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Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Rise of Spiritual Illiteracy

Jack Kemp

Victoria Knox, Tea Party Nation columnist, had previously posted a comment in reply to my article "Can this help legally support Christmas & Hannukah displays?" which lead to a discussion between us involving a book I recently finished.

The subject was speculation on how to advocate for Christmas and Hannukah displays and Ms. Knox stated that she believed a public building's Christmas display of a creche should be legally allowed in America.I replied that she would have to activate the religious faith of millions of Christians to get enough political pressure to have her desire come true, namely in the form of new elected officials to support her position,. But there is also an underlying cultural and educational assumption here of religious literacy among American voters. This assumption is not wholly warranted today, as author and prison church ministry leader Charles Colson knows.

In an increasingly secular society, not every nominal Christian may know who is actually depicted in a creche in a Nativity scene. Is this an outrageous statement on my part? Fifty years ago, it would have been.

In Charles Colson's "The Sky is Not Falling," there is a section called "The Rise of Spiritual Illiteracy" in Chapter 14 which states:


January 2001: America's newly elected president delivers his inaugural address. Commenting on it, Dick Meyer of CBS News confesses, "There were a few phrases in the speech I just didn't get. One was, 'When we see the wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass on the other side." Meyers concludes, "I hope there's not a quiz."


...Consider pollster George Barna says only a small percentage of Americans can name the Ten Commandments,
and only 42 percent can identify who preached the Sermon on the Mount. As Oxford theologian Alister McGrath explains, "In an increasingly secular culture, fewer and fewer people outside the Christian community have any real understanding of what Christians believe."


This spiritual illiteracy is mirrored among American Jews as well. As I wrote at American Thinker in December of 2004 in "Spirit and sensitivity:"


Last year, my father died and, in chance conversations with two liberal Jews, I used a common Yiddish & Hebrew phrase, Uleh leh shulem ("He rose to Heaven to his Peace"). They didn't know what I was talking about. One had
the decency to admit it and asked me what the phrase meant. The other was just embarrassed by her ignorance when I had to explain it in order to continue our conversation. When I was growing up in the Bronx 50 years ago, this common Yiddish phrase was familiar to every Jew, from an illiterate immigrant to a typical homemaker to a college graduate New York City public school teacher.

It is my contention that these same assimilated liberal Jews who didn't recognize the phrase are the very ones who feel most threatened by a Nativity scene on a courthouse lawn, or the singing of Christmas carols, because they are the most alienated from their own religion and culture. The bigger the assimilation, the more they fear losing their identity by merely singing - or even hearing - "Jingle Bells."


I could add to this now, that I've met at least one Jew in a synagogue who didn't know the Hebrew name for the Book of Genesis (It's "Behresheet" in Sephardic or Israeli Hebrew and "Beraishis" in Askenazi/European Hebrew).

But Charles Colson (and myself) are not throwing up our hands in resignation. Colson's above mentioned "The Sky is Not Falling" goes on to talk about public schools across the nation having Released Time Bible Education and mentions the Bible Literacy Project which teaches the Bible as literature and part of our cultural heritage in schools. This has support "ranging from the American Jewish Committee to the National Association of Evangelicals to the American Federation of Teachers" who all reviewed this program.

I could add that a few years ago in New York, the recently deceased atheist intellectual and writer Christopher Hitchens, author of "God is not Great" (a screed against faith) was being interviewed at a dinner by the Freedom Center and Front Page website founder David Horowitz. I - and about 200 others - were in attendance as Christopher Hitchens casually admitted that he sent his young daughter to a Quaker School so that she would learn about the Bible and would not be illiterate of the basic literature of Western Civilization.

So there you have it. If Victoria Knox - or anyone else - is looking for support for legalizing creches in an American environment where many people can't tell you who spoke the Sermon on the Mount (hint: His initials are "J.C."), they should seriously consider involvement in projects of spreading knowledge of the Scriptures to young people - and adults - as a first step. One can't call for someone's spiritual knowledge to rise up like Lazarus from the grave if that someone doesn't know who Lazarus was.

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