If people sincerely believed that their eternal fates hinged on their knowledge of religion, their ignorance wouldn’t be rational. If you could save your soul with 40 hours of your time, you’d be mad to watch t.v. instead. Unfortunately for religious believers, this leaves them with two unpalatable options:
1. Option #1: Deep-down, most religious believers believe that death is the end…
2. Option #2: Most religious believers are so stupid and/or impulsive that they’ll knowingly give up eternal bliss for trivial mortal pleasures…
It is interesting that Caplan only offers these two options. I think a third option is more true:
Option #3: Most people make up what they want their religion to be in their own heads and think they are going to heaven. People generally think that the way they view the world mirrors reality (right and wrong, justice and injustice, ect). They cannot imagine a God that would send them to hell or people like them, so have no motivation to identify what is true.
Although Caplan misidentifies Christians and possible options and explanations, the main point of Caplan’s post stands: Christian ignorance of religion in general. I would agree that most, although less than what the poll revealed due to the self identification of the participants, real Christians are generally ignorant of other religions as well as their own, but I see it as less of a problem than what Caplan indicates. While Christian ignorance is a problem to people who are not really Christian (I remember visiting big churches in D.C. where maybe the smallest fraction actually believed in the life, death and physical resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God), ignorance is not really a problem to those who actually are saved.
Caplan’s claims are reminiscent of Celsus circa 100-200 AD, to whom Origen gives answer:
[Celsus] next proceeds to recommend, that in adopting opinions we should follow reason and a rational guide… And he asserts that certain persons [Christians] who do not wish either to give or receive a reason for their belief, keep repeating, “Do not examine, but believe!” and, “Your faith will save you!” And he alleges that such also say, “The wisdom of this life is bad, but that foolishness is a good thing!” To which we have to answer, that if it were possible for all to leave the business of life, and devote themselves to philosophy, no other method ought to be adopted by any one, but this alone… But since the course alluded to is impossible, partly on account of the necessities of life, partly on account of the weakness of men, as only a very few individuals devote themselves earnestly to study, what better method could be devised with a view of assisting the multitude, than that which was delivered by Jesus to the heathen?
Origen answers claims of Christian ignorance with the truth: that people really do not have to know the deepest theology or rationality and they are all the better for it. If you believe the street will not collapse when you walk on it, and proceeding to walk on the street proves your assertion, you are better off than the philosopher who tests endlessly the street to see if it is an illusion in a attempt to save his own life from a possible imminent falling death.
I readily acknowledge that the average Christian might have a lower IQ and a higher tolerance for irrational thinking than the average atheist, but I find comfort in the fact that our smartest can easily defeat their smartest.