When You Have Faith, You Don’t Need to Know Nothing

Too funny:

Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant about religion.

Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.

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.”

It appears that for many Americans, their relationship with their religion is little more than the same sort of relationship I have with the Steelers.

114 replies
  1. 1
    bookcat says:

    Yeah, you wear your jersey for your team and want them to beat the crap out of the other team. As much as I dislike sports at least it’s an outlet for all that primal urge to kill the other tribe.

  2. 2
    Scuffletuffle says:

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah…[wipes tears from eyes]…hahahahahhahahahahahahah!

  3. 3
    cintibud says:

    “It appears that for many Americans, their relationship with their religion is little more than the same sort of relationship I have with the Steelers.”

    Quite True. Also true about politics which is even a bigger tragedy.

  4. 4
    JWL says:

    Mother Mary & Jeebus help me, for I am a Niner fan.

  5. 5
    Persia says:

    Not to sound superior (though I guess I am as an Agnostic), but those results really don’t surprise me at all.

  6. 6
    Face says:

    I’ve always wanted to see a graph that correlates income to devotion to religion. I’ve always thought that the line would have a negative slope that was pretty much linear.

  7. 7
    geg6 says:

    Religions want people to be stupid and ignorant, for the most part. It’s why the Jesuits are so hated at the Vatican. As an ex-Catholic, it was the Jesuits I knew as a child who sent me on my spiritual journey that eventually led me to the godless heathenism I enthusiastically embrace today.

  8. 8
    c u n d gulag says:

    Why bother spending time and money polling these imbeciles?
    Just listening to them would tell you they wouldn’t know the old from the new testament, what Jesus said, or anything about where religioun fits in America, or doesn’t, based on The Constitution.
    And for most people, that’s THEIR OWN religion they have no clue about! Imagine how much less they know about any others?

  9. 9
    tom p says:

    Is any one really surprised? My son used to argue with the Seventh Day Adventists from down the street just for fun.

  10. 10

    Sunday Church going is a big part of the murican ethos. Fine upstanding citizens go smiling to baby jeezus and size up the folks they plan to screw during the week. Yes, that kind of screw, and all the other kinds also too.

    Something like life on the Serengeti, where Lions and Hyenas cross paths at the local watering hole under a truce of sorts.

  11. 11

    The religious survey coincides with my own vast, yet anecdotal experiences all through my life. One is forced to become aware of the scriptures because the religious lunatics are always invoking (misconstruing) them to their own advantage. Religious people are selectively schooled in certain scripture (John 3:16 anyone?) while other scripture is ignored. As a militant agnostic (I don’t know and neither do you!!) it is my duty to point out contradictions, and highlight absurdities their pastor left out.

    NEWS ALERT:

    This story really makes me feel bad for all my friends still trapped in America. Looks like the latest iteration of ‘terrorists’ are people not easily identifiable as different from myself or my friends. Watch the video and tell me you’re not at least a little nervous!!

    http://thetimchannel.wordpress.....ibune-com/

    Enjoy.

  12. 12
    John S. says:

    This is not news to me. Your average Christian knows absolutely nothing about Jesus or the principles he espoused. It’s all cafeteria religion – you put the things you already like on the tray, while ignoring all the things that are actually good for you.

  13. 13
    Lee Hartmann says:

    “It appears that for many Americans, their relationship with their religion is little more than the same sort of relationship I have with the Steelers.”

    you forgot to add, only less intense.

    OT, it pains me, as someone upset with Obama civil liberties issues (as John Cole himself is), and who likes dday and emptywheel, to see Jane H. to go full metal, and for John to feel the need to defend himself from totally ridiculous accusations, etc. I value parts of both sites and I know how to filter out (I think) the extreme parts. We need to vote, and if Feingold goes down, I’ll have a seven day hangover.

  14. 14
    Maxwel says:

    Now you know why they need those high priced preachermen to explain things.

  15. 15
    WyldPirate says:

    geg@6

    Religiousns wantus people to be are stupid and ignorant, for the most part.

    Fixed.

  16. 16
    Senyordave says:

    Remember that Jesus, were he alive today, would be a conservative Republican. And he certainly would agree with that noted philosopher, Glenn Beck, that social justice is equivalent to marxism.

  17. 17
    Maxwel says:

    “I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”

    Awesome.

  18. 18
    New Yorker says:

    Yeah, that’s why I’m an atheist: because I actually know how much awful nonsense is crammed into the Bible and the Qu’ran.

  19. 19
    New Yorker says:

    Also, too:

    It appears that for many Americans, their relationship with their religion is little more than the same sort of relationship I have with the Steelers.

    I dunno, I get the feeling I know a lot more about the New York Mets than your average Christian knows about Christianity.

  20. 20
    SGEW says:

    From the article:

    On questions about the Bible and Christianity, the groups that answered the most right were Mormons and white evangelical Protestants. On questions about world religions, like Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism, the groups that did the best were atheists, agnostics and Jews.

    Again: is anyone surprised? Anyone at all?

  21. 21
    evinfuilt says:

    The Prosperity bible movement is all you need to know to understand the US Religious folks. They go to church, give their tithe all to make them rich. It’s one nice big pyramid scheme, sanctioned by the gov to be tax deductible.

    Barnum would be proud of this movement. For one, you have to really work hard to teach the gospels and make people think that the poor are beneath them.

    Then again, as said in that article, if they found out what it really said they’d have no one attend.

    Have fun with this Elisha and the Bears Animated,I don’t know why that’s not in Sunday School. I guess mauling children doesn’t sell as well as “We’re better than them, GO TEAM JEEZUS!”

