Common religious misunderstandings
Common misunderstandings about secular matters on religious web sites:
||About half of all U.S. marriages have ended in divorce. A
commonly cited figure is that 50% of all marriages will eventually end in divorce. But the percentage of marriages which have already failed is considerably less than 50%. A poll showed
that, among Christians, non-denominational churches -- typically fundamentalist
congregations with no affiliation to a Christian denomination -- had the highest
percentage of persons who have been divorced (30%). Baptists are next
at 29%; Catholics and Lutherans are tied at 21%. 21% of Atheists and
Agnostics have been divorced.
Common misunderstandings about religion in general:
||The U.S. is a Christian nation: There are many ways of
defining whether a country follows a specific religion. By some
criteria, the U.S. is a Christian nation:
||Religious identity: About 70% of
American adults identify themselves as
||Importance of religion: 75% of women and 60% of men
regard faith as a critical part of their life.
On the other hand, if other criteria are used, it may be argued
that the U.S. is not a Christian nation:
||Christian prayer in public schools: Many Americans believe that the U.S.
Supreme Court banned prayer in public schools. They did not. The
court merely declared that prayer, as an integral part of the
classroom day, was unconstitutional, both because:
||It would elevate religious belief as superior to secular belief,
||It would elevate Christianity above other religions.
||pray at the flagpole and at any other location outside where
students area allowed to gather;
||pray silently in the hallways or classroom outside of class
hours (i.e. before classes begin or after they are over;
||say grace before meals in the cafeteria;
||join with fellow student believers in forming Bible study clubs,
if one or more secular, non-curriculum related clubs are also
||study comparative religion in class, as long as the course meets
constitutional requirements of inclusiveness and balance;
||wear religious clothing and religious
||initiate religious conversation during free time with fellow
students as long as they do not engage in harassment.
Of course, some school officials are ignorant of the law and may
attempt to infringe upon rights guaranteed to students' under the
First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Their current favorite
technique is to claim that certain religious jewelry (cross, crucifix,
star of David, pentacle) are gang symbols and thus prohibited.
Fortunately, there are legal groups -- like the American Civil Liberties Union -- who will often come to the aid of
students. Usually a brief conversation or letter between a lawyer and school
principal is sufficient to restore students' constitutional rights.
||Bibles in the public schools: Many people believe that
students are not allowed to bring their Bibles into public schools.
Others believe that they can have a Bible, but are not allowed to read
it. In fact, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees
||Students can carry Bibles on the school bus;
||They carry Bibles with them while in school;
||They can read Bibles on school property, even in the classroom,
if it is not during actual instruction time.
||They can freely read and use their Bible in a Christian club,
if one or more secular, non-curriculum related clubs are also
permitted in the same school.
Common misunderstandings about Christianity:
||Christianity is growing: Worldwide, the percentage of people
who identify themselves as Christians has been stuck at about 33% for
decades. It may actually be shrinking as a percentage of the total
population even as its total numbers are increasing. Islam is growing rapidly, largely due to higher birth rate in many predominately Muslim countries and forced conversions.
Some observers expected it to surpass
Christianity in total numbers later in this century, perhaps in the
2030s if current trends hold.
||The Ten Commandments: There is a very common belief that the Ten
Commandments are a set of rules of behavior that everyone should
feel comfortable following. In fact, the first five Commandments (or
four, depending upon which translation that you use), are purely
theological in nature, require people to worship Yahweh, and provide curses for the
children, grand children and great grand children of anyone who refuses to
worship Yahweh. The Commandments are thus quite unacceptable to followers of religions other than Judaism, Christianity,
||The Immaculate Conception: This is a mainly Roman Catholic
doctrine. Most people seem to believe that it refers to Jesus being without original sin when he was conceived circa 6 BCE by Mary and the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Immaculate Conception refers to the belief that in about 20 BCE when Mary herself was
conceived, that she was without original sin.
