When It Comes to Factual Knowledge About Mormonism, the ‘Nones’ Score Highest

Somehow, I missed this report (PDF) on Mormonism from the Pew Research Center a couple of weeks ago when it came out, but it was too interesting not to mention.

When it comes to factual knowledge about Mormonism — when it was founded (after 1800) and where the Book of Mormon says Jesus appeared (“the Americas”) — guess who knows the most about the religion?

We do.

(And that’s why we’re not Mormon.)

Knowledge about the Mormon religion is higher among the religiously unaffiliated than among either Protestants or Catholics. More than a third of the unaffiliated (36%) correctly answer both factual questions, as do 28% of Protestants and 22% of Catholics. There is no change in factual knowledge among religious groups, including the unaffiliated, since 2010.

The Pew researchers also asked respondents to tell them the first word that came to mind when describing the Mormon religion.

#1 had nothing to do with politics…

Even with all the “Mormon Moment” hoopla of the past couple of years, it looks like the church still has a long way to go before people see the faith the same way they do Protestantism and Catholicism.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    Call me Mr Obvious, but aren’t those stats missing Mormons? Because I imagine they’d be able to flip your logic right round.

  • not-a-yank

    The Pew researchers also asked respondents to tell them the first word that came to mind when describing the Mormon religion.


    second word:


  • Ryan Jean

    The point of this one wasn’t to compare atheists to Mormons, but to compare atheists to non-Mormon Christians, since that last group claims to understand a lot about Mormonism and reject it thus. That’s why the top word coming to mind being “cult” is also relevant because, while almost all religions have some degree of cult characteristics, non-Mormon Christians happily apply that label to Mormonism despite their ignorance of actual Mormonism.

    Despite the majority of “True Amurcans” being willing to vote for a Mormon to avoid voting for a Kenyan Muslim Socialist liberal Christian, they show both a deep distrust of Mormonism and that once again the one defining trait virtually all “True Amurcans” show is ignorance about their own strongly-held beliefs, therefore allowing atheists to once again show that they are often more educated about religion than the religious… [/soapbox][/rant]

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeuandavid Jeuan David Ap John

    Are you really so clueless, Mr Obvious?

  • JohnnieCanuck

    Not if you choose your questions carefully. One thing their cult has done is revise and sanitize their history, over and over. There’s a lot of misinformation about their past being fed to the fools in the pews.

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    Well thanks for that detailed and carefully expounded counter-argument. Award yourself some smug points.

    Now, regardless of the (pretty clear) intent of the survey, Hemant’s logic was this:

    guess who knows the most about the religion? We do. (And that’s why we’re not Mormon.)

    now, can that be flipped right round by any passing Mormon saying:

    Actually, we do, and that’s why we are Mormon”

    Of course it can. And that’s why it’s a daft thing to say.

  • http://chaoskeptic.blogspot.com Rev. Ouabache

    I’m surprised that “judgmental” wasn’t in the list of words. Ironically that’s the first word that comes to my mind when I think of Mormons.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    One word for Mormonism?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Arthur-Bryne/100002441143047 Arthur Bryne

    The questions used appear to be two of the three used for the Mormon section of the 2010 religious knowledge quiz. The Unaffiliated post-Romney campaign appear to be marginally more knowledgeable than they were back then, which that might be partly due to an increase in the number of Atheists/Agnostics relative to the number of NIPpers among the Nones, but might just be a result of the campaign raising the awareness a little. The change is not statistically significant, given sample size.

    Regardless, in the 2010 data even the more knowledgeable Atheists/Agnostics subsegments fall well short of the knowledge that the Mormons have about their own religion. This should not be surprising to anyone, particularly those who recall that the Mormons and Jews were the only two groups who rivaled Atheists/Agnostics for overall score across all questions. (Similarly, Mormons and White Evangelicals were the only two groups tending marginally more knowledgable about the Bible than Atheists/Agnostics.)

    This poll did not use the oversampling of Mormons and Atheists/Agnostics of the 2010 study. With N=1500 overall, that would give sub-N about 75 Atheists/Agnostics and 30 Mormons, giving confidence intervals far too small to report those specifically this time. However, the ~20% level of the unaffiliated gives N=300, which is usable (though imprecise).

  • Tainda

    “Unaffiliated” usually know more about religions than most of the people who profess to follow said religion

  • Bad_homonym

    I bet if a similar knowledge test was done regarding christianity the nones would still out-score the christians

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    i remember being quite shocked by Mormon claims when i first learned of them. they are really quite bold, in this country populated mostly by more traditional christians. not that the tenants of traditional christianity are any more believable, but still. the whole gold tablets thingee just seems so absurd to believe true.

