Thirty-two questions about religion, posed by the Pew Forum, should give a good idea as to how much people know about religion, right?
To read the latest news on this, you would think so. Seems a lot of respondents didn’t know much: “Only eight of the 3,412 survey respondents got all 32 questions right. Six got them all wrong.” (Source: CNN)
Not that I’m a know-it-all, although some think that I think I am, I decided to try CNN’s abbreviated survey. Turns out it was pretty simple. I scored 10 out of 10. But what does that really mean? It means I know a lot about a few things, and I know a little about a lot of things. It doesn’t mean I know everything. But alas, this really isn’t about me. It’s about stupid surveys.
The questions were multiple choice. I could have answered them just as easily if they were fill-in-the-blank. Anyway, with no apologies to CNN or Pew, here are their questions sans response choices or correct answers:
- Where, according to the Bible, was Jesus born?
- Which of these is NOT in the Ten Commandments?
- Mother Teresa was…? (Religion choices followed)
- Whose writings and actions inspired the Reformation?
- When does the Jewish Sabbath begin?
- Joseph Smith was…? (Religion choices followed)
- Ramadan is…? (Religion/event choices followed)
- What is the religion of most people in Indonesia?
- An agnostic is…? (Belief choices followed)
- According to the Supreme Court, can a public school teacher read from the Bible as an example of literature? (T/F)
OK, so now that you’ve seen the questions, what does such a survey show? It touches on multiple religions, historical figures, holidays, legal cases, cultural anthropology, geography, vocabulary, the Torah, and the Bible. The survey is an abbreviated Trivial Pursuit à la religion.
The CNN article takes a swipe at the results in such a way as to suggest that certain groups are more or less ignorant than others. OK, that’s just my sensitivity seeping through, but sorry, that’s the way I see it. Here’s an example from the article:
The survey is full of surprising findings.
For example, it’s not evangelicals or Catholics who did best – it’s atheists and agnostics.
It’s not Bible-belt Southerners who scored highest – they came at the bottom.
Those who believe the Bible is the literal word of God did slightly worse than average, while those who say it is not the word of God scored slightly better.
Barely half of all Catholics know that when they take communion, the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ, according to Catholic doctrine.
And only about one in three know that a public school teacher is allowed to teach a comparative religion class – although nine out of 10 know that teacher isn’t allowed by the Supreme Court to lead a class in prayer.
Hmm. Sounds as if the subtext is suggesting that people with strong religious beliefs don’t know what they believe in. The questions in the sample would suggest that perhaps they don’t know enough about others’ beliefs, but not necessarily about their own.
It would be nice to see the results and to be able to slice and dice it for myself. For instance, I’d like to know how a person did on questions about their own religion compared to questions about other religions. And did the method of polling skew the results? The Pew Forum quizzed 3,400 Americans by phone. Thirty-two questions asked by a total stranger over a phone. How many respondents got worn out after the first 10-15 questions and just wanted to get off of the phone?
Here’s a conclusion the survey author offers:
“When it comes to religion, there are a lot of things that Americans are unfamiliar with. That’s the main takeaway,” says Greg Smith, a senior researcher at the think tank and one of the main authors of the survey.
Smith has a theory about why atheists did so well on the quiz – they have thought more about religion than most people.
“Very few people say that they were raised as atheists and agnostics,” he explains.
About three out of four were raised as Christians, he says.
“They were raised in a faith and have made a decision to identify themselves with groups that tend to be fairly unpopular,” atheists and agnostics, he says.
“That decision presupposes having given some thought to these things,” which is strongly linked with religious knowledge, he says.
Conclusions aside, it’s not surprising that with the decline of church attendance and the absence of religious instruction in our public schools that people today might know so little. One might just as well suggest a survey on Latin terminology, id est, choose something that is no longer widely taught and see how much people know about it. There are many good topics to choose from, exampli gratia, Greek, Roman, or Norse mythology, the American Constitution, or the native tribes and cultures of North America.
But beware the survey that is written and conducted by a special interest group on their topic of interest. It will be used to tell whatever story they and the media want to tell. Like the one about four out of five dentists recommend…
http://pewforum.org/ (The survey info is so hot that their servers cannot handle today’s load!!!)
Server is too busy
Quiz Yourself: http://features.pewforum.org/quiz/us-religious-knowledge/