Don't know much about religion? You're not alone, study finds

Sara - posted on 09/28/2010 ( 40 moms have responded )

9,313

50

586

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/09/28...

Odds are that you know Mother Teresa was Catholic, but what religion is the Dalai Lama?

How about Maimonides?

And - no Googling - what's the first book of the Bible? How about the first four books of the New Testament?

Americans who can answer all of those questions are relatively rare, a huge new study has found.

In fact, although the United States is one of the most religious developed countries in the world, most Americans scored 50 percent or less on a quiz measuring knowledge of the Bible, world religions and what the Constitution says about religion in public life.

The survey is full of surprising findings.

For example, it's not evangelicals or Catholics who did best - it's atheists and agnostics.

It's not Bible-belt Southerners who scored highest - they came at the bottom.

Those who believe the Bible is the literal word of God did slightly worse than average, while those who say it is not the word of God scored slightly better.

Barely half of all Catholics know that when they take communion, the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ, according to Catholic doctrine.

And only about one in three know that a public school teacher is allowed to teach a comparative religion class - although nine out of 10 know that teacher isn't allowed by the Supreme Court to lead a class in prayer.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life is behind the 32-question quiz, polling more than 3,400 Americans by telephone to gauge the depth of the country's religious knowledge.

Read CNN Belief Blog contributor and Pew adviser Stephen Prothero's take on the survey

"When it comes to religion, there are a lot of things that Americans are unfamiliar with. That's the main takeaway," says Greg Smith, a senior researcher at the think tank and one of the main authors of the survey.

Smith has a theory about why atheists did so well on the quiz - they have thought more about religion than most people.

"Very few people say that they were raised as atheists and agnostics," he explains.

About three out of four were raised as Christians, he says.

"They were raised in a faith and have made a decision to identify themselves with groups that tend to be fairly unpopular," atheists and agnostics, he says.

"That decision presupposes having given some thought to these things," which is strongly linked with religious knowledge, he says.

The single strongest factor predicting how well a person does on the religious knowledge quiz is education - the more years of schooling a person has, the more they are likely to know about religion, regardless of how religious they consider themselves to be, Pew found.

"The No. 1 predictor without question is simply educational attainment," Smith said.

The think tank also asked a handful of general knowledge questions - such as who wrote "Moby-Dick" and who's the vice president of the United States - and found a link between religious knowledge and general knowledge.

Very few people scored high on religion questions and badly on general knowledge, or vice versa.

People who were members of religious youth groups also did well, he said.

"Religious education is an important factor that helps to explain knowledge - people who participated in youth groups get an average of two extra questions right," he said.

Jews and Mormons were close behind atheists and agnostics as the group who did best overall on the religion questions, and white evangelical Protestants also tended to get more than half right.

White Catholics averaged exactly half right, followed by mainline Protestants and people who said they were "nothing in particular," both of whom got just under half right.

Black Protestants got just over a third of the questions right, and Hispanic Catholics just under a third, the Pew Forum found.

The survey was inspired partly by CNN Belief Blog contributor Stephen Prothero's 2007 book, "Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - And Doesn't."

Because the Pew Forum couldn't find any indication that such a survey has ever been done before, it can't say if Americans today know more or less about religion now than they did in the past.

And the organization doesn't claim too much for its 32 questions.

They "are intended to be representative of a body of important knowledge about religion; they are not meant to be a list of the most essential facts," the Pew Forum says.

Only eight of the 3,412 survey respondents got all 32 questions right. Six got them all wrong

MOST HELPFUL POSTS

Sara - posted on 09/28/2010

9,313

50

586

I think it is newsworthy, mostly because you have so many people and groups, such as the Tea Party, saying things like we need to bring "God back into the Constitution". Is the reality that they don't even really know what that means? And it also makes the point that it's not really necessary to bring God into anything in the public sphere, when you have people who are non-believers who are more well versed in the tenants/history of religion than it's own followers. Makes sense to me.

This conversation has been closed to further comments

40 Comments

View replies by

Becky - posted on 09/30/2010

2,892

44

93

I got 14/15 on the 15 question quiz. I got the Nirvana one wrong, and I almost did guess Buddhism.
Interesting that most white, evangelical protestants, which is what I am, only scored 54%. I scored 93%.

Heather - posted on 09/29/2010

389

17

18

100%!! Hells yeah! lol. Although, I guessed on two, so I really just got lucky. I would consider myself a Christian, but Christians wouldn't consider me a Christian because I don't agree with a lot of their teachings. I suppose I am my own religion...or just spiritual. I don't need labels. :P

ME - posted on 09/29/2010

2,978

18

193

13 out of 15...I noticed that too Cathy...I wonder why that is...??? I'm a white Catholic...so, I blew the rest of THEM away...

[deleted account]

WOW! 53%....SAD! AND....the few that I did get right were either an educated guess or I had recently learned them from reading this thread. ACK!

Sara - posted on 09/29/2010

9,313

50

586

Maybe God is trying to tell you all something...or the Pew's website sucks.

Dana - posted on 09/29/2010

11,264

35

495

I took the 15 question quiz, I missed 3. I have no clue how to label myself though. Christians think I'm an atheist, atheist's think I'm a Christian. :P

Krista - posted on 09/29/2010

12,562

16

847

I was able to access it, Carol, so it's not because you're Canadian.

