Stephen Prothero, of the religion department at Boston University, has just published a book entitled Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—and Doesn't. Here are several gems from a recent poll:
— Two Americans out of three don't know the name of the man who delivered the Sermon on the Mount.
— Only 50% of Americans can name one of the four Gospels.
— Less than 50% know the name of the first book of the Bible.
In a broader historical domain, Americans were asked to identify Joan of Arc. Some 10% replied along the following lines: "Did you say Arc? That rings a bell. She must have been Noah's wife."
Citizens of that pragmatic nation, where everybody is out to make a buck, were confronted with the following quotation: "God helps those who help themselves." Over 75% were convinced that this is a statement from the Bible.
In fact, it was the illustrious American statesman Benjamin Franklin—"a true champion of generic religion", as somebody said—who put forward this point of view. But everybody knows that what was good enough for Benjamin Franklin is, of course, good enough for latter-day insertion into the Bible.