Atheists and Agnostics Know More About Religion Than Protestants and Catholics

Photo: David Ball (CC)

Photo: David Ball (CC)

Makes sense to me! From the Telegraph:

Many professed Christians questioned in a survey showed a lack of knowledge even of their own faiths.

Forty-five per cent of Roman Catholics who participated in the study didn’t know that, according to church teaching, the bread and wine used in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ.

More than half of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation.

The survey conducted for the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life aimed to test a broad range of religious knowledge, including understanding of the Bible, core teachings of different faiths and major figures in religious history.

Respondents to the survey were asked 32 questions with a range of difficulty, including whether they could name the Islamic holy book and the first book of the Bible, or say what century the Mormon religion was founded. On average, participants in the survey answered correctly overall for half of the survey questions.

Atheists and agnostics scored highest, with an average of 21 correct answers, while Jews and Mormons followed with about 20 accurate responses. Protestants overall averaged 16 correct answers, while Catholics followed with a score of about 15…

[continues in the Telegraph]

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56 Comments on "Atheists and Agnostics Know More About Religion Than Protestants and Catholics"

  1. Anonymous | Sep 28, 2010 at 4:53 pm |

    I suppose that makes sense, up to a point.

    By “religion” most people appear to mean “institutionalized ritual” rather than the thoughtful reconciliation of mundane realities to transcendant mysteries. So if these studies focus on understanding of spiritual doctrines (i.e., about 2% of the focus of institutionalized ritual) rather than social/political policy ( sadly, about 98% of the focus), naturally the most enthusiastic attendees are going to come up short.

    And it’s those sadly uncurious ‘just-following-orders’ types that ruin the experience for everybody else. They’re typically seen as the bedrock and pillar of their congregations, but really all they’re doing is setting the bar intolerably low for the rest of us who might otherwise get something out of spiritual doctrines–accurately understood. I don’t blame non-believers for rejecting a community that mistakes poetry for scientific fact.

    It’s all just metaphor, man. Reaching towards the ineffable against the pull of our limited capacity for understanding. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” as Fitzgerald wrote about that stupid, doomed bastard Gatsby.

  2. Liam_McGonagle | Sep 28, 2010 at 12:53 pm |

    I suppose that makes sense, up to a point.

    By “religion” most people appear to mean “institutionalized ritual” rather than the thoughtful reconciliation of mundane realities to transcendant mysteries. So if these studies focus on understanding of spiritual doctrines (i.e., about 2% of the focus of institutionalized ritual) rather than social/political policy ( sadly, about 98% of the focus), naturally the most enthusiastic attendees are going to come up short.

    And it’s those sadly uncurious ‘just-following-orders’ types that ruin the experience for everybody else. They’re typically seen as the bedrock and pillar of their congregations, but really all they’re doing is setting the bar intolerably low for the rest of us who might otherwise get something out of spiritual doctrines–accurately understood. I don’t blame non-believers for rejecting a community that mistakes poetry for scientific fact.

    It’s all just metaphor, man. Reaching towards the ineffable against the pull of our limited capacity for understanding. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” as Fitzgerald wrote about that stupid, doomed bastard Gatsby.

  3. Were they practising Catholics?

    Next poll: do children know more about math than their parents?

  4. Were they practising Catholics?

    Next poll: do children know more about math than their parents?

  5. Anonymous | Sep 28, 2010 at 6:52 pm |

    As Mr. Penis implied – the more you learn and observe about religion the more likely it becomes that you will reject it. Even if the basic philosophy is sound, the structure and dogma is so often at odds with it.

    The less you know, the more gullible you tend to be.

  6. GoodDoktorBad | Sep 28, 2010 at 2:52 pm |

    As Mr. Penis implied – the more you learn and observe about religion the more likely it becomes that you will reject it. Even if the basic philosophy is sound, the structure and dogma is so often at odds with it.

    The less you know, the more gullible you tend to be.

    • Liam_McGonagle | Sep 28, 2010 at 3:35 pm |

      You don’t mean to tell me that you believe that there is no place for metaphor or mystery in society? If you really meant that I think you would not write so well as you do. In fact, in the alternate universe implied by a literal interpretation, your last post would look something more like this:

      “1001000111001001010101010101000001111101010101010”

      Some dude beats his wife every day. (Probably not the indenticle same dude, but some certain number of individual dudes). That doesn’t mean that people are gonna stop f*cking anytime soon.

      And some dude finds inspiration to be a decent human being through religion. (Again, probably not the very same dude every day–you get my metaphorical allusion here).