Jodi - posted on 09/29/2010

2,694

52

175

I spent 8 years in a catholic school...I got 9 out of 10 right. I dont' label myself with anything really but I have a weird set of beliefs that roll a few different religious beliefs into one with a good jelly filling of my own, original beliefs.

Jackie - posted on 09/29/2010

1,415

44

72

I got 7 out of 10. And I would probably consider myself agnostic if HAD to label myself.

Rosie - posted on 09/29/2010

8,657

30

321

i got 73%, lol! have no clue who a couple of those people were that they named by name.

[deleted account]

I got 100% on the Pew Forum quiz! The 15 question one...



Husband got 93%. He missed the one on Nirvana. He second guessed himself really.

Stifler's - posted on 09/28/2010

15,141

154

604

I got 7 out of ten because I second guessed myself on the Luther one.

Stifler's - posted on 09/28/2010

15,141

154

604

It's not that surprising to me. I've read arguments on here between so called Christians who obviously don't read the bible and are just saying they're Christian to justify their "eye for an eye" Old Testament views.

Becky - posted on 09/28/2010

2,892

44

93

Huh, Carol, I can't access it either. I wonder if it's because we're in Canada?
LOL about the Molson's Canadian! It's gross! But then, I wouldn't be inclined to put my faith in any kind of beer. Maybe Smirnoff! :)

Becky - posted on 09/28/2010

2,892

44

93

I believe the Dalai Lama is Buddhist. The other guy, I have no idea who he even is.
Genesis
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.
(and no, I haven't read any other posts yet.)
I grew up in a Christian family - my dad is a pastor, my parents are missionaries. I went to a Christian boarding school for 8 years and then went to Bible college for a year. So I know the Bible very well. I'm not saying that makes me a superior Christian or anything, just, I'm very familiar with the Bible. I'll admit though, I don't know a tremendous amount about other religions. I know a bit about Islam because I grew up in Muslim countries, but otherwise, I pretty much just know the stuff that everyone knows about other religions.

Johnny - posted on 09/28/2010

8,686

26

322

I am completely unable to access the Pew Forum website in any of my browsers or from my smartphone. Has anyone else had this problem?

Since I can't see the study, I'll just answer based on this thread and the article. I am totally and completely not surprised by these results. As an agnostic, I'm frequently horrified by how little many Christians seem to know about their own religion.

I suppose it makes it easier to believe if you don't pay too much attention to what you're believing in. When I was a kid, I told my parent's that I believed in Molson's Canadian, but then when I grew up and finally had some, I realized that I didn't.

Kate CP - posted on 09/28/2010

8,942

36

758

I got 80% cause I hit a wrong button. I got 3 wrong instead of 2. Hubby got 1 wrong. We're both Unitarians. :)

Heather - posted on 09/28/2010

389

17

18

I saw the percentage of religions that got the answer right, but it doesn't say how many people were polled per religion and if they took a sample from all states. I totally agree with their results for the most part. Most religions don't actively teach the history and intricacies(sp?) of their religion and end up creating followers who are more likely to become fundamentalists and radicals than practice their actual religion. That being said, most of the time these surveys are skewed to create headlines.

Heather - posted on 09/28/2010

389

17

18

I'd love to see the demographic of people they polled. Are they all poor, uneducated, "white folk", or did they actually take an accurate sample of society?

I'd be willing to bet this is one of those surveys that's done to create headlines. We all know there are lots of people out there who have no idea what they believe in, but is it really newsworthy? Blah, the article that came out this morning about this is just prostitution of the media as far as I'm concerned.

[deleted account]

I consider myself agnostic and I'm not proud to admit that I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to religion BUT I also don't claim to know.

Jenny - posted on 09/28/2010

4,426

16

129

I'm also not suprised. I've yet to meet an athiest without a fairly good understanding of religions.

Krista - posted on 09/28/2010

12,562

16

847

That doesn't surprise me either, really. I've met a depressing number of very religious people online who are woefully ignorant. It is a little weird -- if their faith is so incredibly important to them, don't you think they would make a point of becoming well-versed and educated about it?

Cat - posted on 09/28/2010

193

34

11

That doesnt surprise me in the least... Most agnostic/athiest people i know, have made that concious choice after years and years of frustration with religion, with asking questions they dont like the answers to, and doing their research... I mean, you cant really call yourself athiest if you know nothing about any different religions, how would you know what you're not believing in? Its true for me as well... I admit I'm not as well informed as some of my athiest friends, but I am always asking questions of religious people who are willing to debate... And on the flip side, in some cases, when you're brought up into a religion, such as catholic or what have you, there's an automatic assumption you're going to be a believer no matter what, and you're taught a specific line of thinking from day one, and I dont feel its as broad a knowledge base as some might think...

I'm open to all religions and ways of thinking, I love hearing everyone's perspectives... Its never changed my own beliefs (or lack there of) but religion is a facinating subject no matter what side of the fence you're sitting on...

I admit, I do get a kick out of it, every once in a while, when a debate comes up and its shown that one of my athiest friends knows a passage in the bible better than one of my christian friends... I do believe MOST people are pretty well educated about the religions they follow, however religious knowledge comes from studying ALL forms of religion, not just the one you personally practise.

Join Circle of Moms

Sign up for Circle of Moms and be a part of this community! Membership is just one click away.

Join Circle of Moms