According to a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, forty-five percent of Americans Catholics are unaware that, according their own professed religion, the physical body of Jesus Christ tastes rather like a cracker. Protestants and Jews are equally ignorant of key facts about their own religions, though (at least according to the examples quoted in the New York Times) the gaps in their knowledge were less about theology and more about the roles of historical figures.
I can understand being simultaneously devout and a little hazy on religious history, but I don’t understand how you can be both devout and so hazy about the doctrines of your own church. In the words of Bryan Caplan, who blogged this first:
If people sincerely believed that their eternal fates hinged on their knowledge of religion, their ignorance wouldn’t be rational. If you could save your soul with 40 hours of your time, you’d be mad to watch t.v. instead. Unfortunately for religious believers, this leaves them with two unpalatable options:
Option #1: Deep-down, most religious believers believe that death is the end. (This is consistent with the fact that even the pious mourn their loved ones at funerals, instead of celebrating the good fortune of the deceased)….
Option #2: Most religious believers are so stupid and/or impulsive that they’ll knowingly give up eternal bliss for trivial mortal pleasures. But why then do so many believers show intelligence and self-control in other areas of life?
Now it seems to me that in the cases of the Jews and the Protestants, who were unable to identify Maimonides and Martin Luther, Bryan has overlooked a third option:
Option #3: Religious believers have better things to do than study history.
Unfortunately, this won’t work for the Catholics, for whom the analogous option would be
Option #3′: Religious believers have better things to do than to understand the doctrines of their religion.
This makes no sense, because religious believers should surely think that a) it’s important to have the right beliefs and b) the doctrines of their church contain (perhaps imperfect) information about which beliefs are right. (Otherwise, why subscribe to a religion at all?) So you’d think it would be well worth the while of those believers to acquaint themselves with church doctrine, even if they don’t plan to accept 100% of it uncritically.
Since Bryan has ruled out Option #2 with his “But why then…?”, this, I think, leaves us with Option #1.
(For more on this subject, read Chapter 6 of The Big Questions !)
Note: For all I know, Protestants, Jews and Muslims are as ignorant of their own churches’ doctrines as Catholics are. I can’t tell because the Pew Forum website, with the raw survey data, has been down all night.