In fact what’s most vexing about Americans’ religious illiteracy barely made headlines. Armed only with our ignorance, are we ready for a world that daily manifests the absolute conflict of multiple religious absolutes? Writers like Graham Fuller and Eliza Griswold argue that religion is a side-show for geopolitical issues ranging from water rights to territorial claims — but tell that to Hindus and Muslims in Northern India or to equally angry Jews, Christians and Buddhists around the world. Even if cynical leaders do use religion to manipulate the masses, it’s critical to understand why it catches and compels so many people. Knowing a bit of theology and religious history is good a first step.
Then again, it could be that Americans don’t have time to learn about other people’s religions because they are too busy studying their own. I don’t mean the old faiths like Judaism or Christianity. I’m referring to the new ones: Apple, Converse and Juicy. Researchers at Duke, New York University and Tel Aviv University found that brands provide the same sense of self-worth that religions do. Folks who won’t wear Jesus’ cross may find contentment sporting Abercrombie’s moose. Could it be that religious leaders who call American consumerism the poisoned fruit of our secular democracy are onto something?
Perhaps, as a counterpoint to the Religious Knowledge Survey, Americans should be quizzed on their brand literacy.