“God helps those who help themselves” has long been one of those sayings misinformed people think is in the Bible. Sadly, too many people who claim to believe in God think it is part of Scripture. Their ignorance about such ultimate issues is exposed in the latest survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

And here’s another surprise. –The folks in our country who scored the highest on the survey’s multiple choice test were atheists. Why? According to Pew:

"American atheists and agnostics tend to be people who grew up in a religious tradition and consciously gave it up, often after a great deal of reflection and study," said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum.

"These are people who thought a lot about religion," he said. "They're not indifferent. They care about it."

I’m not surprised by these findings. Mr. Cooperman’s interpretation makes sense to me. To reject religion you must understand what you are rejecting.

But it can also work the other way…

Some of my favorite former atheists began reading Scripture in order to discredit it and wound up as believers. The book "Who Moved the Stone" is one of the more famous conversion stories of an atheist.

Author C.S. Lewis had a similar experience, beginning as an atheist, then as he read the Bible, a theist, and then a convert to Christianity. -- He started by using his mind to discredit Scripture and ending up one of the most famous of all modern converts.

What is most shocking about Americans who DO identify themselves as believers in this survey is that Protestants and Roman Catholics – the two largest branches of Christianity in America – are unaware about the basic tenets of their faith. For example, 45 percent of Roman Catholics who participated in the Pew study don’t know their church’s belief that the bread and wine of the Eucharist become the literal body and blood of Christ.

More than half the Protestants surveyed could not identify Martin Luther (not King) as the person who gave impetus to the Protestant Reformation. The next time they sing, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” in church, they might like to glance down at the bottom of the hymnal page to note the author.

Every faith category – from Jews to Mormons – did poorly in giving correct answers to questions they should know about their declared faith. Not surprisingly, said Pew, those who attend religious services at least once a week and consider faith important in their lives answered more of the questions correctly than those who were less serious about religious practices.

The Bible – in both the Old and New Testaments—warns about the “cares of this world” creeping in to dull our senses to the need of God in our lives. In modern times, that dullness is produced by the pursuit of pleasure and material things.

Forgetting God produces not only eternal consequences, but earthly ones as well. Moses warned about forgetting God and when ancient Israel did, she was conquered by her enemies. New Testament writers penned similar warnings. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn concluded the major reason Russia suffered under Communism for six decades is that his people had forgotten God. Abraham Lincoln blamed the Civil War on a nation that had forgotten God “and the hand that graciously preserved us.”

Ignorance is not bliss, especially when it comes to the consequences of ignoring God, His salvation and where each of us will spend eternity. -- Those questions trump politics and every other earthly concern.

Cal Thomas is America's most widely syndicated columnist and a Fox News contributor.

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