Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Americans Tend to be Religiously Ignorant

Sometimes all it takes is a headline to catch your eye and this one did it for me – Many Americans Know Little About Religion -- Even Their Own -- Poll Finds. The post by Jeffrey Weiss discusses the results of a recent poll by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life. Needless to say, the poll highlighted how little many of us know about religion.

From the story –
...I guess it's surprising that only half of those surveyed know the Muslim sacred text is the Koran. (Heck, even the idiots who want to burn it know what it's called.)


And I'll admit that I goggled a bit to find that more people could identify Zeus as the king of the Greek gods (65 percent) than could name Joe Biden as vice president of the United States (59 percent). Are there that many "Percy Jackson" fans out there?


What is the first book of the Bible? (63 percent of Americans knew it's Genesis.)

Name the Gospels. (45 percent of everyone surveyed could reel off all four.)

Where, according to the Bible, was Jesus born? (71 percent -- but only 65 percent of Catholics -- knew it's Bethlehem. Is it really possible that there's a place where 30 percent of America isn't forced to listen to piped-in Christmas carols? "O Little Town of . . .")

Was Mother Teresa Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or Mormon? (82 percent of everyone surveyed -- but only 66 percent of black Protestants -- knew she was Catholic.)

What is the name of the person whose writings and actions inspired the Reformation? Luther, Aquinas or Wesley? (Only 46 percent chose Martin Luther.)

Was Joseph Smith Mormon, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist or Hindu? (About half knew the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was Mormon.)

Is Ramadan the Islamic holy month, the Hindu festival of lights or a Jewish day of atonement? (About half knew this was the Muslim holy month.)

Which religion aims at nirvana, the state of being free from suffering? Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam? (Only 36 percent knew this is a Buddhist concept.)

Which group traditionally teaches that salvation is through faith alone? Protestants,
Catholics, both or neither? (Only 16 percent tagged this as a Protestant teaching. But Jews and the religiously unaffiliated were more likely than Catholics and almost as likely as Protestants to get this one right.)

That last question is representative of an interesting trend: Jews, Mormons and the religiously unaffiliated got more answers right than other religious groups, all other factors being equal. In fact, atheists/agnostics answered more questions correctly than any other group.

The most important factor in whether people knew stuff was, not shockingly, their level of education. College grads and people who had taken courses in religion did
much better.
You can take a short version of the poll yourself here. I got 13 out of 15 questions right (one of them was a stupid mistake on my part and the other I just didn’t know). One of the questions that I missed was the one about reading the Bible as literature in class and that was because I misread the paragraph above (even though I knew the correct answer…needless to say I feel dumb).

This is an interesting poll and honestly the results don’t surprise me. It’s sad that people don’t know more about religion. And I’m not expecting people to know the detailed ins and outs of the major faiths, but to have a more than cursory understanding would be nice.

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