Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't
by Stephen Prothero
Book Review by Dan Tres Omi
Usually when someone asks what book everyone in the United States should read, I usually give up a classic such as Animal Farm by George Orwell, Slaughter House Five by Kurt Vonnegut, People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present (P.S.)by Howard Zinn, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley. Pretty much those kind of books that everyone should read in the U.S. Were written well over 40 years ago. After reading Stephen Prothero's book, I realized I found a book I can recommend that was written recently as one that everybody needs to pick up.
Prothero begins the book with a quiz he gives all of his students when they take his Comparative Religion course. All of them fail miserably. Before Prothero begins to explain the reason why this happens, he tells a brief history of religion in the United States beginning with the Mayflower all the way up until the present day. One would quickly assume that Prothero is one of those “all religions are the same so why are we killing each other” types. Prothero proves otherwise. Instead Prothero makes the claim that all religions are remarkably different and that it is dangerous to assume that they aren't.
Prothero does not want all Americans to be somewhat familiar with several of the world's religions so that we could be more tolerant of one another. Prothero just finds that it would help all of us in our day to day lives if we knew a little something about several religions. Prothero explains how religion or religious symbolism is used in everyday life. He points out that politicians fill their speeches with several Biblical references and that even writers of fiction use religious metaphors in their stories. How can a reader or listener understand what the reference is alluding to if they are religiously illiterate. Another thing, Prothero makes clear is that it was not the secular left that pulled religion and prayer out of public school but the very same fundamentalists who cry for the return of school prayer and religious studies were the culprits.
There was a time when I felt that biblical studies should be kept out of the school curriculum. Prothero has made me a believer in the importance of knowing about the religion that over 75% of the people in this country espouse. It makes mathematical sense. If you are wondering, I passed the test in the beginning of the book and at the end. So I guess I have been religiously literate for quite some time.