Speaking of Illiteracy…

By Sheila Kennedy

[Originally published at SheilaKennedy.net on December 28, 2013]

The recent Duck Dynasty brouhaha has demonstrated once again that many Americans are totally clueless about what freedom of speech and religion are and aren’t. But apparently, a whole lot of Americans are equally ignorant of what’s really in that bible people keep thumping. According to a recent article by one C.J. Werleman, 
More than 95 percent of U.S. households own at least one copy of the Bible. So how much do Americans know of the book that one-third of the country believes to be literally true? Apparently, very little, according to data from the Barna Research group. Surveys show that 60 percent can’t name more than five of the Ten Commandments; 12 percent of adults think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife; and nearly 50 percent of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple. A Gallup poll shows 50 percent of Americans can’t name the first book of the Bible, while roughly 82 percent believe “God helps those who help themselves” is a biblical verse. 
The article notes that when Congressional Republicans quoted 2 Thessalonians (“Anyone unwilling to work should not eat”) to justify cutting food stamps, 90% of Christian respondents to a poll attributed the quote to Jesus. It was actually from a letter purportedly written by Paul to members of his church in Thessalonica, reminding them that if they didn’t help build the church, they wouldn’t be paid. (As it turns out, the letter wasn’t even from Paul; biblical scholars have dismissed it as a forgery.) 

The actual texts of both the bible and the Constitution can be inconvenient, even for determined cherry-pickers. Add in historical and cultural context and….well, I guess it’s just too much work to actually read the damn things..

Sheila Kennedy is a former high school English teacher, former lawyer, former Republican, former Executive Director of Indiana's ACLU, former columnist for the Indianapolis Star, and former young person. She is currently an (increasingly cranky) old person, a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, and Director of IUPUI's Center for Civic Literacy. She writes for the Indianapolis Business Journal, PA Times, and the Indiana Word, and blogs at www.sheilakennedy.net. For those who are interested in more detail, links to an abbreviated CV and academic publications can be found on her blog, along with links to her books..