A recently released survey published by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life details a demonstrable imbalance in basic knowledge of core teachings, general history and religious figures of the major world religions between Atheists and Agnostics and those who identify themselves as "religious". Jews and Mormons scored most closely to Atheists and Agnostics, with both Evangelical and mainline Protestants, as well as other Christians and Catholics lagging significantly behind. Black Protestants and Latino Catholics scored at the bottom of the survey.
Of the 32 questions posed, Americans (N=3412), on average, answered about 16 questions correctly. Atheists and Agnostics tended to answer 20.9 questions correctly, while Jews and Mormons averaged 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. As a whole, Protestants answered an average of 16 questions correctly, with Catholics averaged 14.7 correct answers. This distribution held true even after controlling for various education levels; however, there was an indication that higher education level, in general, did influence overall performance, regardless of denomination.
The survey, broken down into three broad categories, including Bible and Christianity, World Religion and Religion in Public Life, went on to detail Mormons and White Evangelical Protestants as scoring highest on knowledge about the Bible and Christianity, with Jews and Atheists/Agnostics scoring highest on knowledge about other religions, as well as Religion in Public Life.
Some other interesting findings include that more than 45% American Catholics do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion not only symbolize the body and blood of Christ, but actually become that through the sacrament. Further, about half of Protestants cannot correctly identify Martin Luther as the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation, separating their religion from other branches of Christianity, and about 43% of Jews do not recognize that Maimonides, one of the most venerated rabbis in history, was Jewish.
In addition, fewer than half of Americans know that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist and only 38% correctly associate Vishnu and Shiva with Hinduism. About a quarter of all Americans correctly answer that most people in Indonesia - the country with the world's highest concentration of Muslims - are, in fact, Muslim.
Nine general knowledge control questions on history, politics, science and literature suggested that less than 60% of Americans can name the vice president of the United States, or understand that lasers do not work by focusing sound waves. More than 70% correctly associate Susan B. Anthony with the suffragette movement, while only 42% know that Herman Melville was the author of the novel Moby Dick.
Alan Cooperman, Associate Director of Research at Pew, stated that one possible explanation for the disparity between Atheists and Agnostics and those who identify as religious is the attention that the former group gives to religion. He says, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, "These are people who have thought a lot about religion. They're not indifferent. They care about it."
© 2010 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved
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Survey: Atheists, Agnostics Know More About Religion Than Religious
U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey