In the first-ever national test of Americans’ knowledge of religion, churchgoing Christians were beaten by atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons.
In a separate survey, two-thirds of Americans said that religion is losing its influence on American life.
Both polls were sponsored by the respected Pew Foundation, which affirms that Americans nevertheless remain a deeply religious people.
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life surveyed more than 3,400 Americans, posing 32 questions to test their knowledge of the Bible, Christianity and other world religions.
The average respondent answered only half the questions correctly. As Laurie Goodstein notes in The New York Times of Sept. 28, “many flubbed even questions about their own faith.”
Goodstein asked Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, for his assessment of the findings.
“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Silverman replied. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”
According to the Times, the multiple-choice questions included: Where was Jesus born? What is Ramadan? Whose writings inspired the Protestant Reformation? What biblical figure led the exodus from Egypt? What religion is the Dalai Lama? Joseph Smith? Mother Teresa?
Among churchgoing Christians, white evangelical Protestants scored highest on questions about the Bible and Christianity.
Goodstein predicts that clergy “will no doubt be appalled” by respondents’ ignorance of some basic facts of faith.
For example, 53 percent of Protestants were unable to identify Martin Luther’s role in launching the Protestant Reformation.
Some 45 percent of Roman Catholics did not know that their church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine are more than just symbols of Christ’s presence in holy communion, but are Jesus’ body and blood.
On the brighter side, fully 82 percent of all respondents correctly identified Mother Teresa as Roman Catholic.
My own experience with people of faith persuades me that believers do not equate faith with facts, but rather with confidence in God and commitment to him. An active faith is one that has consequences. Or, as a popular bumper sticker claims, “You are what you do.”
Take the quiz at http://features.pewforum.org/quiz/us-religious-knowledge/index.php
David Yount is author of 14 books, including ‘Making a Success of Marriage.’ He answers readers at P.O. Box 2758, Woodbridge, VA 22195 and firstname.lastname@example.org.