(Before we get started, there is a shorter, just-for-laughs-but-not-really version of the survey I am about to discuss which you can take online to test your own religious knowledge and compare it to the results of the survey. If you’re interested, maybe you should take it now, before you read this, because I do discuss some of the answers. And we all know how God feels about cheaters — at least the ones he hasn’t explicitly ordered to cheat. So if you want to take the quiz, take it now — the article will still be here when you get back.)
In a recent survey conducted by the Pew Forum, atheists and agnostics averaged higher scores than Catholic and Protestant Christians, Jews and Mormons when quizzed on a variety of religious topics, including details of Christian mythology and doctrine.
The results of the survey found that atheists and agnostics scored the highest of any group, averaging 21 correct answers out of 32 questions. Mormons were a close second, with 20 correct answers, while traditional Christians lagged further behind, Protestants averaging 16, and Catholics 15. The survey also found that half of Protestants didn’t know that Martin Luther started the Reformation, and nearly half (45%) of Catholics were unaware that they’ve been consuming the actual body and blood of Jesus for communion all these years.
Pew surveyed 3,412 Americans (none or at least very few of whom were Muslim), asking them 32 questions on an array of religious topics, including knowledge of the Bible, world religions, and the legal limitations of religion’s role in public life. More detailed analysis of the results shows that white evangelical Protestants scored higher than other traditional Christians on questions pertaining to the Bible or Christianity (7.3 out of 12), but not as high as Mormons (7.9 out of 12).
There also seem to be a few things that pretty much everybody knows — 89% of those participating in the survey knew that public school teachers aren’t allowed to lead prayers, for instance. And a reassuring 85% know that an atheist is someone who does not believe in any gods, including God. But only 55% knew that the Golden Rule is not in (either version of) the Ten Commandments, and only 45% could name all four canonical Gospels. And only 8% knew what religion Maimonides was.
Why do atheists and agnostics generally know more about religion than Christians? I think it’s because we (by which I mean “I”) find it such a fascinating subject. And we consider it a subject, a topic to study, not something sacred entrusted to us by the hand of God — and that’s an important distinction. Non-religious folk study modern religions the same way we study older, abandoned mythologies, and for the same reasons. We don’t want to find salvation; we want to understand them.
Most atheists aren’t opposed to religious education — it’s just the tone and the ultimate goal of that education that bothers us a lot of the time. Biblical literacy is important because, whether we like it or not, the Bible is the most widely known and referenced text in our culture. That makes it important to teach children about characters like Adam and Eve, Moses, Job, Abraham, Jesus, and the Apostles, and their stories. But just as important is that we make it clear that these stories are no different than the ones about Hercules or John Henry, or Aesop’s fables. People should be taught the Bible as a very important work of literature, and nothing more, because that’s what it is.
So that explains why atheists and agnostics know more about Christianity than Christians, but what about Mormons? They were nipping at our heels, averaging 20 out of 32. My own theory is that they know so damn much about the Bible because most of the Book of Mormon is barefacedly plagiarized from the Bible, which means those LDS shits got to read everything twice. They’re just a bunch of cheaters.
(Speaking of which, did you take the quiz yet? How’d you do? Just so my friends in the faiths know, my atheist ass scored a 15 out of 15. The punk card has been dropped.)