For example the questions involved were of the form, according to the NY Times article I first cited:
Among the topics covered in the survey were: Where was Jesus born? What is Ramadan? Whose writings inspired the Protestant Reformation? Which Biblical figure led the exodus from Egypt? What religion is the Dalai Lama? Joseph Smith? Mother Theresa? In most cases, the format was multiple choice.
That's a pity because its those beliefs and narratives (like golden plates and Moroni for Mormons or Mother Theresa's views on poverty and family planning) that are really where the rubber meets the road in terms of religious belief.
That brings me to point out some things about some of my advertisers. I don't do a lot of strict filtering of advertisers for my blog. To the extent I know how to do so, I keep the Scientologists off this website as well as some commercial advertisers who might get in the way of my professional ethical responsibilities (it's a long story and I won't get into it here). But those that are left...hey, if they seem somewhat odd, feel free to find out more about them!
Take for example, Maharishi University of Management! They teach something called "Maharishi Vedic Mathematics!"
Even though modern mathematics has achieved enormous success in all areas of life, it appears to be fragmented and incomplete. It lacks a solid foundation and breaks down when faced with the ultimate infinite. In fact, the work of twentieth-century mathematician Kurt Gödel gives mathematical proof that mathematics is not complete and can in fact never be complete. As an example, mathematics cannot even handle concepts such as “the set of all sets.” The result is that most mathematicians choose to ignore the foundations of mathematics and work in isolated, fragmented areas with no vision of the whole of mathematics.Maharishi’s Vedic Mathematics, on the other hand, is a complete field of knowledge.At Maharishi University of Management, students gain direct experience of the infinite field of pure knowledge through their practice of the Transcendental Meditation program. Your study of mathematical infinity is followed by personal experience of infinity. Your study of mathematics is complete and personally fulfilling and cultures the ability to spontaneously handle all possibilities in life.
If I were to say that Gödel 's proof is heavily dependent on the relationship between sets of cardinality ℵ0 (e.g. the set of natural numbers) and c, (e.g. the set of numbers on the real line) it may or may not mean much to you, but what it ultimately means is that there is no reason to have recourse to funny metaphysics pretending to be math to the uneducated.
I won't block MUM because I think, even if my readers don't know the beauty and nicety of transfinite mathematics, you do know what to do when you see my advertisers on this page!
Ditto for "Eckankar." This is a Buddhist blog, one heavily infused by existentialism, skepticism, and a post-modern outlook. And as such, I can only scratch my head as to why the Eck folks would want to come here to advertise. What do they think I'd make of "Gopal Das" who "teaches at the Temple of Golden Wisdom on the Astral Plane?"
James Ure recently wrote about how the Kalama sutra encourages investigation for one's self (and I tried to add, but it hasn't appeared, that this is also mentioned in the Mahaparanirvana sutra). The latter states, in one form, with the Buddha addressing Ananda as he is dying:
Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge.
"And how, Ananda, is a bhikkhu an island unto himself, a refuge unto himself, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as his island, the Dhamma as his refuge, seeking no other refuge?
"When he dwells contemplating the body in the body, earnestly, clearly comprehending, and mindfully, after having overcome desire and sorrow in regard to the world; when he dwells contemplating feelings in feelings, the mind in the mind, and mental objects in mental objects, earnestly, clearly comprehending, and mindfully, after having overcome desire and sorrow in regard to the world, then, truly, he is an island unto himself, a refuge unto himself, seeking no external refuge; having the Dhamma as his island, the Dhamma as his refuge, seeking no other refuge.
One needs not to know about folks on Venus or astral planes in this business.
So, yeah, go learn about other religions, cults, belief systems, etc. if you wish. Do your homework. Overcome desire and sorrow. Help others. There's really more important things to do these days than accumulate a collection of factoids about belief systems.
Those final bits, are to me, far more important than whether Job was the suffering guy or whether the Dalai Lama's Buddhist.