Common misunderstandings about Islam:
mutilation: This is often seen as a religious ritual act, promoted
by Islam. However, it is apparent that female
genital mutilation is an African tradition that is grounded in
cultural practice, not religious belief. In those countries where it
is practiced, it is done by followers of all religions. In many Muslim
countries outside of North Africa, it is an unknown practice.
||Jihad: This is
often translated as "holy war" -- a call to
fight against non-Muslims in the defense of Islam. This meaning is particularly
common in the western press. In reality, it means "struggle." Most Muslims view it as a personal, internal
struggle with one's self. The goal may be achievement in a profession,
self-purification, the conquering of primitive instincts or the
attainment of some other noble accomplishment.
||Intolerance: Many media report extreme cases of intolerance up to and including crucifixions, decapitations, etc. of non-Muslims who refuse to convert to Islam. Other reports relate to acts of extreme intolerance by followers of the two main traditions if Islam -- Shia and Sunni -- against each other. 'The split occurred over a millenium ago over the selection of a successor to Muhammad, the founder of Islam. However, the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful.
Common misunderstandings about Neopaganism:
||Witchcraft: This term has so many mutually
exclusive and variant meanings that we recommend it never be used.
Two common, opposing meanings are:
||A Satanist: a worshiper of Satan who uses black magic to
harm others, involving the aid of Satan and his demons.
||A Wiccan: a follower of Wicca,
a benign reconstruction of an ancient European Celtic religion.
Wiccans are prohibited from using magic to harm others; they do
not believe in the existence of Satan or demons.
||Wicca: This is viewed by many as a form of Satanism. In
reality, Satan is largely a Christian
quasi-deity whose existence is not recognized by Wiccans. Wicca is a
modern religion, created partly from ancient Pagan Celtic symbols,
holy-days, deities and beliefs. They worship a God and a Goddess, and
do not have an all-evil entity such as Satan in their pantheon of
Common misunderstandings about New Religious Movements:
New Religious Movements (NRMs) are often called "cults."
We recommend that the latter term never be used, unless it is carefully
pre-defined, because it has so many mutually exclusive and variant
||Cults are dangerous: A handful have
proven themselves to be hazardous to the health or lives of their
members. But of the thousands of religious organizations in the U.S.,
only a very small number fall into that category. Almost all religious
groups are benign. New religious movements are simply the beginning
stage by which new faith groups are organized. Christianity itself was
a new religious movement in the 1st and 2nd century CE. In the 19th century, the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Christian
Science were both new religious movement. Both are well established faith groups today.
||Millions of people are unethically recruited by and brainwashed
in cults: Many groups in the anti-cult movement teach that new religious movements capture followers by deceptive
techniques and reduce their critical faculties through mind-control
techniques -- some almost to zombie-like status. Other groups in the counter-cult
movement teach that any group which deviates from traditional
Christian theology is a cult. By including such large, established
Christian groups as the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints, Seventh Day Adventists, Unification
Church, Christian Science, etc., they can
then claim that "cults" number in the
Common misunderstandings about Satanism:
||Satanic Ritual Abuse: During the 1980s and early 1990s, a
Satanic Panic swept across much of the English speaking world. Many
feminists, therapists, police officers, conservative Christian leaders
and the public itself believed that Satanists were kidnapping, abusing and killing infants and
children in human sacrifices. Estimates ranged to 50,000 annually
or more. This belief was partly fueled by false childhood memories generated by recovered
memory therapy used on adults. False memories were implanted in
young children through the use of direct and
repetitive questioning. Lack of hard evidence finally
caused most to abandon their beliefs. Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) is
now mainly promoted by a very small percentage of feminists and
||Worship of Satan: Most people believe that Satanists worship
Satan. By "Satan" they are referring to concept of
the Devil as an all-evil, living, quasi-deity. This view of Satan
developed during the Middle Ages within Christianity.
In reality, the two largest
groups within religious Satanism are the Church of Satan (whose
members view Satan as a pre-Christian, pagan principle, not a living
entity) and the Temple of Set (whose members worship Set, a
pre-Christian deity from Ancient Egypt -- a predecessor of the Satan
of the Bible). However, some small Satanic groups do worship Satan as
a living entity.
Related essays on this web site:
Copyright © 2000 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally written: 2000-MAR-9
Latest update: 2015-OCT-02
Author: B.A. Robinson