Suppose I believe there is a mouse in my house. Mice can spread diseases, so I set a trap, catch it, dispose of it and sleep in comfort again. Now suppose I believe there is a mouse in my house but there is not, actually, any mouse. I go to unreasonable lengths to capture this imaginary mouse; spending far too much time and money chasing a fantasy. It drives me mad, I sell the house and move somewhere else. Such is the cost of false beliefs.
Or suppose I believed there were no mice in my house, but there actually were. I catch a mouse-transmited disease that was perfectly preventable; unfortunately my beliefs about mice in my house were inconsistent with reality. Of course if there were no mice, then my belief would have been appropriate.
Beliefs about reality are vitally important because they guide our actions within reality and help (or hinder) our integration into reality. As described at the Barna website,
Ongoing research by The Barna Group on these matters consistently demonstrates the powerful impact a person’s worldview has on their life. A worldview serves as a person’s decision-making filter, enabling them to make sense of the complex and huge amount of information, experiences, relationships and opportunities they face in life. By helping to clarify what a person believes to be important, true and desirable, a worldview has a dramatic influence on a person’s choices in any given situation.
Barna’s research has discovered that there are unusually large differences in behavior related to matters such as media use, profanity, gambling, alcohol use, honesty, civility, and sexual choices.
Two things are vitally important, then, having the right worldview (i.e. religion, philosophy) but also making sure you actually understand the worldview you claim to adhere to. How well are Christians doing in this regard?
Overall, the current research revealed that only 9% of all American adults have a biblical worldview.
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that well over 9% of American adults think they are Christian, so the fact that only 9% have a worldview that actually aligns with Christianity is disturbing, to put it mildly. This would be like discovering that the majority of Atheists actually believe in God, or 91% of environmentalists had never heard of recycling.
In Arguing with Friends I describe how every worldview must answer two fundamental questions – what is it? and why believe it? These questions are foundational to having successful conversations. It appears that most Christians do not actually know how to answer the first question. Or, more correctly, the answers they provide, when asked, are flatly wrong.
[How well could they answer the second question – why believe Christianity is true?]
As a major ingredient of effective and civil dialogue, we need to understand the worldviews of others. We should dedicate enough time and energy to investigating them in order to help us have healthy discussions. However, I would strongly suggest that we ought to take at least as much time investigating and clarifying our own worldview. It would, after all, look rather silly if we got into these major life conversations and it became readily apparent that “our faith seems to be almost inarticulate” as John Lennox describes in the video below.
In Arguing with Friends I reference various online resources to help you get a good handle on Christian theology and, of course, other religions and philosophies. As a good start to studying Christian doctrine you should get a Bible study software package (E-sword is my favorite, and it is free) or start diving into a Bible study website like Blue Letter Bible with commentaries, dictionaries and so forth. As John Lennox reminds us, we ought to love God with our mind too, not just our heart, soul and strength!
Update (2012-09-22): This interesting set of research just crossed my path. Here are some money quotes of people commenting on it.
The church today, including both the adult and teenage generations, is in an era of rampant biblical illiteracy.
Even though most teens are very positive about religion and say it’s a good thing, the vast majority are incredibly inarticulate about religion
The net result … is that most religious teenagers’ opinions and views—one can hardly call them worldviews—are vague, limited, and often quite at variance with the actual teachings of their own religion.
Church in general, and youth ministry in particular, has demonstrated more of an appetite for goose bumps than for God’s truth, more interest in how our young people feel than how they think. … But where are Christian teenagers learning basic tenets of the Christian faith? And if they don’t understand those basic truths or doctrines … then how does that impact their long-term faith? I’m concerned that too much of our teaching is reduced to what can … be communicated by a worship band illuminated by stage lighting and well-placed candles
Why is it important to get these issues right? Because “a person’s concept of reality and truth determines his beliefs. A person’s beliefs shape his values. A person’s values drive his actions. … Beliefs will eventually determine our actions.”
It’s not all bad news!
Churches that tend to produce teenagers who can articulate their faith do exist. The Study of Exemplary Congregations in Youth Ministry identified characteristics shared by 21 churches that perennially are effective in youth ministry. Even across seven denominations, one shared characteristic that rose to the top was: “Bible study and biblical literacy are extensive and substantive.”
This is somewhat odd, but the article does not reference the study itself. I think this is the website associated with the research.