Failing a religious literacy test

Graded math homework and grade book

Did you catch Robert Wright's "religious literacy test" in The New York Times this week? It's under the opinion section, and I'm all for people having their own opinions. But, as they say, you can't have your own facts. And that's why I bring it up here. Wright is very well respected, a journalist and the author of the bestseller The Evolution of God. I'm hoping that what we have here is a series of typos or something because it's hard to understand otherwise. Here's how his piece begins:

Test your religious literacy:

Which sacred text says that Jesus is the "word" of God? a) the Gospel of John; b) the Book of Isaiah; c) the Koran.

The correct answer is the Koran. But if you guessed the Gospel of John you get partial credit because its opening passage -- "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God" -- is an implicit reference to Jesus. In fact, when Muhammad described Jesus as God's word, he was no doubt aware that he was affirming Christian teaching.

Um, no. Let's go to the Gospel of John, one of my very favorite passages in Scripture. Here's how it begins:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, "This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.'" And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

The most important point to make is that there is no way you can call this description of Jesus as the Word of God implied or not explicit. It's extremely explicit. And why did Wright cut of the first verse of the first chapter of John mid-sentence? It ends "the Word was God." It's just a bizarre, bizarre claim.

I'm also not sure he got the Koranic characterization right. I'm no Muslim scholar, obviously, and perhaps I was wrongly informed by two Muslim friends -- but they told me that the Koranic description of Jesus as the Word of God is more a reference to Jesus' status as a prophet and God's word as creator. It's not like Muslims believe that Jesus is the son of God, as Christians do. To be sure, Wright clarifies in his piece that the Koran denies Jesus Christ's divinity.

Anyway, religious illiteracy is a serious problem that plagues too many reporters. Sometimes that includes religion journalists, too. But Wright is a scholar and author, again, of a book titled The Evolution of God. He advises the New York Times on religion matters. For that reason, this religious literacy test needs a re-write!

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