The Truth, Mainly - 05/13/2002

New game: ranking religions by SAT scores
by Leon Satterfield

The Wall Street Journal (which I hardly ever read) recently ran a front-page bar graph linking SAT scores (which I hardly ever care about) to a variety of churches (which I hardly ever attend).

Still, I found the bar graph interesting. Even damn near compelling.

What it did, see, was to show which religious groups scored highest on the SATs last year. Is that interesting or what?

Wanna see how your church did? Or how your neighbors' church did? Read on.

Here are the average SAT numbers of the ten highest scoring religious groups: 1. Unitarian-Universalist Association, 1209; 2. Judaism, 1161; 3. Society of Friends (Quaker), 1153; 4. Hinduism, 1110; 5. tie between Mennonites and the Reformed Church of America, 1097; 7. Episcopal, 1096; 8. Lutheran (ELCA), 1094; 9. Presbyterian (USA), 1092; 10. Baha'i, 1073.

I suppose there are conclusions to be drawn from these rankings, but I'm not going to draw them. You go ahead.

The Wall Street Journal didn't rank those religions that didn't make the top ten, so if your church isn't listed here, assume it came in eleventh.

The church I grew up in didn't make the top ten either. Which would've shocked me when I was growing up in it because we knew all kinds of things that other churches didn't know. Especially things that weren't true.

When it came to other religions, we were about as astute as the four teenagers in Oswego, N.Y. who are on trial for burning a Sikh temple last fall.

The temple they burned was called the Gobind Sadan Temple. They burned it because they thought it was called the Go Bin Laden Temple, and hey, Sikhs wear turbans and beards and so does Bin Laden.

We didn't burn other churches when I was a kid. We figured we didn't need to because we knew the people who went to them were going to burn in hell anyway, and we didn't want to rub their noses in it.

We knew that our church was the only one God really liked. In that regard, we were only a little less astute than Republican House Whip Tom DeLay, who, when he isn't being a congressman, does evangelistic gigs. On April 12, he told the congregation at the First Baptist Church in Pearland, Tex., that "Christianity is the only way."

So if you're Muslim or Jewish or Sikh or Buddhist or anything else other than Christian, you're going to have to burn in hell. Sorry about that.

I learned about hell when I was a Baptist in southwest Kansas in the l940s.

I know that Baptists today—well, maybe except for Tom DeLay—are not like we were then. I know they're much more tolerant and ecumenical. I know that probably our best ex-President—the kindest, most compassionate, most committed to good works—is Jimmy Carter, and Jimmy Carter is a Baptist.

But I'm not talking about Jimmy Carter-Baptists. Im talking about southwest Kansas-circa 1940s-Baptists. The kind I was, the kind that doesn't exist any more. Well, maybe except for Tom DeLay.

In addition to knowing that God Himself was a Baptist, we knew that Baptists were the Original Church. Way before Catholicism, way before the Reformation, there were Baptists.

And I rememberh—how could I forget?—sitting in the barber shop, hearing one of our Baptist deacons engage in theological disputation with a Methodist who was saying that Baptists hadn't been around any longer than Methodists.

"Well," our Baptist deacon said quietly, "I've read the Bible all the way through four times and I never read about no John the Methodist."

Nobody, not even the Methodist, said anything. Our barber, the three of us waiting for haircuts, two innocent passersby (it was hot and the door was open), and a stray dog panting in the shade of the awning—all of us were struck dumb by this lightening bolt of logic.

And had further proof been needed, our deacon could have gone on—the way he often did in church—to argue that Baptists came first because wasn't John the Baptist the first cousin of Jesus, and didn't he eat locusts and then baptize Jesus by teetotal immersion in the river Jordan?

And we Baptists knew, there was nothing like getting teetotally immersed, our whole lives flashing before us while the local John the Baptist held us under, then lifted us up from the water, new born, washed clean, dripping sanctity while the heavens opened and the Spirit like a dove descended upon us.


Oops. Sorry for that little outburst of rapture. Got carried away. Let's see now, what's all this got to do with the Wall Street Journal's bar graph?

Oh, yes. Here's why my old church wouldn't have made the SAT top ten: Little outbursts of rapture are hardly ever the right answers to SAT questions.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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