      • Religion is neither mystery nor metaphor. Religion is when metaphor is interpreted as fact and mystery is painted over with dogma.

      • GoodDoktorBad | Sep 28, 2010 at 5:06 pm |

        I’m not sure how you construed that I think “there is no place for metaphor or mystery in society”.
        Indeed, if there is no room for metaphor and mystery, then there is no room for life itself, since life itself is the biggest mystery there has ever been.
        I’d also add that religion tends to explain “metaphor and mystery” with more metaphor and mystery. The problem I have with this is how it tends to promote a singular philosophy above all others. This ironically
        attempts at killing the very concept of metaphor and mystery you speak of. In theory, if you swallow it all – “hook, line and sinker” -the mystery is over. The priest says so. You believe it and behave accordingly.
        Sometimes I think religion is for people who don’t like mystery or are afraid of it.
        I can understand that. I enjoy simplicity, but not for its own sake.

        I ask myself: “are my answers to lifes questions absolute?” Of course not. Are religions answers to life absolute? Also, of course not. Is there a God? Perhaps, I just have never met him that I am aware of.
        Everyones journey is to be traveled essentialy alone. Whatever you decide, it is your business and your life -not some other entity -like religion.

        • Liam_McGonagle | Sep 28, 2010 at 6:20 pm |

          I suspect that we’ve just been talking past each other and at heart have no fundamental disagreement.

          That is if I am correct to understand that you believe that a balanced appreciation of metaphor and mystery are valuable. Maybe that’s what Andrew is getting at, too.

          For my part I have always understood there to be a disconnect between the institutional and spiritual faces of religion. The spiritual face, the one that doesn’t serve as a political indoctrination tool, is 100% about metaphor and mystery. (Hence introductory to my first post).

          I believe that as explanation of the MECHANICAL operation of our universe, religious stories could only be bullshit. Therefore the main reason they’ve survived changing economic/political contexts is because their primary importance is really the internal, subjective impact they have on their audience. The best of these stories should be greatly respected and never disrespected by conflation with scientific fact.

          Admittedly not all the stories have a super-edifying impact on their audiences. Politically motivated racism, misogyny, out-moded cosmologies, etc., etc. I have not even identified a single tradition uncontaminated by these negative elements–secular or religious. But that doesn’t mean that the good stories mixed in there are totally worthless.

          Christianity in particular gets a bad rap these days on account of some dunderheads who seem more fascinated by the box this incredible, mysterious gift came in rather than the core doctrine itself; namely that heroic altruism in the face of a crabbed selfish authority survives and eventually surpasses the squalid lives of their persecutors.

          But that altruism can never be narrowly defined in legalistic or tribal terms–it consists essentially in the willingness to respond to the generosity and beauty of others, even if they be from the tribe of your hereditary enemies.

          But my guess is that if you even finished reading that last bit you are gagging/vomiting over what you consider to be a hypocritical or naive view of the matter, given the vast crimes that Christ’s image has been used to justify over the ages. If you have an alternate metaphorical articulation of acceptable virtues, I’d love to hear it.

          Hell, I’m not married to a rigid, dogmatic scheme, though like anyone else I do have limits on how fast I can process. Any vision that can put me into fuller contact with those virtues is fine with me.

          • GoodDoktorBad | Sep 28, 2010 at 7:02 pm |

            You mentioned: “a disconnect between the institutional and spiritual faces of religion.”
            I would only comment that there is a “disconnect” because the two aren’t connectable. Spirituality is a personal thing -your personal connection to the universe or God or whatever, ya know, 1 on 1 with “creation”.

            Institutions are not connectable with personal belief, they exist outside the personal realm and its dogmas only enter that realm selectively and at the permission of the individual. We are the door.
            Institutional thinking is like someone at your door, knocking. How you respond to that knocking is your choice. The thing at the door is not a guaranteed “buddy”.

            All opinions, including my own, are potentially “a hypocritical or naive view of the matter”. So, don’t sweat it. For me, the “truth” is always unfolding, folding up, spindled, mutilated, worthy of pursuit -yet somehow -seemingly unattainable.
            Wheeeeeee!

  7. Anonymous | Sep 28, 2010 at 7:35 pm |

    You don’t mean to tell me that you believe that there is no place for metaphor or mystery in society? If you really meant that I think you would not write so well as you do. In fact, in the alternate universe implied by a literal interpretation, your last post would look something more like this:

    “1001000111001001010101010101000001111101010101010”

    Some dude beats his wife every day. (Probably not the indenticle same dude, but some certain number of individual dudes). That doesn’t mean that people are gonna stop f*cking anytime soon.

