You Mean Jesus Was Jewish?

by wjw on September 30, 2010

A new poll reveals that Americans, while religious, know very little about religions, including their own. (And we also learn, from the footnote, that the New York Times doesn’t know how to spell “Teresa.”)

On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.

Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.

“Even after all these other factors, including education, are taken into account, atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons still outperform all the other religious groups in our survey,” said Greg Smith, a senior researcher at Pew.

That finding might surprise some, but not Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, an advocacy group for nonbelievers that was founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Mr. Silverman said. “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.”

Among the topics covered in the survey were: Where was Jesus born? What is Ramadan? Whose writings inspired the Protestant Reformation? Which Biblical figure led the exodus from Egypt? What religion is the Dalai Lama? Joseph Smith? Mother Teresa? In most cases, the format was multiple choice.

I figured atheists would score highest, because it’s my experience that atheists know more about religion than all but a very few religious people.  Mormons, however, scored highest on questions relating to Christianity, so it’s clear someone over there is doing their job.

And by the way, when I took the test I got all 32 questions right.   The evidence would seem to indicate that I’m a non-believer.

Matt September 30, 2010 at 1:46 am

I just started taking seminary courses from this fall. It’s going to be a long and often interesting process to get my M.Div. Then I have to find a congregation who wants me…

wjw September 30, 2010 at 2:51 am

Matt, I’ll trust that you’ll get an outstanding score on the quiz. Good luck on the M.Div, and on finding a congregation.

A bit of warning, though. When I was last house-hunting, I was shown a former parsonage. It had the most ghastly carpeting, wallpaper, paint, and cabinets imaginable. If I’d lived there, I would have gone blind. “Donated by parishioners who couldn’t sell them in their stores,” I thought to myself.

I recall a review of a book by Richard Dawkins or one of the other new public atheists, which said something to the effect that what the author thought Christianity was about would appall a first-year seminary student. One of the responses pointed out that what most Christians =believe= would appall a first year seminary student, which I thought was pretty much to the point.

Matt September 30, 2010 at 4:55 pm

As a Unitarian-Universalist, I think Christianity is too narrow a term to describe where I am headed. I’ve been in the IT business for over 35 years and it is way past time to make a radical change in my life and career.

As far as housing goes, I’m not afraid to do a lot of work remodeling a place myself, but I did enjoy your description.

Ralf the Dog October 1, 2010 at 1:51 am

I got the one about the First Great Awakening wrong. I got all the others correct.

One question for anyone smart enough to answer it. I know all about Martin Luther and the protestant reformation. What I don’t understand is why he was not extremely old during the civil rights movement. If I remember, he nailed his notes on the Pope’s door in the year 1520. That would put him around 400.

For his age, he was a very good speaker.

DensityDuck October 1, 2010 at 2:07 am

Well…actually, “Jews and atheists score the best” is only correct when you aren’t talking about Christianity. Mormons and white evangelical christians do the best on Christianity (averaging 7.9 and 7.3 out of 12, respectively), followed by atheists (6.7 out of 12).

Also, a lot of the questions were probably taken as factual yes/no when they’re more appropriately matters of dogma. Question #44 isn’t even a settled matter for Catholics

Finally, it’s been my experience that an atheist learning about religion is doing so as a matter of personal curiosity, so they’re likely to intentionally learn about many different things. A religious person, on the other hand, wouldn’t necessarily have an interest in learning about other religions. (Yes, I see you snorting about “insular godboxers”, but would *you* spend time and effort learning about something that didn’t interest you?)

So I guess what I’m saying here is that the results of the study are due to societal factors, not some inherent intellectual superiority on the part of atheists or Jews. Sorry; I know you guys really like that whole self-dramatization trip.

Shash October 1, 2010 at 2:17 am

Thank heavens my Catholic parents allowed me to take a world religions course in high school. I, too, got them all correct. My personal philosophy a bit towards Buddism and Daoism, and Unitarian Universalism kinda works for me too but I am not partial to organized religion.

wjw October 1, 2010 at 4:31 am

‘Scuse me, Mr. Duck Sir, but what “you guys” are you talking about when when you’re talking about being on a “self-dramatizing trip?” Jews? Atheists? Science fiction writers? And while you’re at that, could you point me at the drama you’re talking about?

I wouldn’t have muttered the term “insular godboxers,” because I hadn’t heard of it now.

