Thursday, September 30, 2010

Poll on religion finds ignorance

A new survey of Americans' knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions, while many respondents could not correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths.

Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics who participated in the study didn't know that, according to church teaching, the bread and wine used in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ.

More than half of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation. And about four in 10 Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the greatest rabbis and intellectuals in history, was Jewish.

The survey released today by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life aimed to test a broad range of religious knowledge, including understanding of the Bible, core teachings of different faiths and major figures in religious history. The U.S. is one of the most religious countries in the developed world, especially compared with largely secular Western Europe, but faith leaders and educators have long lamented that Americans still know relatively little about religion.

Respondents to the survey were asked 32 questions with a range of difficulty, including whether they could name the Islamic holy book and the first book of the Bible, or say what century the Mormon religion was founded. On average, participants in the survey answered correctly overall for half of the survey questions.

Atheists and agnostics scored highest, with an average of 21 correct answers, while Jews and Mormons followed with about 20 accurate responses. Protestants overall averaged 16 correct answers and Catholics followed with about 15.

Level of education was the best predictor of religious knowledge.

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Jeff said...

Actually, I am not surprised at this poll. Many Christians in the West today are largely biblically illiterate. I attended a Christian university (as well as a State university and a Community College), and I assumed that all the students there had read the Bible several times through, likely in different versions/translations, as I had. I was shocked to find out that most of them (who had come from Christian homes) had never even read the entire Bible!

It also seems to me that most Western Christians don't generally study other religions. Apparently, they don't seem to have much interest in doing so. Not only that, but many Western Christians seem to be uninterested in studying (at a deeper level) Christian theology, and they are usually not at all interested in apologetics. It has been my experience that too many Christians seem interested only in feel-good stories, 'Christian' entertainment, miracles and healings. Their theological and doctrinal study seems too often to be very 'surface-level,' IMO. Contemporary Christian music, which is played on Christian radio stations, reflects this 'surface level' theology. Joel Osteen, who has the largest church in the U.S., reflects this as well, since he is (IMO) much more of a motivational speaker than he is a preacher...and his knowledge of other religions is extremely limited, as evidenced in his interview on Larry King Live, for instance.

Jeff said...

Here is something that provides an interesting contrast to both the poll and my previous comment:

I have been a teacher at both a public school and a Christian school. My sister taught at a public school and 2 different Montessori schools (she currently owns a Montessori school). My youngest brother attended both public and Christian high schools. And I have met many kids who were attending public schools, others who were attending Christian schools, and still others who were being home-schooled. So, based on all of this, I have found that kids in Christian schools are generally smarter than kids in public schools, and the academic level of Christian schools generally surpasses that of public schools. And, IMO, those who are home-schooled (most of who are in Christian families) seem to be generally smarter than both.

Interested said...

I remember reading some research on the Public vs Christian school when I was still teaching. As I recall the study showed that the first years (through 6th grade) showed a marked difference. Then in middle and high school the gap was closed. I think, if I remember correctly, the weakness in the Christian schools was in science and math in the later grades. I will look for the study, I may still have it. said...

I took the 15 question quiz and got 2 wrong.

Interested said...

Rick I'm surprised you missed 2. You do a lot more study and reading than most christians. My born-again daughter couldn't answer 8 of the questions. She has a college degree but she reads nothing except the bible and then only the parts that her preacher uses in his sermons.

Rick b said...

Well one question was about the supreme court, It said something like, can teachers read from the Bible in school, yes or no. I said no, it was yes. I knew at one time they were allowed, But I thought from everything I have heard that it changed.

The other one was about which religions teaches nirvana. I know very little about that, out of the 3 choices I knew the one that it was not, so the other 2 were 50/50 guess.

Interested said...

It is interesting that you missed the one about the teacher reading the bible. I was a teacher and then later a librarian. I used many stories from the bible in my classes. Some are interesting examples of 1st century writing. Even my principal told me I couldn't do it so I had to get the info to let her know it is acceptable. What is not acceptable is to teach a particular religion or lead a class in prayer or bible study. Using it as literature is perfectly okay. So don't fell bad about that one, most of the country thinks the same way.

Rick b said...

Here is why I missed it, I listen to tons of talk radio, I listen to both sides, The Libs, and the conservative side. Some times it gets confusing trying to figure out if they are saying, this is being taught as fact or if they are trying get get this pushed through to be a law. So like I said, I knew at one time they could read the Bible as a book to be viewed simply as literature. I just thought it was since changed.

Rick b said...

My wife took the test and whats funny is, she got the same two wrong as I did.