Partly because I'm working with a Kansas City group toward the creation of a project on religious literacy, I tend to be sensitive to the vast scale of ignorance about religion evidenced in various ways around the globe.
Let's begin today with one basic truth about Islam:
Islam is not a country, no matter what an Australian politician says. You can see the offending interview with Stephanie Banister here. Some harsh critics are likening her profound lack of understanding to some of the things Sarah Palin has said. Ouch.
But once we say Islam is not a country, which of course it is not, a deeper look will reveal that Islam's followers think of themselves as a worldwide community. In fact, they even have name for that community -- ummah. It's an Arabic word that means something different from the idea of a political or geographic nation, as the site to which I've just linked you explains.
At any rate, Stephanie Banister might have impressed everyone had she known about the ummah concept and drawn that distinction, but given the fact that she gets lots of other things wrong, I'm sure she had no clue about this.
Australia seems to be in no danger of putting her in a position of authority, but lots of willfully ignorant politicians get elected all over the planet, so perhaps one of our tasks as voters is to assess whether they understand the foundational importance of religion to so many people and whether their knowledge about religion is, well, Banisteresque. If so, they'll inevitably lead their governments into policies that will create trouble.
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IS FRANCIS A CENTRIST?
I mentioned here the other day that some Catholics who desribe themselves as conservative aren't especially thrilled with Pope Francis. Now my National Catholic Reporter colleague Michael Sean Winters says what he calls the Catholic Left has its grudges about Francis, too. It's sounding like the pope is where he needs to be -- in the broad middle.