Thanks to my friend Cathy (and Facebook, lately almost my only source of news) I was alerted to this (from NPR):
The Pew Forum on Religious Religion and Public Life released a survey on religious knowledge today. Atheists and Agnostics scored higher on it than anyone else, closely followed by Jews and Mormons, all Christians, Protestants and Catholics, were far behind.
That's overall, but when you get into specific religions it does show a startling lack of basic knowledge by practitioners. From the report:
More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45%) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ. About half of Protestants (53%) 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. Roughly four-in-ten Jews (43%) do not recognize that Maimonides, one of the most venerated rabbis in history, was Jewish.
The study also showed that Americans have a fairly poor understanding of religions other than their own. Only about half of the people surveyed know that Martin Luther inspired the Reformation, the Dalai Lama is Buddhist, and Joseph Smith was a Mormon.Atheists and Agnostics scored higher on it than anyone else, closely followed by Jews and Mormons. Well, excuse me, but I really resent this classification. I am an Atheist Jew, so that must mean I am Bible Expert Number One.
Number two, I think this is more a reflection of how stoopid and ignorant Americans are, rather than agnostics and atheists being geniuses at religion.
I took the quiz. It is so basic, it's appalling. I'm proud to report that I missed just one of the 15 answers and I think it was a trick question.
This useful bit of info is certainly welcome these days, but it is hardly surprising. Agnostics and atheists may not only know more about religion, we actually comport ourselves according to most of the better values of said beliefs, rather than pay hypocritical lip service, in the best of cases, or in the worst, use our special relationship with God to be thoroughly disgusting and abusive human beings (The Pope, The Taliban, all fundamentalists, the ultra-orthodox in Israel, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, televangelists, etc).
Why are Atheists and Agnostics better informed? The Los Angeles Times quotes one of the researchers who has a theory:
American atheists and agnostics tend to be people who grew up in a religious tradition and consciously gave it up, often after a great deal of reflection and study, said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum.
"These are people who thought a lot about religion," he said. "They're not indifferent. They care about it."
Also interesting is that Black Protestants and Latino Catholics scored at the bottom of the survey.I have another theory: people don't read. The less people read, the more on the bottom of the survey they will be. Agnostics and atheists read. I bet that the numbers would support me if anyone took the trouble to statistically confirm this.
Agnostics and atheists are by nature doubters, and doubters tend to be better informed about the choices out there. They don't believe everything they read. But that's because they read.
If you want to know about religion, you have to read the goddamned books. Or at least leaf through them once in a while. Or read other books about them. Otherwise, it's all hearsay, mostly devalued and distorted.
I know about Judaism because it was taught to me at home and at school, more culturally than religiously. I know about Christianity, Catholicism and Protestantism thanks to Henry VIII. I studied English literature and I'll be damned if we weren't taught every Catholic sacrament and every article of faith and that Luther nailed some paper to a Church door, in order that we could better grasp stuff like The Faerie Queene. (I fondly remember the Anabaptists, who greatly impressed me in my college days by running around naked preaching the end of the world).
The little I know about Eastern religions comes from reading The Tao of Physics, watching Kung-Fu and going to yoga and tai chi classes.
About Islam I know even less, but thanks to recent history, I know the minimum.
I'm sick and tired of lazy people who don't read. Ignorant, benighted, idiot people of all races, religions, nationalities, genders and stations in life. I particularly detest those who throw the Bible and religion around as if they had some sort of divine dispensation to feel morally superior, only because they beat their chest regularly in public. Read a freaking book so at least you know what the fuck you are talking about (I'm talking to you, Palin, and the rest of you bunch of smug intellect haters).