A new Pew Research Center religious survey that quizzed nearly 11,000 U.S. adults on a variety of religious topics in February 2019 has some interesting findings.
Of the 32 multiple-choice questions asked, the average US adult was only able to answer about half correctly, displaying a lack of basic factual knowledge about Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism and what the U.S. Constitution says when it comes to religion and elected officials. The quiz contained 14 questions about the Bible and Christianity, and 13 covering other world religions.
Interestingly, it was Jews, atheists, and agnostics that knew the most about religion, significantly outperforming Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons. On average, Jews, atheists, and agnostics were able to correctly answer 3 more questions than Christians. And within Christian sub-groups, Evangelicals and Catholics performed better than Mainline Protestants and Mormons.
Most respondents amongst all religious groups scored well on most of the Christian questions. Nearly all respondents knew what Easter commemorates. On Biblical figures, four-in-five respondents knew who Moses and David were.
However, not every answer about Christianity came so easily. Only 22% of respondents knew what prosperity gospel is, and only one-in-three knew what Catholics believe about Communion.
Respondents scored even worse on basic knowledge of non-Christian religions.
Only three-in-ten U.S. adults know when the Jewish Sabbath begins, fewer still knew what Rosh Hashana is. And only 18% of Americans could identify one of Buddhism’s four “noble truths”.
Still, on nearly every question about religion, atheists were the most or second-most knowledgeable on basic religious beliefs. On some questions about Christianity, atheists actually knew more than Christians. For example, 87% of atheists knew that the Holy Trinity is the belief that there is one God in three persons, compared to 84% of Christians. And 70% of atheists knew what purgatory is, compared to 57% of Christians (although 71% of Catholics answered that question correctly).
And when it comes to knowledge of world religions, atheists and Jews blew other groups out of the water.
82% of atheists know that Islam’s holiest city is Mecca, compared to 60% of Christians. And 69% of atheists know yoga is associated with Hinduism, compared to just 44% of Christians. Jews, similarly, scored higher than Christians on questions about world religions.
How is it that atheists, in general, are more knowledgeable about religion than religious people?
Religious Test Required?
Perhaps the most shocking result to come from the religious survey is that just 27% of respondents correctly answered that the Constitution requires no religious tests to hold public office in the United States. 15% believe that the Constitution requires officeholders to affirm that their Creator endows all men with certain inalienable rights, and 12% believe that the Constitution actually requires officeholders to be sworn in on the Holy Bible.
While the Bible is by far the most common book used to swear members of Congress in, it is not the only book. Rep. Keith Ellison swore in on Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Quran in 2007. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard swore in on the Bhagavad Gita in 2013. And at the January 3rd, 2019 swearing-in of the 116th Congress, Congressional freshmen used more than a dozen different texts. At that ceremony, Sen. Krysten Sinema swore in on a copy of the U.S. Constitution.
And while atheists scored highest on the ‘religious test’ question than other groups, only about half of atheists knew that the Constitution requires no religious test for holding office in the United States. About one-quarter of Christians knew the correct answer, and about four-in-ten Jews.
This isn’t the first time Pew Research Center has had some shocking insights about America’s relationship with religion. Last year we posted about a Pew survey that showed that America’s fastest-growing religious group wasn’t Christians, Jews, or Muslims. It was those with no affiliation at all.
What do you think? Why are atheists more knowledgeable about religion than other groups? And how is it that so few Americans know that the Constitution requires no religious test?
You might want to take the following corresponding religious survey to see exactly where you stand. Make sure to let us know how you did. Any perfect scores out there?