The typical modern person, who lives and works in an urban environment, is not the brightest person when it comes to religion in general. I would not be wrong to say they are suffering from a bad case of religious illiteracy which can lead to some very serious consequences. They know more about pop culture and pop stars than they do about the life of Gautama the Buddha, Jesus Christ or Muhammad. They take the death of one of their pop stars or sports heroes worse than the death of their grandmother. Their only answer to religion is to say, “I’m an atheist.”
With regard to Americans, only one-third can identify the founder of a religion other than Christianity. This means they know practically nothing about the basic teachings of Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam.
Luckily, I learned about Zen Buddhism from a class in the 1960s on Western and Eastern philosophy. But many of my generation did not have such a class; one taught by a professor who knew, personally, D.T. Suzuki and Martin Heidegger. It may not have been about religion in general but I did learn about Zen Buddhism and got to meet the Dalai Lama’s big brother!
Still, to this day, there is very little effort in schools to teach religion despite the fact that teaching religion has been consistently ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The modern university seems more interested in teaching “ideological courses”; what can only be described as “cultural Marxism” with an added course in “Islamophobia” (the university across the street from where I live teaches this course!).
Religions like Buddhism are, naturally, put on the back burner while the religious illiterates get to learn about “Islamophobia” where Islam is looked at through a variety of disciplines and fields such as ethnic studies, sociology, anthropology, and political science all of which have little or nothing to do with religion or the history of religious persecution which is one of the hallmarks of Islam.
With such a course as Islamophobia we still will not overcome a bad case of religious illiteracy which will likely lead to some very bad misjudgments and consequences. We have only to look to Germany to see the results of religious illiteracy.
For the study of Zen Buddhism this is bad news because most of the people I have had occasion to meet are religious illiterates. They think of Zen as some kind of Asian self-help program; that if you meditate a lot your life will become vastly improved so you can fulfill your hedonist desires for worldly success! Perish the thought that Zen is mysticism that came from the mystical stream of Buddhism. It involves the apprehension of an ultimate non-sensuous reality which is the fundamental stuff things are made of.