This post was triggered by a story this week by True contributor Alexander Cohen, who properly wrote the slug (story title) in the form of a question:
What Is Ignorance?
“Matthew 6:9 says, ‘Our Father, which art in heaven,’ this ‘be thy name.’” That was one of the $200 answers on the TV quiz show Jeopardy, and of the three contestants, not one buzzed in to ask the right question, or even a wrong question. Host Mayim Bialik supplied the missing word: “Hallowed.” One Twitter user complained that the apparent ignorance of the contestants, Laura Blyler, Joe Seibert, and Suresh Krishnan, showed “how sad our country is becoming,” she tweeted. “My gosh the most simplest prayer people need to get back to the Bible.” Another person tweeted, “Even my atheist friend knew this.” (AC/NBC News) …Unsurprising. In 2019, the Pew Research Center found that atheists know more about religion than Christians.
Do atheists really know more about religion than Christians? Yes, the referenced Pew Research study found.
The full Pew study writeup is here.
Near the top of that page there’s a box that suggests trying a quiz with 15 questions actually asked in the surveys [Direct link to the quiz]. I’m not sure if everyone gets the same questions, but the quiz I took covered the Old Testament, Islam, the Ten Commandments, Catholicism, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, and Sikhism — sorry, Mormons (but there is one related question on the full survey).
I got 14 out of 15 right. I hope you’ll try the quiz too; Americans in general average 7.4 right out of 15 on that particular quiz. I suspect my readers will generally score higher. They don’t ask about your religious belief, by the way, and your answers are not included in the general survey results. (The one I got wrong? See the bottom of the page after you do the quiz; knowing before the quiz would be cheating.)
Religion in General
The full survey asked Americans in proportion to the actual population of various faiths (or lack thereof) 32 questions. The average for all respondents about religion in general was 14.2 correct answers, and there’s a summary report that focuses particularly on atheists and agnostics (to get to the point Alexander made). Atheists got 17.9 questions out of 32 correct, agnostics 17.0. Christians in general 14.2. But Jews beat the atheists, with 18.7.
This is in line, by the way, with a similar survey done by Pew in 2010, when “atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons were the top performers.” In the 2019 survey, “atheists, Jews, agnostics and evangelical Protestants scored highest.” The Pew Research Center, by the way, is a non-partisan (and nonprofit) organization that doesn’t take policy positions. It’s run and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, also non-partisan and nonprofit.
But what about knowledge of Christianity specifically? There were 14 questions among the 32 about the Bible and Christianity. Atheists topped that portion, averaging 8.6 right answers. Christians in general: 8.2, thanks to evangelicals (see chart). Jews: 8.0. Everyone combined: 7.7. (And Mormons: 8.5.)
Pew Research listed 5 main takeaways regarding the “religious ‘nones’” in that summary report, Among religious ‘nones,’ atheists and agnostics know the most about religion. Each one is discussed there with more details:
- Atheists and agnostics know more about religion than most other religious groups, while people who identify as “nothing in particular” are among the least knowledgeable.
- Like other Americans, “nones” are fairly knowledgeable about some of the basics of Christianity.
- Atheists (and to a lesser extent, agnostics) are on a par with Catholics and Protestants in correctly answering questions about Catholicism and Protestantism.
- Atheists and agnostics are also among the most knowledgeable on questions that are not about Christianity.
- Atheists are more likely than any other religious group to correctly answer the survey’s question about religion and the U.S. Constitution.
So: Did You Take the Quiz? I’d love to know your score, and what question(s) surprised you: Comments are open.
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The quiz question I got wrong? I didn’t know what Kabbalah is: “an esoteric method, discipline and school of thought in Jewish mysticism,” Wikipedia says. I forgive myself for that one, and will go in peace.
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