Thursday, September 30, 2010

Knowledge of God

I came across the Pew Research Center's report, U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, released September 28, 2010. The researchers questioned 3,412 Americans age 18 and older about their knowledge of religion.

One of the surprising results of this report is that atheists and agnostics scored higher than Jews, Mormons, Protestants and Catholics.

The survey asked 32 questions. On average the atheist/agnostic group answered 20.9 correctly, while white Catholics scored 16.0. Other groups included Jews at 20.5, Mormons at 20.3, white mainline Protestants at 15.8, Hispanic Catholics at 11.5, and the "nothing in particular religion group" at 15.2.

Most Protestants did not know that Martin Luther inspired the Protestant Reformation. About 43% of the Jews did not know that Maimonides, the highly venerated 12th century rabbi, was Jewish.

Of the Catholics surveyed 45% did not know that their Church believes that the bread and wine of the Eucharist do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ at Mass.

These results are rather discouraging, especially the report about Catholics and their understanding of the Eucharist.

The New Testament directs all believers, "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope..." (cf.1 Peter 3:15).

The Pew research suggests that many Catholics are not prepared to do so.

Fifty years ago most U. S. Catholics could respond to questions about their religion with the concise answers they memorized from the Baltimore Catechism. Most grey-haired Catholics today can still tell you what a sacrament is: " outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace."

The problem with question-and-answer catechisms was their simplicity. The answers were helpful but they left a lot unsaid. The Vatican's Catechism of the Catholic Church does not use the old method. Truth tends to require more nuance than the questions-and-answers would allow.

The Pew survey asked whether respondents read books about religion, or went online for such information. About 48% of those affiliated with a religion said that they seldom or never read books or consult websites about their own religion, and 70% said they seldom or never read about other religions.

If the results of this Pew survey are valid, then it is clear that Catholics need to catch up on their knowledge of the word of God.

Catholics need to be evangelized, that is, be presented the Gospel in such a way that they say, "Aha! Makes sense!"

Catholics need to be catechized, that is, presented the facts and insights that enable them to say, "I see it more clearly."

Catholics need some familiarity with theology, that is, to recognize that the truths of faith are often complex and require ongoing exploration, as when we say that God is one but triune.

Catholics need to participate in the liturgy, that is, to celebrate God's word and pray over its consequences for our lives.

Catholics need to be missionary, that is, to share their faith convictions with others; to evangelize.

Catholics need ministry, that is, to translate the Gospel into action, to be servants of the word.

Catholics need to hear, learn, study, celebrate, give witness, and become involved --ways in which we gain knowledge of our religion.

Baptism and Confirmation imply that a Christian is expected to hand on the Gospel to others. A Catholic must not simply consider himself Catholic; he has to be one.

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