Thursday, 7 November 2013

American atheists most religiously literate Americans

While it’s unknown how many atheists use YouVersion or other Bible apps, polls show atheists are among the most religiously literate Americans, topping Jews, Mormons and other Christians in a 2010 Pew Research Center poll.

Atheists seem to use a Bible App containing the Christian Scriptures which they can quote to have the Christians “tripped up”. Christians seemed to be sitting at the bottom of the knowledge rung, having been topped not only by atheists but by Jews and Mormons as well.

The Pew Forum gives that on average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions. 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. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.

On questions about Christianity – including a battery of questions about the Bible – Mormons (7.9 out of 12 right on average) and white evangelical Protestants (7.3 correct on average) show the highest levels of knowledge. Jews and atheists/agnostics stand out for their knowledge of other world religions, including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism; out of 11 such questions on the survey, Jews answer 7.9 correctly (nearly three better than the national average) and atheists/agnostics answer 7.5 correctly (2.5 better than the national average). Atheists/agnostics and Jews also do particularly well on questions about the role of religion in public life, including a question about what the U.S. Constitution says about religion.

More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45%) 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%) 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%) do not recognize that Maimonides, one of the most venerated rabbis in history, was Jewish.

In addition, fewer than half of Americans (47%) know that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist. Fewer than four-in-ten (38%) correctly associate Vishnu and Shiva with Hinduism. And only about a quarter of all Americans (27%) correctly answer that most people in Indonesia – the country with the world’s largest Muslim population – are Muslims.

Other findings of the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey include:
  • On world religions other than Christianity, about six-in-ten Americans (62%) know that most people in India are Hindus. About half know that Ramadan is the Islamic holy month (52%) and can name the Koran as the Muslim holy book (54%). Roughly one-third (36%) correctly associate striving for nirvana with Buddhism.
  • Two Missionaries of .
    Two Missionaries of . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
    Around four-in-ten Americans know that the Mormon religion was founded sometime after 1800 (44%) and that the Book of Mormon tells the story of Jesus appearing to people in the Americas (40%). About half (51%) correctly identify Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as a Mormon.
  • In addition to questions about religious knowledge, the survey included nine general knowledge questions (on history, politics, science and literature) for comparison purposes. These show, for example, that about six-in-ten Americans can name the vice president of the United States (59%) and understand that lasers do not work by focusing sound waves (60%). More than seven-in-ten (72%) correctly associate Susan B. Anthony with the movement to give women the right to vote, while just 42% know that Herman Melville was the author of the novel Moby Dick.
  • Overall, people who score well on the general knowledge questions also tend to do well on the religion questions. Atheists/agnostics and Jews correctly answer an average of roughly seven of the nine general knowledge questions. Among the public overall, the average respondent correctly answers 5.2 of these general knowledge questions.
  • While people with a high level of religious commitment do better than average on the religion questions, people with low levels of religious commitment do better than average on the general knowledge questions.
  • Many Americans are devoted readers of Scripture: More than a third (37%) say they read the Bible or other Holy Scriptures at least once a week, not counting worship services. But Americans as a whole are much less inclined to read other books about religion. Nearly half of Americans who are affiliated with a religion (48%) say they “seldom” or “never” read books (other than Scripture) or visit websites about their own religion, and 70% say they seldom or never read books or visit websites about other religions.

  • Mormons, black Protestants and white evangelicals are the most frequent readers of materials about religion. Fully half of all Mormons (51%) and roughly three-in-ten white evangelicals (30%) and black Protestants (29%) report that they read books or go online to learn about their own religion at least once a week. Only a small fraction of all religiously affiliated Americans – 6% of the general public and no more than 8% of any religious group – say they read books (other than Scripture) or visit websites to learn about religions other than their own at least once a week.


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