Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Biblical Illiteracy, A Godless Congressman and the Times

In today's Los Angeles Times Professor Stephen Prothero of Boston University has an op-ed published where he decries the paucity of religious literacy among the American populace ("We live in the land of biblical idiots.") He starts his piece with a census of the religious affiliations of the U.S. political elite:
[...] THE 110th Congress has brought to Capitol Hill 43 Jews, two Buddhists and a Muslim — Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who took his oath of office on Thomas Jefferson's Koran — Washington remains a disproportionately Christian town. More than 90% of federal legislators call themselves Christians, making Congress more Christian than the United States itself. The president is an evangelical Protestant. Catholics enjoy a majority on the Supreme Court.

Prothero's thesis is that Americans know very little about religion in general and the Bible, specifically and that this is a bad thing. He has documented the phenomenon that we are a "nation of biblical illiterates" in his book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know -- and Doesn't.

In yesterday's Los Angeles Times U.S. Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) has revealed that he is an atheist and does not believe in God. By responding to a survey sent to all members of Congress by the Secular Coalition for America, the Congressman became the sole member of Congress to be an open "nontheist" and the highest ranked atheist elected official in the United States.

Recent poll data has shown that the average American would be less like to vote for an atheist candidate (45%) for the U.S. Presidency than an African American (94%), a Jewish person (92%), a Catholic person (95%), a Mormon person (72%), a 72-year old (57%), a thrice-married person (67%) or an openly gay person (55%).

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