What Fresh Hell Is This?

April 8, 2018

A Changed Headline Illuminates

This morning, the Post-Gazette published this piece by Christine Emba of the Washington Post.

It's about the need for biblical literacy. The column's headline at the P-G reads:

Which was kinda weird because the column really doesn't say much about atheists specifically. After reading and re-reading the column a few times, the only possibly reference to "atheists" I could find was the last sentence of this paragraph:
According to a survey last year by LifeWay Research, more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible. Theologian Albert Mohler has noted, aghast, that more than 10 percent of Americans think that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. In 2010, the Pew Research Center revealed that only half of self-identified Christians could identify the four Gospels. (In case you’re wondering, they’re Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.) And as the number of religious “nones” in the United States continues to rise, the amount of even cursory religious knowledge we share seems sure to fall.
And we should note that "Nones" is not necessarily a synomyn for "atheist" as seen in this discussion by the Pew Research Center In a piece titled "'Nones' on the Rise" they say:
The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.
"Nones" means "unaffiliated" and Pew further explains:
However, a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted jointly with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, finds that many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day.
I do also want to take a moment to point out something else from the headline: "atheist" is not a synonym for "non-Christian" as any discussion with any rabbi or imam would surely reveal. 

And in any event, Emba says nothing about the biblical literacy of the "nones." So why the poke at atheists?

When I went looking for the original piece this is what I found this morning. The headline now showing at the Washington Post (where the column first appeared on two Fridays ago on March 30) reads:

So when was the change from "Even atheists" to "You" made? Was it a P-G decision?

Apparently not as the URL of the Washington Post piece still includes this bit fragment:


The next day, Hemant Metha of Patheos did a good job at analyzing Emba's piece for some of it's rhetorical inconsistencies. Perhaps that's what triggered the headline writers at the Post to change it's title to something a little more correct.

But that's no excuse for the P-G to revert to the original headline.

Especially since the Pew Research Center (remember them?) has published data saying:
Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.

On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.
So if there's a "splintered public consciousness" due, at least in part, to a widespread biblical illiteracy in the population, that illiteracy is to be found less in the non-believers than in, say, mainstream Protestants and Catholics. So the proposed solution for atheists to improve their biblical literacy (as the Post originally said and the P-G more recently echoed) is insultingly absurd.

Shouldn't the P-G have checked this before using the column's original (and obviously incorrect) headline?

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