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    Than many, rather. However, the 2010 Pew study indicated (unsurprisingly) White Evangelicals and Mormons are the most knowledgeable sub-groups regarding the Bible and Christianity; Mormons, the most knowledgeable about Mormonism; Jews, about Judaism.

    Additionally, the knowledgeability of the Unaffiliated overall is mostly because of the extreme knowledgeability of the atheists/agnostics subsegment. While A/A subsegment is the highest overall on religion, the nothing-in-particular “NIPper” unaffiliated are one of the least knowledgeable sub-segments, with only Black Protestant and Hispanic Catholics identified as lower. The 2010 Pew data indicates that for general knowledge, the NIPpers are again one of the most ignorant groups out there. Using the General Social Survey data to approximate the same
    groups (by answers on GOD, RELITEN, RACE, HISPANIC) suggests this
    plausibly is associated to overall level of general education (DEGREE).

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    Pew did such a study, back in 2010. For “nones” and “Christians”, you’d lose the bet. See my reply to Tainda for some more details and a link.

  • Artor

    I’d be curious to see how Mormons themselves scored on that test. Being familiar with the widespread ignorance in their ranks, and in Xtianity in general, I have to wonder if Mormons know less about their own religion than atheists do. I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

  • Eric B

    Most interesting correlation from that report I see is with education. HS-40, some college-54, college grad 61, post grad 68. I would hypothesize that this can explain the whole data set. The groups with higher average education score better; A/A, Jews, and Mormons.

    Most interesting single answer is that protestants scored no better than other groups about who started the protestant revolution. Whats up with that?

  • Tongue in cheek

    I think something was overlooked here. It is obviously because us “nones” have the highest probability to watch South Park out of these groups. They do an impeccable job explaining the idiosyncrasies (heavy on the idio) of most religions. Which is why I too know an excessive amount about Scientology.

  • Eric B

    sorry I am referencing the 2010 study posted by @openid-29443:disqus and @facebook-100002441143047:disqus. The results seem about the same.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Mine would be ‘fan-fiction’ (the – so I can make it one word :-)

  • Bad_homonym

    Except I was referring to groupings similar to the chart on this page. The pew study broke ‘unaffiliated’ down into sub groups. Taken as the chart above the results are as I expected!

  • MyScienceCanBeatUpYourGod

    Well Mormons, if it makes you feel any better, I consider all Christians and all other theists as nutty as you.

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    You’re probably looking at the results table for knowledge across the entire religious knowledge quiz, rather than the table for the questions specifically regarding Christianity. The 2010 Pew study included all the categories from this 2012 one (which also is from Pew, incidentally), in addition to some further subcategories. If you specifically compare the categories you specified (as counterparts for here) in the table on Christianity questions, the average score for Christians was 6.2 out of 12, while the average score for the unaffiliated overall was 5.3 out of 12. (Christians on the whole did better on the Bible-specific sub-segment as well.)

    While more knowledgeable overall on all religions, the overall nones are more ignorant than overall Christians about Christianity in the similar quiz, contrary to your assertions.

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    For what it’s worth, both accounts are me; different browsers default to different credentials.

  • Aspieguy

    The first word that comes to my mind is “demented”.

  • Bad_homonym

    I stand corrected, and I am surprised, I didn’t realize how much less the true nones knew of religion. I am sorta used to conversing with atheists, and on the whole I expected all the last 3 groups on the poll to score about the same. Thanks for the heads up!


  • Maria

    First word for me: creepy

  • Anonymous Atheist

    I don’t watch South Park because the voices of some of the characters grate on my nerves, but it is good to have a TV show spreading that kind of knowledge.

  • Sarah

    As an ex-Mormon atheist who now knows more about Mormon history and theology than I did WHILE I was a Mormon, I would not at all be surprised to learn that this (the subject of the blog post) is because, from my own personal experience, MANY ex-Mormons become atheists and then also become or already were knowledgeable about Mormon history as an aid to discrediting it and because it’s just kind of fascinating. Also, for many ex-Mormons, the way out began when they began to research church history and delve deeper into doctrine. So we’re more knowledgeable about it because we care and we have researched it. Maybe this is more obvious to me because I’m immersed in the r/exmormon subreddit and a few ex-Mormon/atheist facebook groups, (check out r/exmormon!!). I think also it’s much easier to view Mormonism as a cult if you were a member previously and then left, especially if you were a lifelong member (so far) and if you have family who are still members.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Harris/100000793669786 Kevin Harris

    BTW, thoughtful Mormons will increasingly leave the LDS as they discover (1) the archeological evidence is next to zero for their view (and it should be abundant) and (2) their cosmology is increasingly destroyed by Big Bang and their requirement of an infinite regress of gods.

    FWIW. I’m a Christian Theist, not a “none”.