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Mark Oppenheimer adds to my reading list with his New York Times review of Stephen Prothero's new book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know -- and Doesn't; the review includes this bipartisan historical smackdown:
"Both conservatives and liberals are to blame for American religious illiteracy. Beginning with 19th-century Unitarians, liberal Christians dropped Bible learning for good deeds and progressive politics. But conservatives have also turned away from religious study. From Charles Finney in the Second Great Awakening to contemporary megachurch preachers, evangelicals have won converts by advocating enthusiastic faith at the expense of religious study. ...Conservative evangelicals, uniting in pursuit of political influence, played down old denominational differences. 'Family values' became for the right what 'justice' or 'peace' was for the left — a catchphrase that obviates the need for religious literacy." (Also available here.)
Maybe the no-nonsense giant of a farmer who taught my fifth-grade Sunday School class had a point. His curriculum eschewed both commercial texts and popsicle-stick crafts -- it was all memory work: books of the Bible, ten commandments, the works.