Well, this is quite the little embarrassment: According to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, the people who know most about religion are — hold onto your seats — atheists and agnostics!
It’s true. The pollsters asked 32 questions dealing with “religious knowledge,” and non-believers scored the highest, with an average of 20.9 correct answers.
Jews were a close second, with 20.5, and Mormons a close third, with 20.3.
Hispanic Catholics were last, with 11.6.
Evangelical Protestants knew the most about the Bible and Christianity — let’s give them credit for that — but they weren’t exactly scholars even in that department. A majority of Protestants (53 percent) didn’t know that Protestantism was launched by Martin Luther.
Forty-three percent of Jews, as high-scoring as that group was, didn’t know that Maimonides was Jewish — Maimonides being the pre-eminent Jewish theologian of the Middle Ages, roughly equivalent to Thomas Aquinas on the Catholic side.
Forty-five percent of Catholics didn’t know that in the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist the body and blood of Christ are supposed to be actually, not just symbolically, present. (It’s called transsubstantiaton.)
They go to Mass every Sunday and solemnly take the wafer and the wine, not knowing what it’s all about! It makes me hold my very sides for laughter.
Transsubstantiation, Martin Luther, Maimonides — scoffers know these subjects better than believers, a lot of whom, I guess, just robotically go through the motions without ever wondering what they’re doing, all the while congratulating themselves for their “faith.”
As for knowledge of other religions, only 47 percent of people questioned knew that the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist; only 37 percent were able to associate Vishnu and Shiva with Hinduism; only 27 percent knew that most Indonesians are Muslims (though Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world); only 62 percent knew that most Indians are Hindus; only 52 percent knew that Ramadan is the Islamic holy month; only 54 percent knew that the Quran is the Muslim holy book.
Not that this wondrous ignorance is confined to matters religious. As a check, the pollsters also determined that only 59 percent of respondents could name the vice president of the United States.
It may be that only half the people in this great land of ours know their own address, which is why we have so many cars driving endlessly up and down our roads. Those might be people trying to find their way home.
And yet the exciting thing is, those people can not only attend demonstrations in Washington, they can also vote. So don’t tell me this isn’t a great country.
As for Chinese Buddhists making a move on Amsterdam, I note with amusement that when their World Peace and Health Organization offered $450,000 for the old Bacon elementary school, which has been shuttered for four years and had no prospects of reuse, the Board of Education had the temerity to demand an extra $10,000 to cover the cost of a required referendum on the sale.
The board did not, however, make any similar demand on the developer William Petrosino, whose proposed purchase of the former Walter Elwood Museum will be subject to the same referendum next Tuesday. He’ll get a ride on the robe-tails of the Buddhists.
School Superintendent Thomas Perillo tells me the board accepted Petrosino’s offer of $80,000 for that building in preference to the Buddhists’ own offer of $135,000 so as to put the building back on the tax rolls. Petrosino plans to convert it to apartments, which are taxable, while the World Peace and Health Organization is tax-exempt.
He told me the Buddhists initially offered the same $80,000 but increased their offer to compensate for the lack of taxes. The board obviously was not persuaded.
So Petrosino is in line for the old museum, the Buddhists for the old elementary school, the two proposals to be voted on separately but at the same time.
I’ll be watching to see how much opposition there is, if any, to selling the white elephant of a closed school to a group of Chinese Buddhists for use as a Buddhist institute. How many residents will be prepared to turn down $450,000, when the prospective buyer is even paying for their opportunity to vote?
And speaking of Amsterdam, several readers instructed me that the former St. Casimir’s Church there, on East Main Street, was Lithuanian, not Polish.
They must have read my mind. I didn’t say it was Polish, but I did think it, and somehow they found me out.
All I said was that I imagined some Polish-Americans sitting cross-legged in that old building, now a Buddhist temple, doing Buddhist routines to relieve their aching joints, and from that the readers apparently figured me out.
One of these readers did allow that there used to be a few Polish parishioners, St. Casimir being the patron saint of both Poland and Lithuania, so my thoughts were not entirely misguided, but the Polish churches in Amsterdam were St. Stanislaus’ and St. John’s.
“Sermons were delivered in Lithuanian, and the parish records and bulletin were written only in Lithuanian during the first half of the 20th century,” the reader advised me.
But time moves right along, and now the language most heard in that old building is Mandarin.