  22. 22
    WereBear says:

    This does not surprise me in the least. The worst thing I ever did (according to the Baptists) was to read the whole Bible. This was in a burst of religious fervor in early adolescence.

    After that, I couldn’t avoid the conclusion that it was a collection of mythic history and justso stories. I peeled out the “red words” as a lovely pacifist philosophy and moved on.

  23. 23
    jonas says:

    @geg6: I was just going to make a similar comment. The Jesuits have far and away the most intellectually rigorous and learned tradition in the Catholic Church. They’re fearsomely educated and frequently have the equivalent of several doctorates in philosophy, law and theology.

    I’ve never met one that wasn’t at the very least agnostic.

  24. 24
    Winston Smith says:

    I’m actually surprised that Evangelicals scored as well as they did.

    I was having a “discussion” with one on the Springfield (MO) News Leader comments section and I mentioned that I had gotten a particular interpretation of Jewish Scripture from the Talmud. He responded, “I didn’t know what that was, so I had to look it up.” He then went on to conclude, “The people who wrote this stuff obviously had no understanding of the Bible.”

    Classic.

  25. 25
    jwb says:

    @The Tim Channel: No, it doesn’t take long to be able to run circles around most religious loonies with the Biblical quotes, because most of them really don’t know much more than a small set of verses. The problem is that it never matters to them, because they know what they believe, and if you point out that the Bible says something other than they believe then they will answer that’s because it was translated wrong (probably by some liberal) or you’re interpreting it wrong, and, did I mention, they know what they believe. As anyone who has had any experience interpreting texts knows, with suitable hard work and a measure of cleverness, it’s almost always possible to make any text mean the opposite of what it says—and say what you will their pastors are very adept at twisting passages of the bible into a seemingly coherent if also noxious worldview. (The pastors provide the same service in church that Faux News provides on TV. And I bet if someone looked you’d find a conservative pastors distribution email list organized very much on the lines of Journolist, which would explain why the conservatives are so obsessed by Journolist.)

  26. 26
    AR says:

    I went to a private school, and there were two mandatory Bible classes that I had to take to graduate. Even though I was an atheist, I made it my goal to get the best grade in the class for the irony, as the person who had the highest grade in those classes would be awarded a medal at a public ceremony.

    I succeeded in getting the top grade, so they ended up not giving out the medal that year. It’s a shame; I was so looking forward to being acknowledged as someone who knew religion better than the believers.

  27. 27
    SatanicPanic says:

    Religion class at Catholic school made me an atheist.

  28. 28
    jrg says:

    You people had better watch it with this talking bad about Christians stuff. You won’t think it’s so funny when Jesus comes down here with his .50 cal and his daisy cutters and goes medieval on your bonobo asses.

    …not that I care that much – it just means more for me when he starts handing out Jesus dollars, like it says in the Bible.

  29. 29
    Nylund says:

    @The Tim Channel:

    One is forced to become aware of the scriptures because the religious lunatics are always invoking (misconstruing) them to their own advantage. Religious people are selectively schooled in certain scripture (John 3:16 anyone?) while other scripture is ignored. As a militant agnostic (I don’t know and neither do you!!) it is my duty to point out contradictions, and highlight absurdities their pastor left out.

    I’m not militant, but here in the Bible belt, I get lots of scripture hurled at my heathen self and it really pays to not only be familiar with it, but to know it even better than they do.

  30. 30
    aimai says:

    Yup. No surprise here. One of my foundational experiences as an adult and as an atheist was giving a teaching passover seder to my christian sister-in-law’s bible study group (mixed evangelicals and catholics). Interesting experience. This group studies, a lot, and yet they knew very little. I knew more, about the history, symbolism, and theory behind their practice than they did. And I’m an atheist Jew.

    I think one reason for that is that for a believer nestled in a particular religious tradition or religious community the one thing that is really taken on faith is the role of authoritative interpretation. They go to Sunday School and they read particular texts, or they get a set of lectures from a particular sect’s interpretation, but these are entirely naturalized. Everything outside is kept outside and everything inside is simply “correct.” For an outsider its easy to read stuff from every side: gnostic as well as canonical, forgotten texts and practices as well as the everyday, or to read the history as contingent instead of pre-determined. That gives you a rounded view of the entire process, and a more skeptical one. Take priestly marriage, for example–the Catholic church has expended tons of energy explaining away theologically what is clearly a purely historically contingent, economic decision nested in very particular history of church/state/family dynamics. An outsider sees and understands this at once. An insider is kept in place by being told “it was god’s will.”

    aimai

  31. 31
    Michael D. says:

    John:

    It appears that for many Americans, their relationship with their religion is little more than the same sort of relationship I have with the Steelers.

    Truer words…

    You think you know everything about the Steelers, but you really don’t know shit.

    You beat people over the head with the Steelers.

    The Steelers can do no wrong. Every other team is secretly plotting to destroy the Steelers.

    You agree Andrew Brietbart should secretly send pimps and ho’s to visit the Bengals, Browns, or Raiders? They’re just out to get the Steelers.

    Ben Roethlisberger’s troubles all started because of the lamestream media (who would never do something like that to Falc-tards like Matt Ryan.)

    And, of course, there was a time when Steelers and Eagles existed together.

  32. 32
    geg6 says:

    @WyldPirate:

    Well, I would have said it that way, but too many of the religious’ fees fees would have been hurt. Believe me, I’ve been vilified for it right here on BJ many times.

    Was just trying to be nice, for once. ;-)

  33. 33
    Ash Can says:

    @AR: That’s a great story. Good for you, and shame on those petty losers for not giving you your medal.

  34. 34
    I have issues with Baltimore says:

    @Maxwel: Yeah, when I read that, I blurted out “OH SNAP!” Then I closed my office door.

