Religious bridging more important than religious literacy

September 29, 2010
By tomsander

David Campbell, co-author of American Grace, was cited in a Christian Science Monitor article for the belief that having inter-religious social ties (religious bridging) is more important to tolerance than knowledge of other faiths’ beliefs (religious literacy).

This in reaction to a recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey that found that agnostics and atheists, even controlling for education, generally have higher levels of religious knowledge than Protestants or Catholics.  (Jews and Mormons were close behind atheists/agnostics.)

Pew reports: “On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey… Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7.”  There were roughly 4 questions each on eight topics:  Christianity (including Protestantism and Catholicism); Judaism; Islam; Hinduism; Buddhism; Mormonism; atheism/agnosticism; and church-state issues in the US.  The score measures your literacy not only about YOUR religion, but about others’ religious beliefs as well. Among the religious, those who attended church once a week or more and considered faith important to them scored higher than those in a faith tradition who were less frequent attenders and to whom faith was less important.

People who say they frequently talk about religion with friends and family get an average of roughly two more questions right than those who say they rarely or never discuss religion. People with the highest levels of religious commitment – those who say that they attend worship services at least once a week and that religion is very important in their lives – generally demonstrate higher levels of religious knowledge than those with medium or low religious commitment.

Even the levels of ignorance about respondents OWN religion were startling:

More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45 percent) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ. About half of Protestants (53 percent) cannot correctly identify Martin Luther as the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation, which made their religion a separate branch of Christianity. Roughly four-in-ten Jews (43 percent) do not recognize that Maimonides, one of the most venerated rabbis in history, was Jewish.

Take the quiz yourself here or here

For more on the Pew Survey, click here.

Also see NY Times article, “Basic Religion Test Stumps Many Americans” (Laurie Goodwin, 9/28/10, NYT)

Christian Science Monitor, “In US, atheists know religion better than believers. Is that bad?” (9/28/10, by G. Jeffrey MacDonald)


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