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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
Atheists know more about religion than Christians 
Tuesday, September 28th, 2010 | 01:09 pm [commentary, religion]
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(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.)
Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 | 01:18 am (UTC)

I'm a Christian Taoist. I missed the First Awakening question and the Pakistan question, and may only have got the transubstantiation question right because I saw the answer in another article about the survey.

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 | 02:41 am (UTC)
As an agnostic I got 10/15

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 | 03:25 am (UTC)
11 out of 15. I teeter on Agnostic/Protestant Christian (depends on my mood.)

I can say for certain the answers I got right, I learned from reading the Bible myself and from World Religions and other Humanities courses, not from attending church.

I got the one about Nirvana wrong and I knew I did after I clicked to the next question, I wanted to go back and change it, but was afraid to hit the back button.

I got the one about communion wrong, too.
Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 | 03:52 am (UTC)
Kinda sort of off topic, but relates to the science vs religion debate. Thought you might find it interesting.


Makes sense to me.
Thursday, September 30th, 2010 | 01:32 am (UTC)
I think Maimonides was Jewish, but I'm not certain.

And... I'm not surprised that atheists and agnostics know more about religion in general than Christians do, but I would hope that Christians knew more about Christianity than non-Christians do. If that makes sense.
Thursday, September 30th, 2010 | 02:04 pm (UTC)
It makes sense, but it isn't what the survey found. Atheists scored higher on Christianity/Biblical questions than every category except Mormons and white evangelical Christians. Atheists/agnostics averaged 6.7 correct out of 12, while Protestants as a whole only managed a 6.5, Catholics a 5.4, and Christians in general 6.2 (which, to be fair, was still slightly above the overall average for the survey, a 6.0).

And I've known many intelligent Christians who know a lot about their own religion, but so far no one has been able to explain to me how scapegoating (which, stripped of its fancy trappings, is what the central doctrine of salvation through Christ is) is moral, from any side.

I'm not trying to bring this in from left field, but rather use it as an example of what I was talking about in the article — that secularists might know more about Christianity because they are willing, and often eager, to examine many of the very serious questions raised by the religion that its followers are almost never encouraged to pursue.
Saturday, October 2nd, 2010 | 12:53 am (UTC)
Ah, it's those darn Catholics dragging our average down! hahaha.

IMO it's an issue of privilege. I've never met an atheist or agnostic whose beliefs were ... incidental, let's say. Every one I've encountered has thought about the issues and viewpoints of various religions and developed his/her own worldview in response. But there are plenty of people who don't think about religion much but consider themselves Christian. It's the arrogance of the majority.

And the morality of scapegoating depends upon the basis for morality itself. But you could probably do a whole 'nother post on that. :)
Saturday, October 2nd, 2010 | 03:21 am (UTC)
So are you making the argument that the scapegoating of Jesus is moral because God says it is? I assume this is also why the genocide of the Midianite men/mass-rape-and-enslavement of the Midian women in the Old Testament is moral.
Wednesday, October 6th, 2010 | 03:29 am (UTC)
I'm not certain that salvation works that way. Substitutionary atonement is only one of many theories - though it's almost certainly the most prevalent.

And as for God's command to eradicate the Midianites... that's part of why I'm not a literalist. Not so much that it didn't happen or couldn't have happened, but that it's possible that Moses got the signals crossed.
Wednesday, October 6th, 2010 | 08:00 pm (UTC)
What are some of the other theories for how salvation works?
Friday, October 15th, 2010 | 10:42 am (UTC)
My apologies for not responding sooner - fall break and all.

And... stink, I can't remember the guy's name. It's not Peter Abelard, much more recent. His idea is that Christ's death on the cross is not some kind of payment, but an example: this is the potential cost of living what you believe, and it can be done.

Oo, it pisses me off that I can't think of that.

There's another theory that says that Christ's death was the literal application of the metaphor that you have to die before you can live again.

I favor the theory that we just don't fucking know how it works, but that also? we don't really need to.
Friday, October 15th, 2010 | 02:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the reply! And for telling me a few things I did not know, very rare in these kinds of discussions. I honestly have not heard of either of those first two theories before, so very interesting.

So in the first theory, God allows his innocent son to be tortured and killed as a warning (perhaps a threat?) to humanity to change its ways, and in the second he allows his innocent son to be tortured and killed to illustrate the metaphor of being born-again. (Is that a fair re-statement?)

But your favorite theory is the one where we have no idea why he allowed his innocent son to be tortured and killed, or how it helps any of us, but we just blindly trust that it does and are grateful that we don't have to burn in Hell.