    And some dude finds inspiration to be a decent human being through religion. (Again, probably not the very same dude every day–you get my metaphorical allusion here).

  8. Religion is neither mystery nor metaphor. Religion is when metaphor is interpreted as fact and mystery is painted over with dogma.

  9. Newsflash, people who disagree with Christianity know more about it than the followers of the religion that discourages actually learning it’s text and precepts and just believing in a figure head.

    Unsurprisingly, Jews and Mormons were only 1 percent behind Atheists/Agnostics, which is probably due to a failure on the part of the survey to differentiate between Orthodox Jews (who are more likely to be very aware) and Reform/Secular ones (who are likely to know next to nothing) and a similar split exists in Mormonism.

  10. Newsflash, people who disagree with Christianity know more about it than the followers of the religion that discourages actually learning it’s text and precepts and just believing in a figure head.

    Unsurprisingly, Jews and Mormons were only 1 percent behind Atheists/Agnostics, which is probably due to a failure on the part of the survey to differentiate between Orthodox Jews (who are more likely to be very aware) and Reform/Secular ones (who are likely to know next to nothing) and a similar split exists in Mormonism.

    • Wrong. This entire survey is garbage because they are asking about general religious knowledge. The average Catholic may not know as much about Islam as an atheist/agnostic, but a Muslim and a Catholic follower certainly on average know more about their OWN religions than atheists do.

      • “More than half of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation.”

        Or not.

      • Flyhigher42 | Sep 29, 2010 at 2:35 am |

        Really??? So how many Christians know they are supposed to believe that a donkey (not just a snake) had a conversation with a man? (Numbers 22: 1-35) My take? One’s emotional attachment to one’s faith prevents them from seeing what is logical and reasonable…that ALL named gods got their names, stories, identities, etc from MEN!!!

      • GoodDoktorBad | Oct 2, 2010 at 12:09 pm |

        Consider the fact that many athiests and agnostics are formerly Catholic or some other religion.
        These folks have traveled through the flaming ring of dogma and made an “educated” decision.
        (“educated” not necessarily in a scholastic sense but through the experience of their travels.)

        Athiests who have always been athiests by default, I think are less likely to have the specific knowledge of a singular religion like Catholicism.

        • Not necessarily, I was raised in an atheist household (which I didn’t know until I asked my mom at about 10-12 and she told me she was an atheist) but when I ask what religion my mom was when I was about 4 my mom gave me a copy of the text book called World Religions, told me to read it then read the texts it talked about and make up my own mind when I had more information about the whole issue. From all the atheists I have talked to, most of the ones raised in atheist families tell me similar stories.

      • Wrong. I argue that the atheist and agnostics I know (including myself) are far more informed when it comes to religion (any) than even followers of that faith. A belief in science forces you to be well informed. . .

      • Nope, since many of those religious people have never read the whole books they proclaim to believe completely and many atheists become that way from reading those very same books.

  11. Anonymous | Sep 28, 2010 at 8:59 pm |

    Wrong. This entire survey is garbage because they are asking about general religious knowledge. The average Catholic may not know as much about Islam as an atheist/agnostic, but a Muslim and a Catholic follower certainly on average know more about their OWN religions than atheists do.

  12. Anonymous | Sep 28, 2010 at 9:06 pm |

    I’m not sure how you construed that I think “there is no place for metaphor or mystery in society”.
    Indeed, if there is no room for metaphor and mystery, then there is no room for life itself, since life itself is the biggest mystery there has ever been.
    I’d also add that religion tends to explain “metaphor and mystery” with more metaphor and mystery. The problem I have with this is how it tends to promote a singular philosophy above all others. This ironically
    attempts at killing the very concept of metaphor and mystery you speak of. In theory, if you swallow it all – “hook, line and sinker” -the mystery is over. The priest says so. You believe it and behave accordingly.
    Sometimes I think religion is for people who don’t like mystery or are afraid of it.
    I can understand that. I enjoy simplicity, but not for its own sake.

    I ask myself: “are my answers to lifes questions absolute?” Of course not. Are religions answers to life absolute? Also, of course not. Is there a God? Perhaps, I just have never met him that I am aware of.
    Everyones journey is to be traveled essentialy alone. Whatever you decide, it is your business and your life -not some other entity -like religion.

  13. Anonymous | Sep 28, 2010 at 10:20 pm |

    I suspect that we’ve just been talking past each other and at heart have no fundamental disagreement.

