From the Back Pew: Religion by the numbers

This week, our In Theory writers were asked to take a 15-question religion quiz published by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. The quiz is the shortened version of a larger quiz given to a randomly selected group of people from May 19 to June 6 called the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey. According to the Pew Forum, 3,412 adults were asked 32 questions about religion. The survey was conducted on landlines and cell phones in English and Spanish.

If you like numbers, and if you'd like to compare your religious knowledge against that of other groups of people, this one's for you. At the conclusion of the shortened quiz, you will be able to compare your results against a number of statistics, including those who attend church and those who do not; race; religious affiliation; gender; and education level. The statistics are the final results taken from the official survey. Taking the quiz now does not affect those results, according to the Pew Forum, and is a quick, easy — and fun — way to test your religious knowledge.

I scored 12 out of 15, for a final score of 80%. This puts me above the overall population (50%) and 41 percentage points over the Hispanic Catholic population (39%). I scored below 7% of the public, with 87% of the public scoring zero to 11 out of 15. I failed the Ten Commandments question, the Jewish Sabbath question and the Reformation question. But I will get back to these numbers in a moment.

The real fun begins when we look at what religious affiliations scored in the top three — Jews, atheists and Mormons.

Atheists, you say? Yes, atheists. Without going too much into the numbers, "Mormons and Evangelicals know most about Christianity; atheists/agnostics and Jews do best on world religions," according to the Pew Forum.

The other fun part of this quiz is that you can view the Pew Forum's final report and compare how each religious affiliation did, down to a single question.

For example, my fellow Hispanic Catholics fared a measly 39% overall, scoring a little more than half the percentage points of the overall population (50%) and Jews (65%). But they came in last nonetheless. How can this be? We're supposed to be well-versed, well-read churchgoers who understand all of the different religions, right? Well, no, not really. Most formal Catholic education ends at confirmation, unless you attend a Catholic high school or college. And it's been my experience that most teens cringe at the idea of confirmation and giving up their weekends to attend classes. Confirmation, it seems, is just another thing to do and get over with. So how much information actually sinks in, I do not know.

Overall, Hispanic Catholics did well when speaking of their own religious figures, such as "What religion was Mother Teresa?" Eighty-three percent of Catholics surveyed said "Catholic." We tend to go downhill when it comes to questions about other faiths or specific questions about the Bible, such as what the first book in the Bible is (29%), when do Jews begin their Sabbath (33%), or what Protestants teach (8%).

To pick on our Jewish cousins a bit, it was interesting to see that 90% of Jews know who Moses is, but only 17% know the authors of the four Gospels. Ninety-three percent of Mormons know Joseph Smith — the founder of the Latter-day Saints movement — was a Mormon (I would hope so!), but only 25% can read from the Bible as an example of literature.

So what do all these numbers mean? I should have known when the Jewish Sabbath is, right. I've worked with rabbis and done several stories on Jewish celebrations. But even then, I had to guess — and it was the wrong answer. When I was preparing for my first holy communion, we were made to memorize all Ten Commandments, yet I couldn't figure out which commandment did not belong. And I know little to nothing about the Reformation, save for anything I've read on Wikipedia that I've long since forgotten.

For me, anyway, in researching the results of this quiz, it seems that we as faithful, believers and nonbelievers alike, could benefit from continuing our religious education, and then some.

Maybe I'll research and learn what the Reformation was. Maybe I'll get to know a little bit about who Smith was or why Jehovah's Witnesses visit you in the morning as you're about to leave for work. Maybe I should start rememorizing the Ten Commandments again. Maybe my Jewish cousin could read one or two chapters of Luke. Maybe I could remember that Jews have their Sabbath on Saturday, even though it may seem weird to us Sunday churchgoers.

MICHAEL J. ARVIZU writes for the La Cañada Valley Sun. Reach him at (818) 637-3263 or e-mail

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