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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Is willful ignorance part of the Christian tradition?
Posted by Jill | 4:57 AM
It looks that way, based on the results of a new Pew research poll:
Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.

On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.

Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.

“Even after all these other factors, including education, are taken into account, atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons still outperform all the other religious groups in our survey,” said Greg Smith, a senior researcher at Pew.

That finding might surprise some, but not Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, an advocacy group for nonbelievers that was founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Mr. Silverman said. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”

Among the topics covered in the survey were: Where was Jesus born? What is Ramadan? Whose writings inspired the Protestant Reformation? Which Biblical figure led the exodus from Egypt? What religion is the Dalai Lama? Joseph Smith? Mother Theresa? In most cases, the format was multiple choice.

The researchers said that the questionnaire was designed to represent a breadth of knowledge about religion, but was not intended to be regarded as a list of the most essential facts about the subject. Most of the questions were easy, but a few were difficult enough to discern which respondents were highly knowledgeable.

On questions about the Bible and Christianity, the groups that answered the most right were Mormons and white evangelical Protestants.

On questions about world religions, like Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism, the groups that did the best were atheists, agnostics and Jews.


Clergy members who are concerned that their congregants know little about the essentials of their own faith will no doubt be appalled by some of these findings:

¶ Fifty-three percent of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation.

¶ Forty-five percent of Catholics did not know that their church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine in holy communion are not merely symbols, but actually become the body and blood of Christ.

¶ Forty-three percent of Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the foremost rabbinical authorities and philosophers, was Jewish.

The question about Maimonides was the one that the fewest people answered correctly. But 51 percent knew that Joseph Smith was Mormon, and 82 percent knew that Mother Theresa was Roman Catholic.

For the record, I knew that Maimonides was Jewish. Of course, Maimonides isn't central to Judaism in the way that Martin Luther is to Protestantism or transubstantiation is to the Roman Catholic mass. (And no, I didn't learn that word from Tom Lehrer.)

But reading the results of this poll, it's easy to see how in this country, where the so-called religious have spent the last thirty years LITERALLY acting all holier-than-thou, where they think Barack Obama is a Muslim even they don't know jack about what being a Muslim even is, we get people believing that there's a plot to enforce shari'a law on all Americans, that if evolution were true monkeys would be turning into humans before our very eyes, and that Jesus is literally going to lift people out of their GMC trucks and lift them up to that giant sofa in the sky, where they'll get to drink beer and scarf down wings while watching the unconverted Jews and other heathen endure the Tribulations.

I have no beef with just about anything want to believe in order to get through what is, as Mr. Brilliant says, this God-forsaken level of reality. But if you're going to believe something, at least have the decency to get some knowledge about what your own belief system is. And remember that faith is just that -- faith. It's not fact, it's not science, and it ends at the tip of your own nose.

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Anonymous Mike in SLO said...
I did learn that word from Tom Lehrer... and am much the richer for it!

Every song that man wrote is pure genius.

Anonymous Tedd said...
As I'm sure Mr Silverman would agree, religions absolutely do not want their congregants to become especially knowledgeable about _their_ -- or any -- religion.

Those knowledgeable about religion forsake it. It demonstrates it's utter stupidity and inconsistency if you truly try to understand it.
So the best possible course for anyone who wants to believe is to _believe_ and not to analyze. And knowledge brings analysis!

Anonymous Hari said...
Atheists tend to be better educated, and better educated people answer 3rd grade level questions better than other people...