Matt Zeitlin hits on a point that is absolutely crucial to understanding religious fundamentalism: Christian evangelicals are not significantly more theologically literate than the rest of us.
Many liberals are of the mark when they characterize certain conservative social and moral views as just taken straight from the Bible, and thus unworthy of our consideration. Instead, at least according to this data, that when one says they believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God, it is more a way of signaling your belief in some sort of traditional, conservative, unchanging, “Christian” moral structure by which you live your life, rather than ascribing to any specific content of the Bible.
This should kind of go without saying, since much of the platform of the movement seems defined more by leaders such as Dobson or the late Falwell than actual Biblical commandments (I defy anyone to find a passage in the Bible that specifically singles out abortion as a sin). But I think this poll is also at least tangentially related to a rather awkward question: what’s the correlation between adherence to a religion and an actual understanding of that religion’s tenets and holy texts?
Obviously as an atheist, my outlook on this is going to be tainted by my own beliefs or lack thereof, and so far I only have anecdotal evidence to back the following conjecture, but I’m pretty sure that there is a correlation. The more one knows about world religions, the less likely one is to be an adherent to the literal word espoused by any specific religious text. I would even go so far to say that religious literacy creates more agnostics and atheists.
That probably sounds like a pretty arrogant thing to say coming from an atheist, but it makes sense. After all, every religious text has its own internal contradictions and myths that fly in the face of logic or scientific fact – accepting those and being a believer despite them is central to having faith. I’m not trying to disparage faith, but that’s essentially what it is – belief despite the absence of evidence.
So the more internal contradictions and logical fallacies there are in a given religious text, the stronger one’s faith has to be in order to remain a fundamentalist. Most fundamentalists take something that doesn’t make sense – like creationism, for example – and don’t even try to reconcile it with the evidence around them. Instead they maintain a willful ignorance of the evidence around them, even going so far as to completely misunderstand the very foundation of the theory of evolution. Similarly, the majority fundamentalists will ignore many of the rules in the Bible about things like public stonings and whatnot because acknowledging their existence makes the literal word of the Bible impossible to reconcile with living in a society with any sort of modern justice system.
So the more you understand about this stuff, the more faith it requires to soldier on for God. And the more you understand about other religions, their laws, creation myths, and common quirks like the ubiquitous flood myth, the harder it is to coherently argue that you know for a fact yours is right and all the other ones are wrong.
But again, all the evidence I have for this is anecdotal. I’d like to see some data on the correlation between religious literacy and atheism versus moderate belief versus fundamentalism. Otherwise I’m just working on blind faith here.