  35. 35

    I took the little sample test. [Yes, I got them all right.]

    I was surprised at how simple most of the questions were.

    Maybe the real test was more difficult, or maybe not. Hmmm.

  36. 36
    geg6 says:

    @aimai:

    Take priestly marriage, for example—the Catholic church has expended tons of energy explaining away theologically what is clearly a purely historically contingent, economic decision nested in very particular history of church/state/family dynamics. An outsider sees and understands this at once. An insider is kept in place by being told “it was god’s will.”

    Just one of many reasons I still respect the Jesuits is that they ARE insiders who have no compunctions about telling everything they know about what a crock Catholicism is. I don’t know what they have in their secret vaults that keeps them from being drummed out completely, but it must be some pretty good shit. Love me some Jesuits. If they ever got a Jesuit Pope, I might even come back. Of course, no current Catholics would want anything to do with a Vatican run by Jesuits, who (to a man, according my experience with them) are atheists and agnostics.

  37. 37
    daveNYC says:

    Just wondering, but oftentimes the Torah/Haftorah books in use in the synagogue have, in addition to the Hebrew and English translations, piles of footnotes covering some historical context, some tidbit about the translation, or an alternate take on what the passage could mean. Has anyone ever seen a New Testament that has the same feature?

  38. 38
    pk says:

    Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant about religion.

    and science,
    and politics,
    and History,
    and Geography,
    and general knowledge.

  39. 39
    Warren Terra says:

    As I’m a reasonably well informed Atheist Jew, I was curious how I’d do — pretty well, I’d guess, a lot better than the mouth breathers who want English-only education because it was good enough for Jesus. But sadly the Pew Forum apparently didn’t anticipate public interest in this story, and their servers are crying Uncle.

  40. 40
    Michael says:

    That thar Bible has a known librul bias.

    Conservative Christian Patriots need to crush that.

    http://www.conservapedia.com/C.....le_Project

    As of 2009, there is no fully conservative translation of the Bible which satisfies the following ten guidelines:
    ….
    1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias. For example, the Living Bible translation has liberal evolutionary bias;[5] the widely used NIV translation has a pro-abortion bias.[6]
    2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, “gender inclusive” language, and other feminist distortions; preserve many references to the unborn child (the NIV deletes these)
    3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity[7]; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level[8]
    4. Utilize Terms which better capture original intent: using powerful new conservative terms to capture better the original intent;[9] Defective translations use the word “comrade” three times as often as “volunteer”; similarly, updating words that have a change in meaning, such as “word”, “peace”, and “miracle”.
    5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction[10] by using modern terms for it, such as “gamble” rather than “cast lots”;[11] using modern political terms, such as “register” rather than “enroll” for the census
    6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
    7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning
    8. Exclude Later-Inserted Inauthentic Passages: excluding the interpolated passages that liberals commonly put their own spin on, such as the adulteress story
    9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels
    10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word “Lord” rather than “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “Lord God.”

  41. 41
    vtr says:

    Area man takes literally the Bible he has never read.

  42. 42
    Ash Can says:

    @daveNYC: The New American Bible has footnotes like that throughout, as well as commentary on the translation process (the NAB is a direct translation from the original texts). I don’t know if those footnotes are as extensive as the ones you’re talking about, though.

  43. 43
    ...now I try to be amused says:

    It appears that for many Americans, their relationship with their religion is little more than the same sort of relationship I have with the Steelers.

    That is to be expected. Humans are tribal, and religion is a big part of it.

    My Western Religion 101 instructor made the distinction between tribal religions and “culture” religions; the big culture religions being Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. But a culture religion essentially defines a new super-tribe consisting of its believers.

    Atheists and agnostics are outside of all these tribes. It’s a position like that of an anthropologist. When I gave up Christianity and became an agnostic, I didn’t so much become an alien in my own culture as discover why I was already an alien in my own culture.

  44. 44
    numbskull says:

    @Michael:

    10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word “Lord” rather than “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “Lord God.”

    Michael, thanks for the quoted material. Man, the irony, it burns!

    A more concise way of requesting concise prose is to command:

    “10. Be concise.”

    But, if they want to demand concise prose using 39 words instead of two, well, that’s their prerogative…

    I wonder if White and Strunk were atheists?

  45. 45
    Catsy says:

    @aimai:

    I think one reason for that is that for a believer nestled in a particular religious tradition or religious community the one thing that is really taken on faith is the role of authoritative interpretation.

    The key word here is “faith”. Having faith, taking things on faith–these are core tenets of a certain fairly well-known religion.

    Faith is certainty without knowledge.

    Faith in this context is nothing more than another word for willful ignorance.

    Like others, it’s baffling to me why the results of this survey are at all surprising to anyone. It’s a feature, not a bug.

  46. 46
    ...now I try to be amused says:

    @geg6:

    …Jesuits, who (to a man, according my experience with them) are atheists and agnostics.

    Dang, I need to read up on these guys. I understand the Jesuits were the shock troops of the Counter-Reformation, so the Church owes much to them. When did they become atheists and agnostics?

  47. 47
    ruemara says:

    I stopped being a fundy after attempting an in depth scholarship of the bible, complete with concordance, multiple translations, and regional history. After about 2 months, I thought, “I’m black and female. How the hell is anything written here pro-me?” Instant agnostic.

  48. 48
    El Cruzado says:

    @Ash Can: The Latin original, the Greek original of the Latin original or (for the Old Testament) the Aramaic original of the Greek original?

