The Pew Forum on Religion & Public life this week published a short, 15-question religion quiz. The quiz is a shorter version of the "3,412 sampled adults who were asked these and other questions in the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey." The poll was conducted on landlines and cell phones, in English and Spanish, from May 19 to June 6, 2010.
This week, the In Theory writers were asked to take the quiz, the results of which would not be known to the group until publication. The writers were also asked: Was it fair? Did it ask a broad set of questions? What advantages or disadvantages do you think a quiz like this will have on readers who did poorly? Who did well?
One does not like to brag. OK, one shouldn't like to brag! But I got all 15 questions right.
I gave the same quiz to my wife, who got 11 right, and to a parishioner, who got 12 right. In general, I thought the quiz was not particularly difficult and also not particularly helpful. Just because someone does well on such a quiz doesn't make that person a better person; in fact, if he does well, he might lose all humility, and that's not good. By the same token, someone who didn't do so well on the quiz is not necessarily an evil person. Knowledge about God or religion is not the same as knowing God.
I once taught Bible at a private school in Colorado. The smartest kid in my class was probably the least religious and the most cynical about God or the idea of God. So simply testing well on the subject of religion does not mean that person is any closer to God than someone whose test score was not nearly as high. This bumper sticker sort of speaks to what I mean: "No Jesus, No Peace. Know Jesus, Know Peace."
The Rev. Clifford L "Skip" Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church,
La CañadaAlready a news-of-the-culture fanatic, I recently volunteered and was accepted as an In Theory respondent, so I was very interested in the results of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.
The surprise was the fact that atheists scored higher than believers in religious knowledge, which is not mentioned in our question this week.
As an atheist, I was very tense taking the quiz, a shortened 15-question version of the full survey. With both my atheist credentials and Lutheran heritage of good education to uphold, I looked for tricks in the easy questions. Whew, I scored 100%.
The Pew Research Center's website says that it is "committed to conducting research in a manner that is impartial, open-minded and meets the highest standards of methodological integrity," so I trust the survey to be well-formulated.
Another interesting survey this year, by Gallup, shows the U.S. bucking the worldwide trend of the poorest countries being the most religious; we are more like Bangladesh than the United Kingdom in religiosity. What does it say that we also have a low level of religious knowledge? Karl Marx explained it, but that name alone is probably enough of a shock to our readers, for now.
There is no hostility in my rejection of religion, which is certainly not the worst of human inventions. Beats war for sure, or reality television , or a lot of other stuff we've come up with. The idea of God is real — who can deny a notion so widespread? I just don't buy it, personally.
I hope to add a spirit of broad inquiry to this column when appropriate, as Sharon Weisman did so ably before me.
GlendaleI'm pleased to report that I got them all right.
I should, having so much religious education, but then the atheist/agnostic group was over most with its number of correct answers and I guess that says something awful about how we Christians are doing with educating the faithful.
I wasn't surprised that the educated ungodly did well, in that it takes knowledge to conclude an informed answer to the evidence, even negatively so, and those who say they just cannot draw a conclusion may have amassed a lot of investigative religious information that just hasn't been processed. I hope they continue.
I was agnostic, but stepped into faith when I realized how the facts were stacking up (notwithstanding the Holy Spirit's efforts in my reception of those facts). I don't understand how atheists can gamble eternity with such certainty.