    That is if I am correct to understand that you believe that a balanced appreciation of metaphor and mystery are valuable. Maybe that’s what Andrew is getting at, too.

    For my part I have always understood there to be a disconnect between the institutional and spiritual faces of religion. The spiritual face, the one that doesn’t serve as a political indoctrination tool, is 100% about metaphor and mystery. (Hence introductory to my first post).

    I believe that as explanation of the MECHANICAL operation of our universe, religious stories could only be bullshit. Therefore the main reason they’ve survived changing economic/political contexts is because their primary importance is really the internal, subjective impact they have on their audience. The best of these stories should be greatly respected and never disrespected by conflation with scientific fact.

    Admittedly not all the stories have a super-edifying impact on their audiences. Politically motivated racism, misogyny, out-moded cosmologies, etc., etc. I have not even identified a single tradition uncontaminated by these negative elements–secular or religious. But that doesn’t mean that the good stories mixed in there are totally worthless.

    Christianity in particular gets a bad rap these days on account of some dunderheads who seem more fascinated by the box this incredible, mysterious gift came in rather than the core doctrine itself; namely that heroic altruism in the face of a crabbed selfish authority survives and eventually surpasses the squalid lives of their persecutors.

    But that altruism can never be narrowly defined in legalistic or tribal terms–it consists essentially in the willingness to respond to the generosity and beauty of others, even if they be from the tribe of your hereditary enemies.

    But my guess is that if you even finished reading that last bit you are gagging/vomiting over what you consider to be a hypocritical or naive view of the matter, given the vast crimes that Christ’s image has been used to justify over the ages. If you have an alternate metaphorical articulation of acceptable virtues, I’d love to hear it.

    Hell, I’m not married to a rigid, dogmatic scheme, though like anyone else I do have limits on how fast I can process. Any vision that can put me into fuller contact with those virtues is fine with me.

  14. Anonymous | Sep 28, 2010 at 11:02 pm |

    You mentioned: “a disconnect between the institutional and spiritual faces of religion.”
    I would only comment that there is a “disconnect” because the two aren’t connectable. Spirituality is a personal thing -your personal connection to the universe or God or whatever, ya know, 1 on 1 with “creation”.

    Institutions are not connectable with personal belief, they exist outside the personal realm and its dogmas only enter that realm selectively and at the permission of the individual. We are the door.
    Institutional thinking is like someone at your door, knocking. How you respond to that knocking is your choice. The thing at the door is not a guaranteed “buddy”.

    All opinions, including my own, are potentially “a hypocritical or naive view of the matter”. So, don’t sweat it. For me, the “truth” is always unfolding, folding up, spindled, mutilated, worthy of pursuit -yet somehow -seemingly unattainable.
    Wheeeeeee!

  15. “More than half of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation.”

    Or not.

  16. Most people mindlessly inherit the religion of their parents. I didn’t begin thinking deeply about the religion I grew up with until I started talking to atheists online.

    Many atheists became atheists later in life, following a period of research and evaluation, and are regularly in the position of having to defend themselves. Jews and Mormons are minorities who are likewise in a position of having to explain or defend their beliefs more frequently than Christians. What this survey probably reflects is that people who encounter the most resistance to their beliefs have a more thorough knowledge of religion. If American Muslims were surveyed, my guess is that they’d score high as well.

  17. Most people mindlessly inherit the religion of their parents. I didn’t begin thinking deeply about the religion I grew up with until I started talking to atheists online.

    Many atheists became atheists later in life, following a period of research and evaluation, and are regularly in the position of having to defend themselves. Jews and Mormons are minorities who are likewise in a position of having to explain or defend their beliefs more frequently than Christians. What this survey probably reflects is that people who encounter the most resistance to their beliefs have a more thorough knowledge of religion. If American Muslims were surveyed, my guess is that they’d score high as well.

    • Personally I became an Atheist at around 11, when I finally realized that I didn’t feel “the love of Jesus” in my heart. There was no research, or examination. Now, well over a decade later I have realized there is either no God, or if he does exist, is insane and should be opposed.

  18. They might know more about religion, but they don’t know God.

  19. They might know more about religion, but they don’t know God.

  20. Hadrian999 | Sep 29, 2010 at 3:56 am |

    most of the religious don’t either.

  21. Flyhigher42 | Sep 29, 2010 at 6:35 am |

    Really??? So how many Christians know they are supposed to believe that a donkey (not just a snake) had a conversation with a man? (Numbers 22: 1-35) My take? One’s emotional attachment to one’s faith prevents them from seeing what is logical and reasonable…that ALL named gods got their names, stories, identities, etc from MEN!!!

