I blogged on this last week, but there’s an interesting series of comments from scholars about the survey and what it reveals and doesn’t reveal. Perhaps the most interesting point, made by several of the scholars, had to do with religious knowledge itself. What constitutes religious knowledge? Is it being able to parrot doctrine in response to questions? Is it being able to recite the creed, or to know that Catholics believe the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ?
To take the latter question, if someone has deep Eucharistic devotion and is wont to meditate or pray at the Reserved Sacrament, yet cannot articulate the doctrine of transsubstantiation, do they believe that bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ? Their actions certainly suggest they are encountering the divine in some way.
Certainly, religion is more than doctrine and faith more than assent to a series of propositions. One academic suggested that part of the problem is that preachers don’t preach what seem to be core doctrines to theologians. Thus mainline Presbyterians rarely mention the finer points of Calvinist theology from the pulpit.
Wearing the hat of a scholar of religious studies, I grant the point. As a pastor, I also know that people attend and belong to churches for all sorts of reasons. Still, it seems to me that it can’t hurt to pose the questions occasionally, to ask people both what they know and what they believe, and to try to determine whether there are discrepancies between faith, religious knowledge, and religious practice.
One of the scholars brought up the category of “Lived Religion,” briefly put religion as expressed through ritual, practice, and the like. In my experience, some of the most vocal believers could express their faith easily in words, but did not demonstrate it either in their ethical actions or in their religious practice.