Do You Know Your Neighbor's Religion?

Many of us in America, about half, are quite unaware of some of the basic facts and tenets of other religions.

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Yesterday a study released by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life made headlines when it reported that atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperform evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on “questions about the core teachings, history, and leading figures of major world religions.”

While a few bloggers and commentators have unfortunately misconstrued this to mean that atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons know more about certain religions than the adherents to those religions themselves, most have correctly taken to mind the fact that many of us in America, about half, are quite unaware of some of the basic facts and tenets of other religions.

On the one hand, this should come as no surprise. About 80% of Americans when asked about their religious affiliation say that they are Christian (there’s another Pew Study that states this). So Christianity is the large majority, and you wouldn’t expect the average Christian to have the need or opportunity to have a good grounding in the world’s religions.

Yet on the other hand, the study comes at a time where a better understanding of different world religions could make an important difference. Whether we live in an urban or suburban, or even rural environment, we are increasingly exposed to people of other faiths. We are more and more a global society, coming into contact via business and media with people of other cultures. Stories about the contact between cultures, and the challenges that ensue, are in the news all the time.

While there are a load of topics this study might raise, I would simply suggest that it would be a positive step if in a few years this survey went out and we all scored a little better. It’s worthwhile to better understand our neighbors, and taking a look at the religions they know and love would help. There are plenty of books out there and ways to get this information. I’ll even recommend a book by GuidepostsBooks, World Religions and What People Believe.

In addition to helping edit that book, I’ve also spent a considerable amount of time studying the religions of the world. I can say for a fact that, while it’s introduced me to new worlds and other ways of believing, it’s only deepened my commitment and desire to experience and share my own faith. So give it a shot, and see what happens.

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