educate our kids and ourselves. A scholar whose writing makes writing seem easy, he has a compelling theme here. A must read for all of us. Five huge stars!

important and a easy, enjoyabe read besides

i have just finished this compelling book - compelling because it is a wonderful "read" (prothero's writing is informal yet chock full of facts, like a most interesting conversation) and because it contains some terribly important things for the american public to consider. i will be recommending this to everyone i know. i hope our president and national leaders pick it up as well. perhaps i'll send the white house a copy.

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