  22. Perversely…one of the most literate Christians I know of, who is exceptional in the sense that he retained much of what he read (Bible, Koran, Torah, etc etc)…started off as an atheist, then a pagan, then finally as a Christian after resolving his own questions about faith…

    …he’s not very popular in churches though…he knows more verses and history than most preachers…

    …and he’s gay as a picnic basket. Gotta love a guy who never conforms to stereotypes!

  23. Perversely…one of the most literate Christians I know of, who is exceptional in the sense that he retained much of what he read (Bible, Koran, Torah, etc etc)…started off as an atheist, then a pagan, then finally as a Christian after resolving his own questions about faith…

    …he’s not very popular in churches though…he knows more verses and history than most preachers…

    …and he’s gay as a picnic basket. Gotta love a guy who never conforms to stereotypes!

  24. Personally I became an Atheist at around 11, when I finally realized that I didn’t feel “the love of Jesus” in my heart. There was no research, or examination. Now, well over a decade later I have realized there is either no God, or if he does exist, is insane and should be opposed.

  25. Anonymous | Oct 2, 2010 at 4:09 pm |

    Consider the fact that many athiests and agnostics are formerly Catholic or some other religion.
    These folks have traveled through the flaming ring of dogma and made an “educated” decision.
    (“educated” not necessarily in a scholastic sense but through the experience of their travels.)

    Athiests who have always been athiests by default, I think are less likely to have the specific knowledge of a singular religion like Catholicism.

  26. There’s an obvious conclusion that everyone seems to be overlooking… all of your speculations as to why the believers of different religions scored the way they did are irrelevant. The results of this survey imply exactly one thing of any significance: The more you know about religion, the less likely you are to believe it.

  27. There’s an obvious conclusion that everyone seems to be overlooking… all of your speculations as to why the believers of different religions scored the way they did are irrelevant. The results of this survey imply exactly one thing of any significance: The more you know about religion, the less likely you are to believe it.

  28. Wrong. I argue that the atheist and agnostics I know (including myself) are far more informed when it comes to religion (any) than even followers of that faith. A belief in science forces you to be well informed. . .

  29. Anonymous | Jan 9, 2011 at 12:03 am |

    See? Religion is synonymous with ignorance.

  30. Anonymous | Jan 8, 2011 at 8:03 pm |

    See? Religion is synonymous with ignorance.

  31. Anonymous | Jan 9, 2011 at 12:15 am |

    Oh they do know Gods, more than you could ever imagine.

  32. Nope, since many of those religious people have never read the whole books they proclaim to believe completely and many atheists become that way from reading those very same books.

  33. Not necessarily, I was raised in an atheist household (which I didn’t know until I asked my mom at about 10-12 and she told me she was an atheist) but when I ask what religion my mom was when I was about 4 my mom gave me a copy of the text book called World Religions, told me to read it then read the texts it talked about and make up my own mind when I had more information about the whole issue. From all the atheists I have talked to, most of the ones raised in atheist families tell me similar stories.

  34. Not necessarily, I was raised in an atheist household (which I didn’t know until I asked my mom at about 10-12 and she told me she was an atheist) but when I ask what religion my mom was when I was about 4 my mom gave me a copy of the text book called World Religions, told me to read it then read the texts it talked about and make up my own mind when I had more information about the whole issue. From all the atheists I have talked to, most of the ones raised in atheist families tell me similar stories.

  35. Not necessarily, I was raised in an atheist household (which I didn’t know until I asked my mom at about 10-12 and she told me she was an atheist) but when I ask what religion my mom was when I was about 4 my mom gave me a copy of the text book called World Religions, told me to read it then read the texts it talked about and make up my own mind when I had more information about the whole issue. From all the atheists I have talked to, most of the ones raised in atheist families tell me similar stories.

  36. amazing…the more I understand Athiets and Christians the more I see the divine manifest in Athiets that these Christin’s of convenient conscience lack. God is real…God is you

  37. amazing…the more I understand Athiets and Christians the more I see the divine manifest in Athiets that these Christin’s of convenient conscience lack. God is real…God is you

  38. A real Iconoclast…my hero

  39. Dee343434 | Mar 10, 2011 at 9:37 pm |

    Catholics don’t know much about their own religion? not really a newsflash… :/

  40. Dee343434 | Mar 10, 2011 at 5:37 pm |

    Catholics don’t know much about their own religion? not really a newsflash… :/

Comments are closed.