Religious Illiteracy – Good or Bad?

osterhasen-0177I read an article on CNN a couple of years ago that quoted a social studies teacher who said that each year he asks his students “What is Easter about?”  He said they invariably bring up the Easter Bunny but never mention the significance of the holiday to Christianity.

I’ve also noted a tendency among some Churches and Christian leaders in recent years to “circle the wagons” and retreat into Orthodoxy or relatively conservative statements of doctrine.  This seems to be a reaction to the declining influence of organized Christianity in American society as a whole, and may also reflect a perception that more conservative, evangelical Christian groups are growing while “mainstream” Protestant denominations (and Catholicism) are on the decline.

I am convinced that by retreating into more orthodox expressions of the Christian faith, progressive Christians are abandoning the greatest advantage they have in the face of an increasingly secular society, which is their ability to engage with others in ways they can easily understand.   That Vermont teacher’s observation that young people are not able to identify Easter’s origins in the Christian Tradition (still less the underlying Judaic traditions), means they have no basis for comprehending words like “Christ”, “Jesus” or “Salvation”.  Such concepts mean nothing to them.  Therefore, using such terminology to try and reach them is fruitless.

Also, the only impression of Christianity many people have nowadays comes from news articles about the hate-filled activism of Westborough Baptist Church, and the anti-intellectualism, racism, misogynistic attitudes and/or homophobia of various religious groups and personalities.  So, if we use the same words such people use, even though the message itself is far different, we, as progressive Christians, are being lumped together with them in the public mind.  We are therefore perceived as out of touch and irrelevant to modern realities and concerns.  (And, as any politician will tell you, perception always trumps truth!)

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