Thursday, September 30, 2010

Losing (other peoples') Religion

A recent survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in United States has shown who knows the most about other people's religions:

"Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions."

That's right; traditionally perceived as the most ignorant on matters of religious practice, it turns out that non-believers, fence-sitters, Jews and Mormons are the most religion-savvy. That's probably because experience as new, highly persecuted or just plain curiousity-driven people has taught these groups to educate themselves, not just on a faith, but the tenets of the faith. It's no surprise to me that atheists and agnostics alike scored the highest. The constant quest for knowledge about religions drives a theoretical curiosity around religion as institutions and cultural practice, seen from a practical point of view, rather than concentrating on dogma. That's why these people can often answer not only fundamental religious questions about traditional, dominant faiths like Christianity, but also, about Islam and Hinduism.

Being open-minded is the best way to acquire, gain and maintain knowledge. Most religions are inward-focused and only seek to educate those who are members of their flock. But contrary to what some groups think about religious education causing their people to turn away from their faith, studies have shown that education can actually enrich a person's faith and religious belief.

After all, how can one be expected to know what to believe if they don't know what others around them believe? What would be their basis of comparison? And doesn't a knowledge of other people enrich your knowledge of yourself, forcing you to think about what it is that you believe and why? And if what your congregation fears does come true, and you leave their flock in favour of another, isn't that your right to do so as a free individual with your own will and brain?

Even if you don't practice religion, religious knowledge is valuable. It's ingrained in cultural practices, history, language and politics. It can offer important and interesting insights into behaviour, practices and laws. It's expressed in our art and architecture and can be the foundation of some of the most beautiful stories ever told and some of the most magnificent art pieces ever made.

I think it's useful for everyone to learn something about other faiths. It gives a great basis for understanding our fellow man. Even if we don't believe in what they believe in.

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