Mailvox: religious ignorance

Much has been made of the fact that atheists and agnostics scored the highest on the Pew Forum’s recent quiz on the world’s religions. I’ve certainly received a lot of emails about it from atheists and Christians alike. But what hasn’t been pointed out is that they still only answered 65 percent of the questions correctly. This may help explain the dichotomy we often see here between the atheist’s belief that he knows a lot about religion and his demonstrated ignorance of the tenets of a particular religion. The fact that an atheist happens to have heard of Vajrayana Buddhism or Divine Command theory, usually through a second-hand reference, will set him well ahead of the average religious individual. But it doesn’t actually mean that he knows anything about any specific religion or that his knowledge is likely to compare favorably with that of a religious adherent who happens to take his religion seriously.

Furthermore, logic suggests that someone who subscribes to no religion is far more likely to be familiar with the competing tenets of the various religions than any one adherent is to be familiar with the others. This perspective is supported by the fact that both Jews and Mormons outscored atheists and agnostics when the questions related to Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism were left out of the equation and that Mormons and evangelicals scored much better than anyone – 86 percent and 73 percent respectively – on questions related to the Bible.

So, my conclusion is that atheists should try to keep in mind that while they know more about religion in general than most evangelicals do, they don’t know as much about the Bible or Christianity. And Christians should remember that knowing a lot about Christianity is not synonymous with knowing a lot about religion.

So, if you’re interested, take the short version of the quiz yourself and report on how you did. Here is my score, which apparently would have had me in the top .02 percent: “You answered 15 out of 15 questions correctly for a score of 100%.”

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