  49. 49
    Vince CA says:

    I’d probably score a near perfect on this quiz, but then I’m an atheist and a super history geek. Still though, doesn’t this feel like pub trivia? And who can blame Catholics for not knowing about the trans-substantiation of the host? I mean, that’ pretty obscure and doesn’t even come up in Sunday school.

  50. 50
    Thoroughly Pizzled says:

    Reading Leviticus was enough to make me an atheist. According to God, bats are birds!

  51. 51
    Ash Can says:

    @El Cruzado: The oldest texts in existence, whatever their language. The oldest translations in the cases where the original manuscripts no longer existed.

  52. 52
    Martin says:

    @AR: Heh. I did the same thing. Even though nobody in the house is religious, I’ve made a point to make sure my kids have a better than average understanding of the various religions. They can recite the 10 commandments like the best of them. Why? Reasons like this, in part. There’s quite a lot of literature that require knowing the basics of various religions in order to really understand, and so on. But ultimately, they’ve got friends who are Mormon, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and so on. I at least want them to have an appreciation for the things that are important to their friends, to understand their major holidays and to be able to ask questions intelligently and respectfully.

  53. 53
    Comrade Sock Puppet of the Great Satan says:

    Let me be another ex-Catholic to add to the Jesuit love-in. The Franciscans and their sub-orders are cool too.

    Ratzinger is another matter though.

  54. 54
    Bender says:

    So groups dominated by whites (Mormons, Jews, atheists, agnostics) and males (atheists, agnostics) are smarter about things than groups with more blacks, hispanics, and women?

    Wonder what would’ve happened if, instead of religion, they’d asked these groups about math, science, or history? Hmmmm.

    I denounce this clearly racist and sexist study.

  55. 55
    Martin says:

    @Vince CA: And yet the atheists seem to know it more than the Christians do. Sorry, if you’re going to carry a banner of any sort – religious, political, etc. you really have a social obligation to not be an idiot about the subject.

  56. 56
    Kristine says:

    @geg6 @wyldpirate

    I guess I would ask why you feel compelled to push the point that little extra distance even though you wind up insulting fellow listees who, from what I have seen in my short time here, feel the same way (or close to the same way) as you do about many serious issues affecting this country? What’s the point? Or is gratuitous mockery sufficient in and of itself?

    I understand that considering people’s fee-fees has become a big fuckin’ joke, but I think there’s a difference between holding opinion makers and politicians to account and hammering them until they answer the blasted question, and being snickering back-of-the-classroom assholes just because you can. If nothing else, that behavior stifles dialogue, and we ain’t getting through all this unless we keep talking.

    And I understand that the internetz, like politics, ain’t beanbag. And I wish there were more Rachel Maddows, and I need to sign off now.

    I wish I had known Jesuits in school. All I knew were nuns and standard issue priests. Not so much with the questions, and I am all for questions.

  57. 57
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Bender: If you read the article closely, you’ll find that it stated that level of education had the best correlation with religious knowledge. But, even if you take out blacks and Hispanics, atheists and agnostics still knew more than their religious counterparts.

  58. 58
    Pangloss says:

    It appears that for many Americans, their relationship with their religion is little more than the same sort of relationship I have with the Steelers.

    Hence all the foam fingers popping up at church these days.

  59. 59
    Sentient Puddle says:

    Is the matter of religion in schools really all that germane to the survey? That was the one question I really had to stop and think about, but more because I had to guess at how some past Supreme Court felt about the issue, not because it was some religious tenet.

    @Bender: Dude, you have no Koran.

  60. 60
    geg6 says:

    @…now I try to be amused:

    About the time the Church began persecuting them. Which, I believe, was in the early 1700s. The Jesuits are bit different than most of the other Catholic orders. From the start, they wanted lay persons to explore the same spiritual journeys they, themselves, did. Not really what the Church, even to this day, espouses. A central tenet of Ignatian spirituality (St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits) is the “Spiritual Exercises,” which are intended to have the person find the way to regulate his/her life so as to get beyond what you want or think or whatever to what they believe is God’s will for them. This makes them, more than any other Catholic order, people who live in the now, not the past. The idea to try to discern what God wants you to do NOW. This made and makes them open to intellectualism, a questioning of Vatican teaching and papal directives. They question Church teachings on abortion, birth control, celibacy, homosexuality, and ordination of women. They were the main movers on liberation theology. They were probably the most active among all Catholic orders in organizing efforts to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. They are the only intellectuals of the Church worthy of even a drop of respect.

  61. 61
    geg6 says:

    @Kristine:

    Or is gratuitous mockery sufficient in and of itself?

    This.

    Get over it. If there is a more vilified minority in this country than those of us who aren’t blinded by the light, then I don’t know who it would be. I can guarantee you that most Americans would vote for a Muslim or a flamboyantly out gay person for president before they’d vote for someone like me. I really don’t see why I need to show the believers any respect when they don’t show me any.

  62. 62
    ciotog says:

    Every semester I teach The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, which is, among other things, a conversion narrative. Equiano ends up deciding that faith alone, rather than faith + works, is needed for salvation. Every semester I ask my students, in this rural area where people put up yard signs that say “Pray,” if this means that Equiano is a Catholic or a Protestant. Every semester not a single one of them knows that salvation through faith alone is a mostly Protestant idea.

  63. 63
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Catsy:

    Faith is certainty without knowledge.
     
    Faith in this context is nothing more than another word for willful ignorance.

    I have to dissent on this. There are as many different kinds of “faith” as there are believers. The blind ignorant authoritarian-follower kind that you are talking about here certainly is common in the US (judging from studies, new stories and my own personal experience), and especially so when it comes to the sort of people who have a malign influence on our politics and thus tend to come to our attention on a political blog.

