Monday, February 18, 2008

Catholic (and Protestant) Biblical Illiteracy and Ignorance at an All-Time High?

By Dave Armstrong (2-18-08)

This ain't just me speculating on or lamenting this, based on mere subjective experience; it is verified by many scientific polls of the beliefs of professed Catholics:
1) Gallup (2005).

2) Gallup (1993).

3) Barna Group (2007).

4) Barna Group (2001).

5) Zogby (2001).
No need for me to give any of the many horrific details. Anyone who is interested can scope out one or more of these surveys and see for themselves.

But it is consistently notable that evangelical Protestants score higher in many aspects that orthodox Catholics and more traditional Protestants hold in common, than Catholics do. This is one reason converts have had a measure of influence, because they often enter the Church having more Catholic views than many Catholics.

In my own case, for example, the first thing I changed my mind on as a Protestant was contraception. So, as a Protestant, I came to agree with Catholic teaching, whereas according to one of the polls I cited, 61% of Catholics do not think contraception is immoral and a grave, intrinsically evil sin (as the Church teaches). And that is but one example of many doctrines where many evangelical Protestants have a more Catholic view than a great many Catholics.

Knowledge of the Bible is not only scandalously low among Catholics, but also (surprisingly) among evangelical Protestants too (though they know a lot more than your average Catholic). Again, polls bear this out:
1) "Five Decades of Decline".

2) "Worshiping in Ignorance," Stephen Prothero.

3) "Another Gospel".

When given thirteen basic teachings from the Bible, only 1% of adult believers firmly embraced all thirteen as being biblical perspectives.
  • One-third could not put the following in order: Abraham, the Old Testament prophets, the death of Christ, and Pentecost.
  • Half could not sequence the following: Moses in Egypt, Isaac’s birth, Saul’s death, and Judah’s exile.
  • One-third could not identify Matthew as an apostle from a list of New Testament names.

    [the above three results were taken from surveys of incoming freshmen at Wheaton College: supposedly a bastion of evangelical Protestantism]
4) Bible Literacy Report
5) "Religious Illiteracy: Ignorance a Growing Problem"
This was an article from the Catholic Zenit, that described an April 2007 poll in Ireland. Some results:

a) 52% of those of ages 15-24 could name the authors of the four Gospels.

b) 47% of the same age group could name the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.

c) 38% knew there were seven sacraments (and just 63% of the over-65 age group knew this, too).
6) "Catholic Youth and the Bible," Brian Singer-Towns [Catholic article]:
"We have ample evidence that biblical literacy among Catholic youth today isn't much different from my experience of twenty-five years ago. Most Catholic teens cannot name the four Gospels. The explosion of interest in the Scriptures by adult Catholics since the Second Vatican Council has by and large not really reached Catholic youth. For example, in a recent Gallup study, only 20 percent of Catholic youth, compared to 60 percent of Christian youth from other denominations, claimed to have ever read the Bible on their own."
7) "The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy," Dr. Claude Mariottini [Baptist].

8) "6 in 10 Filipinos Don't Read, Own Bible".

9) "Are We Biblically Illiterate?", Jeffrey Overstreet.
Folks disagree on the extent of biblical illiteracy among Catholics, which is a factual matter. That's why I produced some polls suggesting that the problem of lack of knowledge of the Bible is widespread: not just among Catholics, but among Protestants as well.

It's something we should all be concerned about. But in any treatment of the current state of affairs, one needs to understand exactly the nature and extent of the problem. Scientifically-controlled polls are (it seems to me) pretty much the only way to determine that.

I think it is important that converts coming into the Church should know that there are many problems of people in the Church. They need to be fully aware of this beforehand, so they are not deeply disappointed once they come in (as I have seen happen, many times over my 17 years as a Catholic and close observer of the apologetics / convert "scene"; some of them became radical "traditionalists" in their extreme reactions to what they find).

I knew there was a huge crisis of modernism and dissent when I came into the Church. My mentor Fr. John Hardon used to often say that modernism was the greatest crisis in the history of the Church, and the culmination of all heresies, and that we were right in the midst of it. It didn't hinder or stop me at all, because modernism or religious liberalism has not succeeded in changing any Catholic doctrines. That's why we are fundamentally different from something like Anglicanism, where doctrines have actually been changed and compromised under the influence of disbelief and dissent from received doctrines.

I always urge potential converts to "take the long view" and look at the history and doctrine of the Church, not the people "on the ground." Conversion ought not to be based on observing people and seeing how "on-fire" they are (that's back to the man-centeredness of much of Protestantism), but on the teachings of the Church. They are what they are, regardless of how many Catholics accept them or not. A crisis of bad catechesis is not a crisis of dogmatic theology in the Church herself.

Bottom line: liberal theology and disbelief and selective belief and ignorance is a widespread problem afflicting just about all brands of Christianity. The Catholic difference is that this crisis has not been allowed to change any traditional dogma or doctrine of the Church. That's why I am a Catholic: because I want apostolic, traditional, biblical Christianity, passed down pure and undefiled, and unaffected by the whims and fads and fancies of any given age or culture.

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