Maybe none of those three make the crucifixion a scapegoating, but they still suggest a God of unimaginable cruelty and depravity, do they not? Not to mention incompetence, considering he's supposedly omnipotent! He created the whole universe in a few days just by speaking it into existence, but the best he can do to avoid torturing people in everlasting hellfire is to impregnate a Jewish girl via rape and have the son nailed to a cross?

And people worship this God?
Sunday, October 17th, 2010 | 12:17 am (UTC)
PAUL TILLICH! And I didn't even google. ^.^ Boy, was that bothering me.

I find the way you phrase this interesting - God allows his innocent son to be tortured and killed. In this, the only ones with agency are the torturers and killers: the Father lets it happen and the Son has it happen to him. But according to tradition, it was their plan in the first place, after all; they just created a plan that made allowances for people being full of suck. (It wasn't the first plan, remember.)

You know, your mention of God's omnipotence combined with my pondering human suckiness makes me wonder what orthodoxy teaches about the possibility of created divinity. Like humans, maybe, but without the propensity to fuck things up.


You seem really stuck on the Hell thing, too. Christ doesn't talk much about it, really. Sometimes I think there's just one afterlife, and if you don't worship whatever version of God actually exists, being stuck with the one you didn't support is your hell. ;)

Finally? Rape means lack of consent, and Luke's gospel (the only one that records that part of the story) includes Mary's consent.
Sunday, October 17th, 2010 | 02:34 am (UTC)
You say that Christ doesn't talk much about it, but until he mentions it in the New Testament, nobody ever says shit about it. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Jews spend little time on what happens after you die, and their concept of an afterlife is much like the Greco-Roman concept of an underworld, where the dead aren't quite themselves, but certainly aren't being tortured for the sins of their time on Earth. As Christopher Hitchens puts it, it's not until Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild that we hear of the eternal punishment of the dead.

About the so-called plan. So you're telling me that the God who created the universe by his word couldn't do any better than waiting a few thousand years after the fall of man, then sending his son/himself to Earth to be publicly executed in the most sadistic and painful way imaginable, to keep people from going to Hell (or wherever) after they die? It seems to me that God is, at best, an incompetent, procrastinating fuck-up.

As for Mary's rape, you're right. I looked it up and there is a line in Luke where she gives her consent, after the angel more or less tells her how it's going to be. He doesn't ask for her consent, merely proceeds as though it's a given (or unnecessary). If I jumped the gun and assumed that God raped her, it's only because the Old Testament establishes very clearly that he has no problem with rape.
Tuesday, October 19th, 2010 | 10:54 am (UTC)
I think a lot of people see the "Kingdom of God" language as talking about what happens after you die, but I disagree - I guess it would've been helpful to clarify that in my last post, but ... oh well, I didn't. ;D He keeps saying that it's "at hand," as in, it's here, NOW. And he wasn't talking to a buncha dead guys.

And sure, God had better plans; people just keep fucking them up. Maybe things would work out better if God came up with a plan that didn't depend on humans for anything, but I don't think I've heard about that one.
Tuesday, October 19th, 2010 | 01:03 pm (UTC)
Or perhaps God could have done away with the bloodthirsty compulsory animal sacrifices and constant demands for praise and worship from the start. Or perhaps he could have revealed himself and his morally questionable divine laws in a way that could not be so easily denied and refuted? Maybe he could have presented himself to a people more literate and educated than the ancient Palestinians who wrote the Bible. Or maybe, assuming that he insisted for whatever reason on doing things as we read them in the Old Testament, he could have acted to intervene for humanity's salvation sooner than four thousand or so years after the Garden of Eden.

It seems to me that no matter how you slice it, no matter how many apologies or excuses you make for the supposedly all-powerful, all-loving god of the Bible, he's still either a vicious, petty tyrant, or an incompetent fuck-up.
Thursday, September 30th, 2010 | 07:22 pm (UTC)
I'm an atheist
and this test seemed so easy to me
I got 100%
I think that atheists score the highest because they are the smartest
Thursday, September 30th, 2010 | 07:28 pm (UTC)
I thought it was easy, too. Atheists scored higher, perhaps, because we value actually knowing things. Knowing things is important to us.

And you're right, we are smarter. And funnier. And better cooks.
Thursday, September 30th, 2010 | 09:16 pm (UTC)
I happen to know some old Southern Baptist Grannies that would challenge you on the better cooks thing.
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