Newspapers are publishing The Year in Review. Because I was on the Camino, I missed the stories about the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey that came out in September.

45% of Catholics believe the Eucharist is merely symbolic, and not the real body and blood of Christ. 

Of Catholics 40% could name the four Gospels; of Hispanic Catholics, only 15% could name them. 

After Vatican II, factual catechesis and memorization disappeared from the Catholic Church and was replaced with a lot of felt banners, gushiness, and social action 

Although Catholics win the booby prize for religious illiteracy, Protestants don’t do badly either. 

45% of Protestants do not know that Martin Luther set the Reformation going and only 19% knew that Protestantism teaches salvation through faith alone (although I admit this is a tricky point, you would think that most Protestants would at least recognize it as distinctively Protestant). 

We are not talking about technical definitions of the hypostatic union; we are talking about the religious equivalent of 2+2=4. 

I would have liked to see questions about the Trinity – on second thought, I am glad they didn’t ask them, the results would have been too depressing. Nestorius and Arius probably have won their battles posthumously. 

Mormons and Jews do better than Christians in general religious and atheists do best of all – know thy opponent seems to explain this result. Also, Catholics and Protestants seem to be surprisingly well informed about Mormonism – those Mormon missionaries are having an impact. 

When I was at the University of Virginia all professors and graduate students had to teach the freshman writing course. All the instructors met to discuss approaches. We agreed the freshman couldn’t write, and the consensus was that they couldn’t write because they couldn’t read. They could read the words on the page but they had no clue to what allusions and cultural references meant. Students from Virginia – Virginia! – did not get the reference to Appomattox. 

E. D. Hirsch, one of my professors, developed this writing discussion into a cottage industry to promote cultural literacy: What Every First Grader Needs to Know, What Every Second Grader Needs to Know etc. 

In the 1980s my wife was on a charitable donations committee and was occasionally able to direct money to worthwhile causes. We had developed a simple test of Catholic literacy for our parish’s Sunday School program to give the teachers an idea of what the students knew. Again, this was not atomic physics. The multiple choice questions were things like: Who was the mother of Jesus?  What do we celebrate on Easter? And so on. 

We approached the education department of the Archdiocese of Baltimore to see whether they would like to develop a pilot program to test religious literacy among Catholic students, again to give teachers an idea of what students knew and needed to know. The archdiocese was NOT INTERESTED – even if money was offered to pay for the program.  

Why does the baloney fear the grinder? 

Explicit verbal instruction, although fitting for rational beings, is not the only way of conveying doctrines. 

I also saw a poll some years ago that showed that more Catholics than Lutherans chose a Zwinglian, purely symbolic interpretation of the Eucharist. I doubt that Lutheran catechesis is any better than Catholic, but in the Lutheran churches I have been to there has been a far stronger sense of decorum and reverence in administering the sacrament. Too often in Catholic churches I have had to receive communion from a mini-skirted young woman while people are strolling up and down the aisles and chatting to one another. At least in the Lutheran services I have been too, the elements have been administered by ordained ministers to kneeling recipients.  

Outward gestures can also to some extent teach doctrine, especially if the doctrine is embodied in propositions that no one has ever learned.  

I don’t know what could change the situation. Catholic schools are vanishing, and religious instruction outside of them is almost nonexistent. So the Catholic Church in the U.S. has managed to do away with the best methods of transmitting its doctrines: religious schools and a liturgy that conveys a sense of sacred realities. The vernacular and wordiness of the new liturgy may have been intended to instruct in doctrine, but the new liturgy fails to do so because the atmosphere too often contradicts the words on the page. Lex orandi, lex credendi. Sloppiness and informality at the Eucharist = weak sense of the Real Presence.

(PS: Title of this blog refers to Right Ho, Jeeves, Chapter 19 and the Scripture knowledge award fiasco)

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