It’s not like the questions about any of the religions were exactly head-scratchers. Moses Maimonides might be a little obscure in most parts of the world, but it doesn’t take a degree in Comparative Religion to know that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist, or that Ramadam is a Muslim holy month. All you have to do is listen to the news. These items get mentioned.

Not the world’s expert in Catholic dogma here, but my understanding is that transubstantiated blood and wine is in =essence= Christ’s blood and body while its =accidents= or =extension= remained blood and wine. The Catholic Encyclopedia would seem to agree with this, though I confess their reasoning maketh my head to spin.

I detect here (1) stereotyped thought, and (2) an agenda. Please let me know what the agenda is so I can mock it savagely.

Ralf the Dog October 1, 2010 at 6:50 am

If anyone knows of a Jewish science fiction writer who happened to be an atheist, please point me in that direction. I don’t know if this mythical person would write good books, I am sure they would be different.

I do have a theory. People who have a profound belief that they are right and everyone else is wrong tend not to listen to the opinion of others. Perhaps they are concerned that an alien idea might get into their brain and change their views. (Thus they do not know what others believe.)

If everyone else is going to Hell, why listen to what they think they believe? They are wrong about everything, so what they think they believe is not what they actually believe.

I was told by one such person not long ago, that I am a Communist because of who I supported for President. The fact that I don’t think I am a Communist just shows how mixed up I am.

wjw October 2, 2010 at 4:00 am

Ralf, oddly enough I know a number of atheist Jewish SF writers. It’s an odd subculture I live in, that’s true.

DensityDuck October 2, 2010 at 4:27 am

Are you saying that you didn’t write the commentary in your post? If not, then where’s the link?

Ralf the Dog October 2, 2010 at 8:29 am

Duckman, you might want to take a course in writing, it took me a few passes through your post to understand what you were trying to say.

Unless I am mistaken, you are trying to say Christians are just as smart as everyone else, they just score badly on questions about other religions because they don’t care about other religions. Then you accuse Mr. Williams of calling Christians dumb. If this is not what you are trying to say, please try reposting in English.

Mr. Williams never commented on the intelligence of any religious group. He did say, atheists score higher on religion. He did not comment on the score of Christians when considering Christianity other than to say Mormons did quite well.

He did ask you to state your agenda so he could make fun of it. Please answer his question. From my perspective, you seem a rather easy target and I would like to take a few shots at you myself.

Edited to say:

I think Mr. Williams main point was that science fiction writers are smarter than any of the other groups. I would agree that science fiction writers are smarter than most, however, people with the delusion that they are talking dogs take the top spot.

wjw October 4, 2010 at 2:59 am

Wow. Here I am gone for a couple of days and here I find people explaining me to each other.

I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that one group is smarter than another, but it’s pretty clear that one group is more curious than the other. I’d further remark that those who think they have all the answers are far more likely to forget the questions.

As for Jewish atheist SF writers, you could start with Dr. Asimov and go from there.

Ralf the Dog October 4, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Counter wow! I hope I did not cross any lines. I was not trying to infringe on your right to explain yourself or to be unexplainable. I was thinking that Mr. Duck was reading things you did not expressly state. My bit about your saying SF writers were smarter than everyone else was a lame attempt at a joke. I was not joking about people who think they are talking dogs being smarter.

More than anything else, I was messing with Mr. Duck.

I started reading Asimov when I was 6. Brilliant author. Probably better at coming up with complex plots and huge ideas than he was with character development. I would rank him with the four top SF writers of all time. (Top three if you don’t count Rodger Z as a SF writer but fantasy.)

PS. Next time you leave the boards unattended, I am starting a food fight.

wjw October 5, 2010 at 3:10 am

You did fine, Ralf. Better than I would have done myself.

Charlie Stross October 10, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Huh, I got one of the fifteen questions in the Pew quiz wrong.

On the other hand, the First Great Awakening is (a) a Christian thing, and (b) a very specifically American 19th century phenomenon; I’m not American and not from a Christian background; in fact I’d never *heard* of the “first great awakening” until I started meeting far too many Americans for my peace of mind.

Verdict: it’s not merely a religious knowledge quiz, but one that makes some very specific assumptions about the cultural background of the folks taking it.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post:

Contact Us | Terms of User | Trademarks | Privacy Statement

Copyright © 2010 WJW. All Rights Reserved.