Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cultural illiteracy on Jeopardy!

I hope some people out there are still checking this blog from time to time. This block of medical school (lasting from sometime in February until next week) has proved even more time-consuming than I anticipated, and I have not felt it wise to devote any time at all to posting. That will change after next week, when classes will be over until August, I will begin a basic science research project, and my spare time will be truly spare, i.e., open for blogging.

In the meantime, here's something that struck me recently. During the past few weeks, the Jeopardy! college championship has been airing. Last week, in the Double Jeopardy round, the more difficult of the two, there was a category called Get Your "B.A." Jeopardy! viewers know that when a word or set of letters in a category heading appears in quotation marks, that word or set of letters will appear in every correct response; in this case, we were told that each correct response in that category would be a phrase beginning with the letters B.A. The $2000 clue, i.e., the most difficult in the category, was: "In John 3, Jesus said, 'Except a man be' this, 'he cannot see the Kingdom of God'."

None of the three contestants even rang in. The clue was left hanging in the air until the buzzer sounded and Alex Trebek informed them of the correct response, which my grandparents who never went to college probably could have given by the time they were six years old: "What is born again?"

I don't know what's more disconcerting: the fact that the Jeopardy! producers saw fit to rank a question concerning a famous quotation from the most important document in Western Civilization (well, at least since Western Civ became Christian) as the most difficult in the category in the more difficult of the two rounds, or the fact that none of three presumably bright college students, having been given the hint that the correct response would be a two-word phrase beginning with the letters B and A, could even venture a guess.

Then I thought about some of the exchanges I've had with liberals (a category which includes almost all college students) online. There seem to be two broad schools of thought on religion within liberalism: one is that religion is evil; the other is that the true form of all religions, as intended by their founders, is a liberal form, which teaches that sin is synonymous with non-liberalism and virtue with liberalism, and that any non-liberal form must represent a perversion or "hijack" of the religion by people with ulterior motives. As we all know, this is our political mainstream's current understanding of Islam, with Islam being a "religion of peace," a view that requires ignoring what the Koran actually says. Similarly, there is often a belief that Jesus was simply a humanistic teacher who taught people to be kind and non-judgmental, and correspondingly, an assumption that whenever conservative Christians present a view of Christianity that diverges from that view, they must be making it all up. I have found that there are many secular leftists who are truly surprised when they learn that this or that teaching espoused by conservative Christians--e.g., the belief that one must be "born again" to enter the Kingdom of God--is actually in the Bible, even the New Testament, even the words of Jesus himself. Therefore it's not surprising that three college students would be unaware that this phrase, embraced by wacky "fundies" who have allegedly hijacked the true Christianity, originated with Jesus. No doubt after that question aired, there were many liberals all across the country exclaiming "whoa... 'born again' is actually in the Bible?!"