Atheists and agnostics know more about the world’s religions than believers do
Posted on 05 October 2010
I’m not the one who says that. I’m only repeating the findings of a recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and that shocked many with the revelation that atheists and agnostics tend to know more about the world’s religions than believers do.
Pew researchers asked more than 3,000 Americans 32 central questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions. On average, people who took the survey got half the answers wrong – and many even tripped on basic questions about their own faith.
According to the study, Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.
A large numbers of Americans are (unsurprisingly?) uninformed about the tenets, practices, history and leading figures of major faith traditions – including their own. Yep, you too are raising an eyebrow… but check this out:
According to the study findings, about a stunning 53% of Protestants cannot correctly identify Martin Luther as the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation, which made their religion a separate branch of Christianity. In addition, fewer than half of Americans (47%) know that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist. ‘Dalai Lama’ sounds like a fundamentalist terrorist name anyway. Fewer than four-in-ten (38%) correctly associate Vishnu and Shiva with Hinduism. And only about a quarter of all Americans (27%) correctly answer that most people in Indonesia – the country with the world’s largest Muslim population – are Muslims. Hmm, can you actually remind me where Indonesia is?
On the full battery of seven questions about the Bible (five Old Testament and two New Testament items) Mormons do best, followed by white evangelical Protestants. Atheists/agnostics, black Protestants and Jews come next, all exhibiting greater knowledge of the Bible than white mainline Protestants and white Catholics. I don’t really know what to say about that, but I’d certainly be keen to hear the views of my Protestant and Catholic friends – any comments?
On world religions other than Christianity, about six-in-ten Americans (62%) know that most people in India are Hindus – well done guys. About half know that Ramadan is the Islamic holy month (52%) and can name the Koran as the Muslim holy book (54%) – you’d think more though, after all the fuss surrounding the so-called War on Terror… Roughly one-third (36%) correctly associate striving for nirvana with Buddhism. So, hmm, two-third associate it with a rock band?…
What factors seem to contribute to religious knowledge? You won’t be surprised to learn that data from the survey indicate that educational attainment – how much schooling an individual has completed – is the single best predictor of religious knowledge. Other factors linked with religious knowledge include reading Scripture at least once a week and talking about religion with friends and family.
I guess another good reason behind the shocking findings of the Pew study is that nearly half of Americans who are affiliated with a religion (48%) say they “seldom” or “never” read books (other than Scripture) or visit websites about their own religion, and 70% say they seldom or never read books or visit websites about other religions.
Personally, I have to say that, beyond the US, I’ve met a number of religious persons of different faiths in different countries seriously lacking knowledge – or even curiosity – about their religion. Not that I necessarily know much more than them, but at least I make the conscious effort to learn as much as I can about the world’s many religions. It seems that not everyone is interested in understanding the (actual) history, construction, dilemmas as well as dogmas behind their religion. Or even to question what does make their religion the ‘true’ religion – as opposed to one among many. Religious readers, please prove me wrong!