    But there are also a great many people who have a different sort of faith, which is very much not “certainty without knowledge”, but in fact the opposite, which is a deeply rooted sense of their own finite-ness (and also the finite-ness of other people, too) and an acceptance of that sense of being finite which translates into a willingness to live without certainty. That kind of faith says “I don’t know everything, or even very much, and I never will. And I’m going to do my best, despite that.” And in my experience the people who hold that kind of faith, many of them very deeply religious but not in the stereotypical way which makes it into the news media (complexity and nuance you know – they don’t sell), are very much a positive force in our society. It would be nice if more people were like that, and it isn’t the same thing as not having any faith at all.

  64. 64
    RSR says:

    take a quiz of a subset of the survey questions yourself:

    http://features.pewforum.org/q.....knowledge/

  65. 65
    Bruce (formerly Steve S.) says:

    Throwing my hat into the ring to say that in my anecdotal experience atheists are as a class more knowledgeable about the Bible than Christians. The most knowledgeable individual, though, is a Christian minister that I happen to be related to. He is in a mainline protestant denomination and has read the whole thing, even the endless genocides, genealogies, and lamentations that most people skip.

  66. 66
    Bender says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):

    But, even if you take out blacks and Hispanics, atheists and agnostics still knew more than their religious counterparts.

    Well, that’s the claim by the New York Times’ writer — the linked Pew page on the survey results only mentions that Jews, Mormons, atheists and agnostics do better, even controlling for education. Also, it says:

    Among demographic groups, men perform better than women, whites do better than blacks and Hispanics, and people who live in the East, Midwest and West score better than people in the South.

    Shocker.

    Clearly, the internals show that ath/ags didn’t know more about Christianity than white Evangelicals or white Mormons. The predominantly-white ath/ag group did relatively well on both the “Christian” and “World Religion” sections, as this group no doubt included many people raised in all three (Christian, “World,” and non-religious) traditions.

    On questions about the Bible and Christianity, the groups that answered the most right were Mormons and white evangelical Protestants. On questions about world religions, like Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism, the groups that did the best were atheists, agnostics and Jews [though not in that order — strange why Pew wrote it like that!].

    So white Christians did best on Christian questions, and Jews did the best on “World Religions” questions, which included Judaism.

    Blacks and Hispanics did the worst overall, and scored abysmally on on “world religions” and “religious life.” This is why the study is obviously RAAAACIST!

    Anyway, every group did lousy, with no group averaging a passing 70% grade. Everybody would’ve flunked (and the questions they published were not difficult in the least).

  67. 67
    Bella Q says:

    @geg6: As for the Jesuits:

    They are the only intellectuals of the Church. worthy of even a drop of respect.

    Fixt.

  68. 68
    Stefan says:

    I’d probably score a near perfect on this quiz, but then I’m an atheist and a super history geek. Still though, doesn’t this feel like pub trivia? And who can blame Catholics for not knowing about the trans-substantiation of the host? I mean, that’ pretty obscure and doesn’t even come up in Sunday school.

    As a (technically former yet not ever even active enough to count as lapsed I mean basically the only thing I ever was was baptised) Catholic myself, I always enjoy pointing out to Catholics that they engage in bizarre cannibal rites. At first they don’t know what I’m talking about, and then when I point out that they literally eat human flesh and drink human blood, they often claim that it’s merely symbolic and not meant to be literal, at which point I tell them that that’s not what the Church says and maybe they should take this up with their priest…..

  69. 69
    Kyle says:

    American christians know all they need to know about religion: There is a god and he hates the same people as they do.

  70. 70
    mazareth says:

    I’m an atheist who was raised and confirmed Catholic. I clicked through to the survey. I would have scored pretty high, but then I’m a history geek with a good memory for facts, figures and useless knowledge.

    I knew (for example) that Maimonides was Jewish.

    I probably wouldn’t have known about the Doctrine of Transubstanciation (sp?) had I not been raised Catholic.

    I’m with John on the Steelers thing–though for me it’s the Packers. That’s why I’m a little bummed today… :(

    No offense to any Illinoisians, but the Bears still suck!

  71. 71
    RSR says:

    @RSR: Wow, surprised myself and got 15 out of 15! There were a couple questions that my answers were more educated guesses than confident knowledge, but I guess the Christian Brothers at La Salle did a good job after all.

    http://features.pewforum.org/q…..knowledge/

  72. 72
    Winston Smith says:

    @geg6:

    I can guarantee you that most Americans would vote for a Muslim or a flamboyantly out gay person for president before they’d vote for someone like me.

    Oh, lots of people will vote for a pompous narcissist.

    Anyway, I’ll keep my eye out for news stories about people being thrown out of the military for admitting that they’re atheists. Maybe we should start a legal defense fund for that.

  73. 73
    bookcat says:

    @ …now I try to be amused:

    “Atheists and agnostics are outside of all these tribes. It’s a position like that of an anthropologist. When I gave up Christianity and became an agnostic, I didn’t so much become an alien in my own culture as discover why I was already an alien in my own culture. ”

    QFT.

  74. 74
    Jay C says:

    @New Yorker:

    I dunno, I get the feeling I know a lot more about the New York Mets than your average Christian knows about Christianity.

    Yes, as a Mets fan, I know: in Christianity, at least, martyrdom has gone out of style…

  75. 75
    Kyle says:

    Religion, like watching Fox News or voting Republican for people making less than $200k, relies on and depends on ignorance. It’s a tribal narcotic for people who don’t want to think.

  76. 76
    Mike G says:

    the Catholic church has expended tons of energy explaining away theologically what is clearly a purely historically contingent, economic decision nested in very particular history of church/state/family dynamics.

