I'm just starting Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — and Doesn't, by Stephen Prothero, chair of the religion department at Boston University and author of the highly regarded book American Jesus. The book forces us to confront the question: Just how ignorant is the average American? [That's a dangerous question to ask in an election year.]
It is usually geographical ignorance for which Americans are taken to task. For example, I know a Canadian who attended BYU and, when asked where she was from, replied (as most Canadians do), "I'm from Canada." The blissfully ignorant BYU coed responded, "Oh ... where's that?" Let's hope most Americans score better on religion than on geography. Prothero's book should help. I'll blog his entry on Mormonism later this week.
He starts off the book with this provocative observation: Europeans are typically well instructed in comparative religion, religious history, and the basic tenets of various denominations, but they are very unlikely to be attending or participating in any denomination or church. Americans, by contrast, are much more likely to believe and participate in a religion or denomination, but don't know much about religion, even their own. Prothero notes, "Atheists may be as rare in America as Jesus-loving politicians are in Europe, but here faith is almost entirely devoid of content."
What is your experience? Are Americans really that ignorant, and are Europeans really that disbelieving?