Knowledge is power

Turns out, Americans don’t know much about their religion. That’s not much of a surprise. Americans don’t know much about anything when it comes right down it. But when atheists and agnostics know more about your religion than you do, Houston, we have a problem.

Of course, the religious amongst us will just say their religion is based on faith, not knowledge. And therein lies the problem. Too often, the disconnect between the religious and the rest of us has been written off to a conflict between science and religion — evolution, the age of the earth. But that’s not it at all.

The conflict is between knowledge and mythology. The more we know about the world we live in, the more we understand about the religions that have permeated our history, the less we need to rely on myths to make us comfortable. It’s also why we can lay claim to spirituality without buying into the dogma of religion, but that’s another post at another time.

Some of the religionists amongst us spend a lot of time trying to bend science to “prove” their beliefs. Take a recent study that “proved” a 63 mph wind blowing for 12 hours could have parted the Red Sea (it’s a Moses story, for the uninformed), although at some place where the sea was shallow enough for it to happen. I have my doubts about a tropical storm force wind staying in one place long enough — and blowing in the exact right direction long enough — to make that work, but that’s neither here nor there. My point is this — who cares? The seriously religions aren’t gonna like it because it takes away their miracle. All it really proves, if you accept the basic premise, is that a story in the Old Testament could have happened.

Lots of stories in various religious books could have happened, and no doubt many of them did — although, given the time between when they might have happened and when they were written down, the details might be somewhat different. That’s how myths are. And, over time, they also tend to attract a supernatural component.

All this comes from the release the results of a Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s 32-question quiz. And here’s what it found:

It’s not Bible-belt Southerners who scored highest — they came at the bottom.

Those who believe the Bible is the literal word of God did slightly worse than average, while those who say it is not the word of God scored slightly better.

Barely half of all Catholics know that when they take communion, the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ, according to Catholic doctrine.

And only about one in three know that a public school teacher is allowed to teach a comparative religion class – although nine out of 10 know that teacher isn’t allowed by the Supreme Court to lead a class in prayer.

Goes right along with the higher teen pregnancy and divorce rates in conservative states, doesn’t it? Or the complete lack of understanding of American history and the Constitution of the teabaggers who claim to base their insanity on both.

I took Pew’s 15-question quiz and missed one, the last one. I’m ashamed to say it was a question that covered both American history and religion. But I didn’t know the answer. It put me in the second highest group — a very small one.

The respondents to that quiz fell into the typical bell curve — the vast majority falling someplace in the middle. But for people who claim to be religious, it seems to me the bell curve should be broken, especially in America, one of the most religious of the developed nations. Six in ten Americans say religion is very important in their lives, but far fewer have any real knowledge of even their own religion, let alone any of the others.

I dare say we’d find similar results if we had the teabaggers take something like the citizenship test, proving that those who cry the loudest rarely know what they’re talking about. But they’re willing to apply “second amendment remedies” to get what they want.

That’s even more shameful than my missing one question on Pew’s quiz.

The Christians who came to the new world were a humorous lot, locked into the dour and hopeless life view of the Calvinists — all work and no play. Ever. Theirs was a predetermined world — and a predetermined life. Work, work hard, and maybe you’ll get into heaven. That dogma was the root of many early mental collapses — the guilt, the worry.

It’s easy to understand why many of our founders, not willing to complete devoid themselves of a belief in god, called themselves deists. They believed in god, but not the insane dogma that came with the territory of the Christians who preceded them.

But even when the country began to move away from the colorless world of the Calvinists, it still brought with it the same attitudes about work, which eventually brought a new wave of mental exhaustion, particularly among women, in the 19th Century as the industrial revolution took away many of the menial “jobs” women did in the home just because they needed to be done. Soap making, candle making, those sorts of thing — they all gradually became automated, and women, still under the Calvinist drive to work work work, found themselves with no work and serious depression.

Barbara Ehrenreich, in “Bright-sided,” suggests that this state of the mind gave birth to the positive thinking movement (it was called “New Thought” when Mary Baker Eddy and Phineas Quimby came up with it) and eventually to the new agey idea that we control our own destinies and can create our own reality by the power of our minds.

Ehrenreich doesn’t buy it. I do, to a certain extent — we can certainly control how we react to and deal with life’s uncertainties, and that will determine our state of mind. But I agree with her that the proponents of things like “The Secret” are selling psychological snake oil to deluded people who haven’t been able to navigate the complexities of this modern life.

But more to my point, and I do have one (I think), it seems to me that the very religious among us — who have no clue where they came from and what their religion actually is — as well as the teabagging constitutionalists — who couldn’t tell you a single thing about what’s in the document other than the 2nd Amendment and certainly are clueless about the ideas of the founders — have sucombed to their own version of “New Thought.”

And it’s this. They believe they have no need to understand the world around them or the world they come from, or even what may be coming in the future. Where “The Secret” tells us that we can have what we want just by believing we can, the religious right and the tea baggers believe it is, now, just because they say it is. We saw that throughout the Bush administration. It’s why these folks have no need for facts. The facts don’t matter — whatever they believe is truth, and nothing can dissuade them from it. And eventually, you’ll believe it to. Repetition works wonders, you know.

Except that in the real world — not the fantasy world these folks inhabit — only the truth, supported by the facts, is the truth. And eventually, as the truth tends to do, it will come around and bite them in the ass.

Unfortunately, before that can happen, they’ll have plenty of time to come to the real truth on their own, which they won’t, and that means we’ll all suffer for it.

Apollo doesn’t ride across the sky in a flaming chariot every day, bringing light. Atlas doesn’t hold the world on his shoulders. Athena didn’t burst forth from Zeus’ head, although given that Athena is a symbol of wisdom, it’s an interesting thought. The Persian despot Zahhak did not have two vipers growing from his shoulders that grew back their heads whenever they were beheaded. The earth isn’t flat. The sun and the planets do not revolve around the earth. We can build machines that fly.

Knowledge. It kills myths. And it will, eventually, kill the myths that power the right. We just have to survive the process.