    Much like the “Eat Fish on Friday” rule, which arose back when, what a coincidence, the church owned extensive fisheries.

  77. 77
    fasteddie9318 says:

    @RSR:

    The folks at Pew Forum seem to be having a very difficult time staying online just now.

  78. 78
    Bubblegum Tate says:

    @General Stuck:

    Sunday Church going is a big part of the murican ethos.

    This, I think, is a big part of it; for the majority of people who would identify themselves as Christian, going to church and/or practicing their religion is a habitual exercise rather than a thoughtful one.

    On the flip side are those who really are invested in their belief and are into it as a means to support, enrich, and guide their lives.

    And then we have the fundies and wingnuts who are just into it for the tribalism/”my god can beat up your god”/”if I believe this, then I’m automatically superior to anybody who doesn’t” bullshit.

    Also: Cosign on the props for the Jesuit tradition of intellectual rigor in this thread.

    Finally: Count me among the many for whom Bible reading/church attendance did more than anything else to make me a damn dirty non-believer.

  79. 79
  80. 80
    Winston Smith says:

    @Kyle:

    Religion, like watching Fox News or voting Republican for people making less than $200k, relies on and depends on ignorance. It’s a tribal narcotic for people who don’t want to think.

    Fox News views are not necessarily stupid or ignorant, but have a well-practiced talent for ignoring facts that confute their world view. Lots of people share this capability; for example, in order to make the above statement, you would have to ignore a rather lengthy list of accomplished intellectuals who maintained a faith of one sort or another.

    Albert Einstein would be one; is he someone who didn’t want to think?

  81. 81
    fasteddie9318 says:

    @Winston Smith:

    you would have to ignore a rather lengthy list of accomplished intellectuals who maintained a faith of one sort or another.
    __
    Albert Einstein would be one; is he someone who didn’t want to think?

    What “faith” would that be, exactly?

  82. 82
    Winston Smith says:

    @geg6:
    I see a list of articles about people being harassed, officially and unofficially. I didn’t see one about someone being discharged from the military for admitting that he or she was an atheist.

    And just because you really are an asshole:
    [provisions of state constitutions]

    Whatever. Those provisions are not enforceable.

    Butthurt noted. Now, as you said, get over it.

  83. 83
    Winston Smith says:

    @fasteddie9318:

    What “faith” [did Albert Einstein maintain], exactly?

    Judaism.

    “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
    — A. Einstein
    “Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium”, 1941

  84. 84
    John S. says:

    I really don’t see why I need to show the believers any respect when they don’t show me any.

    It’s called the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have done unto you. You don’t need to read the Bible or believe in God to wrap your head around THAT. Being an asshole knows no boundary of faith.

  85. 85
    Adam C says:

    A counterpoint:
    I’m unsure of the usefulness of separating “atheists/agnostics” from “nothing in particular”. If this is simply splitting off “interested but not a member” from “uninterested and not a member” then the A/As are getting a bit of a boost in their scores. As an aggregate, “Unaffiliated” scored lower than “Christian” on the questions about Christianity.

  86. 86
    fasteddie9318 says:

    @Winston Smith:

    Judaism.
    __
    “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”—A. Einstein
    “Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium”, 1941

    He sure was a strange-sounding Jew. But dueling quotes is fun:

    “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a god who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.”
    1929 telegram, cited in Einstein: Science and Religion

    “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”
    1954 letter, cited in Albert Einstein: The Human Side (1981)

    “The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this…For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.”
    1954 Gutkind letter, cited here

  87. 87

    I was raised Evangelical. I have read the entire Bible. I saw the hypocrisy in my church (The Evangelical Formosa Church in the Twin Cities). I questioned my youth pastor only to get ‘God works in mysterious ways’ and ‘Holding hands leads to sex.’ I have a Bible because I use it when I write my fiction. It does not surprise me that atheists and agnostics did the best on the tests. We have to know at least the fundamentals because it’s so endemic in our society.

    I tried very hard to believe in God as I grew up. Very hard. Never did, but I kept trying until I went to St, Olaf (Lutheran) College, took religion classes, and realized that Christianity just did not make any sense to me.

    Now, I am agnostic, and I still know more about the Bible than many Christians.

  88. 88
    Brighton says:

    I think there is good and bad to take away from this. A little biblical knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it’s good that religion is fading away in America.

  89. 89
    scarshapedstar says:

    Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant

    Article should have stopped right there.

  90. 90
    Winston Smith says:

    @fasteddie9318:

    But dueling quotes is fun:

    Point taken.

    Einstein was not a religious leader and, therefore, didn’t put a particular emphasis on describing his personal religious beliefs in any detail or accuracy; hence the quote about people getting his beliefs wrong. Einstein’s views were mystical and personal. There is no credible doubt that Einstein believed that the universe had divine attributes. As a consequence of his cultural background, he expressed his perceptions in the terms of Judaism, rejecting those which didn’t apply. He’s certainly not the first Jew in history to do so.

    In the end, Einstein never rejected his Jewishness, not did he ever claim to be an atheist. He would have made a terrific Buddhist.

  91. 91
    fasteddie9318 says:

    @Winston Smith:

    Einstein was not a religious leader and, therefore, didn’t put a particular emphasis on describing his personal religious beliefs in any detail or accuracy, hence the quote about people getting his beliefs wrong. Einstein’s views were mystical and personal. There is no credible doubt that Einstein believed that the universe had divine attributes. As a consequence of his cultural background, he expressed his perceptions in the terms of Judaism, rejecting those which didn’t apply. He’s certainly not the first Jew in history to do so.
    __
    In the end, Einstein never rejected his Jewishness, not did he ever claim to be an atheist. He would have made a terrific Buddhist.

