Daily Archives: October 15, 2010

No Knowledge without Education

Here’s a bit of fun with a serious point to it, which I picked up on my iGoogle media alerts. Danielle Bean, a Catholic author and mother of eight, is editorial director of Faith & Family magazine and Faith & Family Live, and she has written a blog post at the Washington Post entitled “Catholicism’s scandal of ignorance”. She refers to an online quiz by Pew Forum in the US. The quiz is described as follows:

How much do you know about religion?
And how do you compare with the average American? Here’s your chance to find out. Take our short, 15-question quiz, and see how you do in comparison with 3,412 randomly sampled adults who were asked these and other questions in the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey. This national poll was conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life from May 19 through June 6, 2010, on landlines and cell phones, in English and Spanish. When you finish the quiz, you will be able to compare your knowledge of religion with participants in the national telephone poll. You can see how you compare with the overall population as well as with people of various religious traditions, people who attend worship services frequently or less often, men and women, and college graduates as well as those who did not attend college.
For a full analysis of the findings of the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, read the full report.

Okay, I thought, I’m game. there are 15 questions, including two US legal questions that are not hard to guess the answer to – IF you know something about the State as well as “religion”! I actually scored 100% – 15 out of 15 – putting me in the top 99% of the population (remember that the public in this case is the American public…)

There is a full analysis here of the results of the Pew Forum survey (not the online play one, but the real one). But as Danielle Bean points out, the really terrifying thing is the way practicing Catholics have answered the question regarding the doctrine of the Eucharist. This page gives a complete breakdown of the way the real survey respondents answered the 15 questions in the online survey. In regard to the question 6 (“6. Which of the following best describes the Catholic teaching about the bread and wine used for Communion? •The bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. •The bread and wine are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”) we are told that only 40% of the American population answered correctly. Only actual Catholics answered the question correctly at a level significantly higher than this average, but even that was only 59% for “white Catholics” and 47% for “hispanic Catholics”. The doctrine of transubstantiation is a defining doctrine of Catholicism. With Mrs Bean, I agree that the fact that less than two thirds of American Catholics are aware of this is a little troubling at least. Mrs Bean writes:

For me, the saddest part of the Pew Forum survey results is the abysmal ignorance of many Catholics with regard to the tenets of their own faith. Specifically, the fact that “45% of Catholics do not know that their church teaches that the bread and the wine become the body and blood of Christ” is a scandal.

This is especially pathetic because the Eucharist — Christ’s real presence under the appearance of bread and wine — is one of the primary ways in which the Catholic Church differs from Protestant churches. Many converts to Catholicism, especially well studied ones, will tell you that it was the sacraments, and specifically the Eucharist, that drew them to the Catholic Church in the first place. God built us for union with him. We long for Christ, and it is in the sacraments that we find that union.

One of the enduring effects of the sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic Church is that it is now definitively “not cool” to be Catholic. I don’t know who the people were that responded to the Pew Forum survey, but every week I grow in confidence that those who fill the pews around me at Sunday Mass are there because they true believers.

Week after week, we come because we believe that Church is more than a social institution and a product of our times. Even if it has become a social scarlet letter, we need Jesus Christ, and we know where we will find him: In the Catholic Church. In the flesh.

Well said. There is an interesting reflection on the Pew Forum’s pages:

Factors in Religious Knowledge

What factors seem to contribute to religious knowledge? Data from the survey indicate that educational attainment – how much schooling an individual has completed – is the single best predictor of religious knowledge. College graduates get nearly eight more questions right on average than do people with a high school education or less. Having taken a religion course in college is also strongly associated with higher religious knowledge.

