What’s Your Basic Religious Knowledge Like?

A friend posted a link to this Pew Research quiz focused on general religious knowledge. It’s a selection of questions taken from their broader survey that they administered to Americans to see how well they understood the basic tenets of many world religions. The results were released yesterday.

For reference, I scored a 14/15 on the quiz. My one miss was on a Buddhism question, which doesn’t really surprise me, since it’s not a religion I know that much about at all. (Although even then, I had it narrowed down to one of two possible answers. I picked the wrong one.) I didn’t think the questions themselves were particularly difficult at all. It was all surface level stuff. Things anyone even glancingly familiar with a religion should be aware of.

And Americans as a whole flunked it with flying colors.

We could generally get above a 50% when the questions were focused on Christianity, but once the survey edged into Judaism or Islam or Hinduism and the like, then good luck. On the whole, people answered 14/32 questions correctly. The people who did the best? Jews, followed closely by agnostics and atheists.

The Jewish success rate makes sense, as they would naturally tend to do better on the questions around Judaism, and just living in America often steeps you in Christianity enough to be able to answer those questions fairly reliably, I would imagine. For agnostics and atheists to do so well, however, seems to indicate to me they’re not casually dismissing religion. They’re reading into it. Studying it. Striving at least to understand it in a way many people who profess faith don’t.

None of this was really that surprising to me, even if it was discouraging. My two years as a missionary in former East Germany confirmed these results. Many people I spoke with didn’t understand their own faith’s religious tenets, let alone those of other beliefs. And often it was the agnostics and the atheists who had a much more complete picture.

Pew notes that college education generally accounted for more correct answers, which at least gives me some hope. (Though it also probably implies that the more education you have, the more likely you are to be an atheist or an agnostic.) It’s important to note that Jews, atheists, and agnostics still outperformed their peers, even when education level was taken out of the equation.

I’m not sure what to say other than that this was something I found interesting, and thought you would find interesting too. I personally would prefer an informed populace to one that just blindly believes what their parents believed. I would always tell people on my mission that I was there to inform and clarify the tenets of my religion to people who didn’t understand them. I think once you can understand a person, you have a much better shot at not dismissing them from a label or a preconceived notion that’s often wrong.


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