Am I Right?

How to live ethically

Americans Know Little About Religion

Anti-Muslim sentiment runs deep but so does ignorance of other religions

Anti-Muslim sentiments have run deep in this country. Terrorism and Islam, as well as Islam and anti-Semitism, have been linked in the public’s mind at least since the Six Day War, then hostage taking in Iran in 1979 and most especially following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Despite the importance of Islam in contemporary America, what do American really know about this religion? Not much. Every day expressions of ignorance about the basics of Islam fill the airwaves and newsprint. But this shouldn’t be surprising.

In this most religious country in the Western world, Americans know little about anyone’s religion, even their own. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the results of their 15-question quiz, answered by 3,412 randomly sampled individuals and reveals how ignorant Americans are about religion.

The average American correctly answered 50% of the questions in the survey. Protestants were right in the middle, Catholics fared worse, while atheists/agnostics, Jews and Mormons do better than average. White Evangelicals knew slightly more than average the American.

Mormons and evangelical Christians knew the Jewish bible and New Testament better than other groups. Jews and atheists/agnostic were most knowledgeable about religions in general. This same group best understood the historic and constitutional role of religion in public life.

Oddly, the survey did not include Muslims. I wonder how they measure up in terms of religious knowledge of their own faith and that of others?

Some findings didn’t surprise me. I have found the same degree of lack of knowledge in the various classes I teach at Hofstra University. For example, the Pew survey shows that nearly half of Roman Catholics don’t know that the Communion isn’t meant to be a symbolic act but that the wine and bread is literally the blood and body of Christ. In fact, when I point this out to my Catholic students, they think I’m wrong. They aren’t eating flesh and drinking blood, they insist.

Most of my students and half of Protestants surveyed can’t identify Martin Luther as the inspiration for the Reformation. (Most couldn’t identify the Reformation.)

The question most answered incorrectly was this: are public school teachers permitted to use the bible in the classroom? Americans incorrectly think that God has been banned from schools and discussion of religion is prohibited in the classroom.

Ignorance is seldom a good thing. Not knowing what your own religion teaches and being in the dark about your neighbor’s religion is distressing enough. But when ignorance leads to wrong conclusions and harmful consequences, it is time to get educated.

To see what you know about world religions, and your own, why not take the Pew test here. See how you measure up. http://features.pewforum.org/quiz/us-religious-knowledge/

 

 

 

 

Arthur Dobrin, D.S.W., teaches applied ethics at Hofstra University. He is the author, coauthor, and editor of more than twenty books.

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