Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pew Pop Quiz on Religion: Good Grief

America apparently is a nation of very religious ignoramuses. I'm not all that surprised. Here's an excerpt from today's news:
"Pop Quiz: Survey Tests Americans on Religion"
ABC News (September 28, 2010)

"Atheists and Agnostics Scored the Most Right Answers

"America is one of the most religious nations on Earth, but a new poll finds that many Americans struggle to answer basic questions about faith, even their own.

"The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the results of a survey today that tested respondents on 32 questions about a variety of faiths. The questions ranged in complexity from the name of the Islamic holy book to the century that the Mormon religion was founded. Americans, on average, got only 16 answers right.

"Americans Quizzed on Religion

"Here's a few of the questions:

"Can you name the four gospels?

"If you said, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you're among only 45 percent of Americans who got it right.

"Click here to take the Pew's 'Religious Knowledge Quiz.'

"Another question: Is the Golden Rule one of the Ten Commandments?

"If you said no, you're among 55 percent of Americans who got it right.

"The results of the survey showed that those who knew the most about Christianity were Mormons. They averaged eight correct answers out of the 12 that were asked about the Christian faith. White Evangelicals were second in their knowledge of Christianity according to the study.

"Atheists Knew Most About Religion

"Agnostics and atheists did particularly well on questions about world religions like what religion is the Dalai Lama and the meaning of Ramadan. Overall, atheists and agnostics answered the most questions correctly, an average of 21 right answers...."

Oops: 15 Good Questions; One Embarrassing Mistake

I took the quiz - 15 questions: most of them of the 'an adult really should know this' variety, in my opinion.

The one I got wrong was "What was Joseph Smith's religion?" The options were: Catholic; Jewish; Buddhist; Mormon; Hindu. I must have been asleep when I answered that one: I read "Smith" as "Stalin." Major oops.

Anyway: the questions are, in my opinion, reasonable enough. Like:
  • "In which religion are Vishnu and Shiva central figures?"
    • (Hinduism)
  • "According to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, is a public school teacher permitted to lead a class in prayer, or not?""
    • (Not allowed)
  • "According to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, is a public school teacher permitted to read from the Bible as an example of literature, or not?"
    • (Permitted)
  • "What was the name of the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation?"
    • Martin Luther
  • "What Is Ramadan…?"
    • The Islamic holy month
That last question, for example, should be obvious to anyone who reads the headlines routinely. Of the groups tracked, only Jews and Atheists/Agnostics got that one right more than 55 percent of the time - at 90 and 75 percent, respectively.

Good grief.

This, by the way, is one reason why I don't mind when relatively few people turn out to vote. I figure that if someone doesn't care, hasn't kept track of the issues, and would rather stay home and relax - we're all better off. And that's another topic.

Some of the low scores could be the result of perception errors, like my "Stalin" for "Smith" - but it's hard to imagine that so many folks would get so many wrong through misreading the questions.

It looks to me like Catholics in America aren't the only ones who have done a miserable job of teaching their children. Whether this is a new development, or something that's more obvious, now that sampling like that Pew survey are done more often? I don't know.

I'm inclined to see this as part of the post-WWII 'happy days' phenomenon, where a combination - in my view - of prosperity, trust in 'experts,' and frequent relocation away from extended families resulted in a succession of colorful decades.

I'd be more nostalgic about the 'good old days' of poodle skirts and making out at the drive-in, if my memory wasn't so good. And if I hadn't lived through the sixties, when the social land mines planted in 'happy days' started going off.

Again, in my opinion.

Never Mind Wringing Our Hands: There's Work to Do

I'm not particularly happy about the Pew results: but I don't see a reason to start moaning about the collapse of America, mom, and apple pie, either.

It's pretty obvious that Americans surveyed are barely literate about religious matters. That's the bad news.

The good news is that we live in an age when information is available to an extent that was - literally - science fiction when I was growing up.

I've listed a (very) few online resources in the Official Catholic Websites section of the Blogroll/Catholic Links page. Both the Holy See and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church in text format. Their indexing is less than ideal, though: I generally use Google to search for information there.

The point is, we can learn. Authoritative information is there: not the sort of 'I heard some guy say' stuff you get in the forums, chat rooms, and other social media - not what a sorehead with an axe to grind feels. That's important, since even with reforms going on - I've gotten the strong impression that there are quite a few parishes in America where an alternatively-accurate version of the Gospel according to Newsweek is being preached.

And that's yet another topic.

Related posts:
A tip of the hat to RBLevin, on Twitter, for the heads-up on the Pew survey.


Anonymous said...

I am one of those in the athiest/agnostic category who aced the quiz. And I attribute the success to my 16 years of Catholic education... where I learned a ton about the Bible, and then world religion. I also learned too much contrarian information that made it impossible for me to believe that religion is nothing but a clever meme, no matter which flavor.

It's no surprise to see that athiest/agnostic category did so well on the survey. I routinely notice that the most religiously aware individuals are the athiests, agnostics, and well educated individuals (who are often in the A category). The least aware are the evangelical Christians.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Actually, Evangelicals didn't do too badly on the quiz.

I'm a convert to Catholicism, so what I know of "Catholic" education in America is second hand. What I've heard and read, in too many cases, is a severe indictment of the Catholic Church in America.

Accommodating local cultures is one thing: an uneven embracing of what local intellectual leaders (shaman, college professors, whatever) want to believe - that's something else.

Sorry to hear that you didn't have a good experience.

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Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

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