    He self-identified as an agnostic in at least one letter written toward the end of his life, and the one religious tenet on which it seems impossible to misunderstand him was his rejection of a personal god. That’s unlike any version of Judaism I know, except Spinoza’s, and I’d venture to say that most practicing Jews would not identify Spinoza’s religious views as within the bounds of Judaism. His sense of the mystical was in the inner workings of the cosmos and the laws underpinning them, particularly with respect to the human mind’s inability to comprehend them. That strikes me as very nearly the “god of the gaps” that Dawkins talks about; as human understanding of the workings of the universe increases, Einstein’s “god,” if that’s really what you can call it, shrinks.

    Maybe he would have made a good Buddhist, that’s an interesting idea.

  92. 92
    geg6 says:

    @John S.:

    Being an asshole knows no boundary of faith.

    You should know.

    Like I said, talk to me about when the faithful get around to not being an asshole to me or people like me.

    And as for how I should be living according to the “Golden Rule,” well…

    The lack of any sort of self-awareness in that statement is just amazing.

    Nothing, but nothing, is more important than the hurt fees fees of a believer.

    You know, I only talk like this when self-appointed religious fee fee police pop up to tell me that we atheists are too shrill. Otherwise, I’m usually fine with people of faith, especially those who don’t feel the need to cry and whine about how they are all discriminated against by us all-powerful atheists.

    @Winston Smith:

    I really don’t give a damn that you only want to highlight a particular sort of discrimination against non-believers. Your point was that atheists aren’t discriminated against. I showed you that they are and with only few seconds of a search. Discrimination of any kind by any governmental entity perpetrated against an atheist is unconstitutional, much the same as is discrimination against gays, women, or people of color.

  93. 93
    geg6 says:

    @fasteddie9318:

    He self-identified as an agnostic in at least one letter written toward the end of his life, and the one religious tenet on which it seems impossible to misunderstand him was his rejection of a personal god… His sense of the mystical was in the inner workings of the cosmos and the laws underpinning them, particularly with respect to the human mind’s inability to comprehend them. That strikes me as very nearly the “god of the gaps” that Dawkins talks about; as human understanding of the workings of the universe increases, Einstein’s “god,” if that’s really what you can call it, shrinks.

    Yes, that is also my understanding of his beliefs based on several biographies I’ve read about him, most recently Isaacson’s with all of the heretofore unpublished personal correspondence.

  94. 94
    Brachiator says:

    I took the 15 question quiz and aced it (and I am a furious agnostic). Does this mean that I can perform marriages in Las Vegas?

  95. 95
    Delia says:

    I used to teach world history at a state university in Orange County, CA. Two points:
    1- In the ancient history section we covered the origins of a lot of world religions. On am exam or quiz when I’d ask the primary principle of, say, Hinduism, Buddhism, or Judaism, many students would answer, “To live life to the fullest.” For the record, that wrong in all cases.

    2- In the more recent history section we covered the Reformation. Remember, this is a part of the country with a lot of these megachurches and I had a lot of students who had a hard time thinking of Roman Catholics as “Christian.” But the history of the Reformation is one area where you do need to bring a bit of theology into a secular history class. I found that most of these students didn’t know the first thing about Martin Luther, Protestant theology, or really, anything about what was supposedly their own religion.

  96. 96
    Stefan says:

    Albert Einstein would be one; is he someone who didn’t want to think?

    Yes, Einstein sure was religious….

    Renowned scientist Albert Einstein dismissed the Bible as a collection of “pretty childish” legends and belief in God as a “product of human weaknesses,” according to a letter to be auctioned this week . Einstein, who was Jewish, also rejects the notion that Jews were God’s chosen people.
    The letter was written in German in 1954 to philosopher Eric Gutkind…..

    Einstein writes “the word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.”

    Born to a Jewish family in Germany in 1879, he also adds that “for me, the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions.”….

    Many have speculated about the religious or spiritual beliefs of the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, whose theory of relativity revolutionized the study of physics. Some have pointed to Einstein’s quote that God “does not play dice” with the universe (his rejection of the randomness of the universe) as proof of his belief in a higher being. Others have said that the quote does not advocate a belief in God and have referred to other letters written by Einstein.

    “I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly,” he wrote in another letter in 1954. “If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

    http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/.....igion.html

  97. 97
    John S. says:

    @geg6:

    LOL

    What do you have two modes, testy and really testy? But seriously, I didn’t mean to strike a nerve so as to illicit the “I know you are but what am I?” response.

    As for your willful stupidity regarding the Golden Rule, I don’t know what to chalk that up to. The whole point is you live your life and act in a certain matter REGARDLESS of how others treat you. I’m sorry if that concept is too lofty for you to handle, and if you prefer to play by schoolyard rules, that’s your call. But it has served me well my entire life.

    I don’t care how you roll, it isn’t going to affect how I roll. So you’re an atheist? Whoop-dee fucking doo. I could care less, any more than you could care that I’m a deist. Or maybe that’s not quite true, now is it?

  98. 98
    Alwhite says:

    was sent to religious study early & often, read the Bible seriously until it became painfully obvious it was a load of manure.

    My 2 favorite points to mention to “bible believing Chritianists”: Which of the two creation stories in Genesis is the ‘correct’ version? Which of the 8-10 versions of the 10 Commandments in Exodus is the ‘correct’ version?

    If they are very good & claim Moses wrote the first 5 books himself I always ask why he sometimes referred to himself in first person, sometimes in second & other times in third? Oh, and why does he use different names for the invisible cloud being he had such a close relationship with?