Other factors linked with religious knowledge include reading Scripture at least once a week and talking about religion with friends and family. People who say they frequently talk about religion with friends and family get an average of roughly two more questions right than those who say they rarely or never discuss religion. People with the highest levels of religious commitment – those who say that they attend worship services at least once a week and that religion is very important in their lives – generally demonstrate higher levels of religious knowledge than those with medium or low religious commitment. Having regularly attended religious education classes or participated in a youth group as a child adds more than two questions to the average number answered correctly, compared with those who seldom or never participated in such activities. And those who attended private school score more than two questions better on average than those who attended public school when they were growing up. Interestingly, however, those who attended a private religious school score no better than those who attended a private nonreligious school.

In other words, education, education, education. If there is one thing that the canonisation of Saint Mary of the Cross should remind us, it is of the importance of education in the faith.

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Weedon reports on a Seminar on Death and Resurrection

Pastor Weedon sent me this link to a post on his blog about a pastors conference he attended with a couple of very good speakers, Rev. William Cwirla (“The Art of Dying”) and Prof. Jeff Gibbs (“Resurrection”). The topic certainly gets to the heart of the matter.

In his email to me, Pastor William rightly noted my fondness for N.T. Wright (mind you, I don’t think Wright fully grasps what Ratzinger was saying in his book “Eschatology” on a number of points). He writes:

I remember in a Wrightish way you objected to the line “mount triumphant to the skies.” [In the German funeral hymn “This body in the grave we lay”] After this presentation, checked out the German and it is not there. Rather, simply raised again in incorruption! Wright would likely be happy with that, no?

Indeed! Schütz too!

There are a number of issues that Pastor Weedon reports on that some may find suprising, for instance, prayer for the dead in Lutheranism.

The substitution of the meta-narrative that has prevailed through so much of Christianity – where “heaven” is the goal and death is just the gateway to heaven, and can stop the story without reckoning with the Appearing of our Lord and the joy of resurrection on that day – is perhaps the main culprit in the loss of prayer for the dead among us. We forget that the dead await the Resurrection – and the martyrs under the altar impatiently! “How long, O Lord?”

One of the strengths of Lutheran theology (and Anglican also, as in the case of Tom Wright), is that its best practicioners are strongly aware of the necessity of constantly callibrating their theology with the New Testament. Catholic theologians also, at their best, are aware of this necessity. As Tom Wright so brilliantly demonstrates, there are always new possibilities, fresh insights, thrown up by this process. Catholic theologians have the additional task of calibrating their theology to the ongoing tradition as well. This is a challenge all of its own, but no less capable of fruitful outcomes. Hence my comment earlier about Wright not being as successful as Ratzinger in grasping some of the authentic New Testament perspectives that actually were preserved in the on-going tradition.

Thanks, in any case, for this report, Pastor Weedon.

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“Sisters” of St Joseph?

Well, it is raining buckets here in Melbourne, the birthplace of (very soon to be) Saint Mary of the Cross (aka Mary MacKillop). God must be very confused at the moment: for years we have been praying for rain, but not a few are now praying for fine weather for Sunday’s festivities (see here for full details).

The Catholic Weekly (Sydney) has this picture in their 17 October edition:

At first I thought “Isn’t that nice? Some Sisters of St Joseph have decided to celebrate the canonisation of their founder by donning the habit that she gave them to identify them and their mission.”

Silly me. The youthfulness of the “sisters” should have been a dead give-away. (In the early years of the order, most of the members were under 30, and in fact many of them under 21. Not anymore.) In fact these “sisters” are the cast of the Mary MacKillop musical stage production, on an outing on the “Mary MacKillop” ferry in Sydney Harbour. You must agree though, that their happy smiling faces and the instant “brand” recognisability of the habit are a good advertisment for more than just the musical. (BTW, did you pick up in the Compass program on Sunday the business about the “Black-” and “Brown-Joeys” working to bury the hatchet on their ancient division – with the consideration that perhaps they might now call themselves the “Green Joeys”? Thankfully that idea went in the waste paper basket.)

Still, wouldn’t it be a nice thing if on Sunday all Josephite sisters were to dust off the old habits and don them in honour of the canonisation of their founder?

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