  99. 99
    Stefan says:

    There is no credible doubt that Einstein believed that the universe had divine attributes.

    There’s certainly quite a bit of credible doubt about that, at least depending on what is meant by “divine.” I’d say that Einstein did not believe the universe was “divine” in the sense that it was governed or influenced by magical invisible supernatural beings, but I would say he thought it was “divine” in that it exhibited qualities of mathematical logic, beauty and precision — but that does not really imply religious faith, at least not as that is commonly understood.

  100. 100
    geg6 says:

    @John S.:

    If you’d been lectured to death by the biggest hypocrites in the world all about how it’s me and only me (or people like me) who has to live up to your Golden Rule, you’d have as much disdain for anyone who brings it up as I do.

    I’m so sick of believers and their hypocrisy, I could just puke. I am a good person who treats others as they have proven beyond a reasonable doubt they deserve. I don’t need any invisible sky wizards to tell me the rules or their believers to exhort me to live up to them, especially when exactly none of them do.

  101. 101
    Winston Smith says:

    @geg6:

    Your point was that atheists aren’t discriminated against.

    Well, since you’ve rid yourself of the burden of parsing ponderous religious text, it seems you’ve forfeited related skills, such as reading comprehension.

    You noted that, “If there is a more vilified minority in this country than [atheists], then I don’t know who it would be.”

    I suppose the this confession of ignorance was a cry for help and I shouldn’t have been so snarky. Let me fill you in:

    1. Muslims
    2. Homosexuals
    3. Socialists
    4. and yes, Scientologists

    …are all much more hated than atheists.

    Get over yourself.

  102. 102
    Chava says:

    @fasteddie9318:

    “and the one religious tenet on which it seems impossible to misunderstand him was his rejection of a personal god. That’s unlike any version of Judaism I know, except Spinoza’s, and I’d venture to say that most practicing Jews would not identify Spinoza’s religious views as within the bounds of Judaism.”

    Not exactly. This is Reconstructionist Judaism in a nutshell. The Orthodox and perhaps many Conservative and some Reform believers (many are atheists and agnostics, in my experience) wouldn’t recognize Spinoza’s God as Judaism, but there are indeed practicing Jews who do not believe in a personal God.

  103. 103
    Winston Smith says:

    @Stefan:

    There’s certainly quite a bit of credible doubt about that, at least depending on what is meant by “divine.” I’d say that Einstein did not believe the universe was “divine” in the sense that it was governed or influenced by magical invisible supernatural beings, but I would say he thought it was “divine” in that it exhibited qualities of mathematical logic, beauty and precision—but that does not really imply religious faith, at least not as that is commonly understood.

    Einstein said quite a few more things that what you quoted above. Einstein had a view of spirituality which isn’t common, but then again, he had a view of the physical universe that was beyond most people’s grasp, as well. If you look at the sum of what he said on the subject, Einstein sounds quite a bit like a Merkabah mystic.

  104. 104
    Winston Smith says:

    @geg6:

    I am a good person who treats others as -they have proven beyond a reasonable doubt they deserve- my prejudices dictate.

    Fixed.

    If you were really a good person, you wouldn’t have to explain it to people.

  105. 105
  106. 106
    Remember November says:

    Religion is the belief in letting other people tell you what to believe. Spirituality is connecting with one’s inner being and wondering what happens next, and questing for that truth.

  107. 107
    Remember November says:

    @New Yorker:
    Amen. I bet maybe 3 out of 10 people can name the first three books of the Bible. Maybe 2 in 5 can name the first four of the Gospel.

  108. 108
    Chava says:

    @Remember November:

    Yes, and it’s helpful not to assume that spirituality is the same as religion. There is a certain amount of overlap, but the dogmatic, fundamentalist true believer is just as likely to attack the spiritual people within their religion as they would the nonbeliever, while the spiritual people (like Einstein) are more likely to accept science and secularism.

  109. 109

    […] Believers and Religious Illiteracy: Albert Einstein got there before Pew. Much amusement is being had over the story about how little believers know about their own religions (and less […]

  110. 110
    Mark says:

    This result is not what it seems. Take a look at the crosstabs:

    http://pewforum.org/Other-Beli.....urvey.aspx

    I took the 15-question quiz…Got 14/15. What did I get wrong?

    “Which of the following best describes the Catholic teaching about the bread and wine used for Communion?”

    A: “The bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”

    and not

    “The bread and wine are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”

    As I selected.

  111. 111
    Winston Smith says:

    @geg6:
    Golly. Three whole articles based on the same study. That’s Free-Republic-quality research right there. So, what horror did this study uncover?

    The most recent study was conducted by the University of Minnesota, which found that atheists ranked lower than “Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in ‘sharing their vision of American society.’ Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.”

    Well, gee whiz, nothing says, “I hate your fucking guts,” more than thinking that someone doesn’t share one’s vision of American society. All this time, I thought it was hate-crime statistics, or civil rights being denied (like the right to get married). But, no, the really revealing statistic is how much people think other people share a common vision of American society. Wow. I hate almost everyone I know!

    The second finding is a little more troubling, that people wouldn’t want their child to marry an atheist.

    Suck it, asshole.

    Then again, most parents want their kids to be happy, and if you are any indication, happy is not compatible with your worldview.

  112. 112
  113. 113

    @Nylund: I am as militant as necessary. I’d prefer to remain silent, but doing so appears to allow for the unrestrained growth of the American Taliban.
    Enjoy.

  114. 114
    DPirate says:

    Do you suppose you might get opposite results in a like quiz on evolution?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Believers and Religious Illiteracy: Albert Einstein got there before Pew. Much amusement is being had over the story about how little believers know about their own religions (and less […]

Comments are closed.