In his New York Times column today, Nicholas Kristof writes about religious illiteracy in our country and makes this surprising statement:
Secular Americans are largely ignorant about religion, but, in surveys, religious Americans turn out to be scarcely more knowledgeable.
He doesn’t cite any surveys, but I can, and the results are precisely the opposite. Despite overall low scores, Secular Americans know more about religion than any religious group.
A 2010 Pew Forum U.S. Religious Knowledge survey asked Americans 32 questions about the beliefs of various faiths and Atheists/Agnostics scored higher than any other group:
Yes, we only got 20.9 correct answers (on average) out of 32 — it’s nothing to brag about — but still. Religious Americans, contrary to what Kristof says, did not beat us out, even by a little.
Even anecdotally, one could argue that atheists would know more about religion. We reject faith because we understand how silly all those beliefs are. When you think your faith is absolutely right, why bother learning about what everyone else believes? (Obviously, there are exceptions in both directions.)Kristof continued making things up:
Secularists sometimes believe religious knowledge doesn’t matter because the world is leaving faith behind. Really? Faith is elemental in much of the world, including large swaths of America.
How’s that for a straw man? It’s really the other way around: Religious knowledge matters because we need to fight back against it. We don’t accept the Bible because we’ve actually read it. We don’t buy into an idea like consecrated Communion wafers being the body of Christ because we’re unafraid of looking at the ritual with a critical eye. We know the power that religion has in this world and it scares the shit out of us. You can’t counter it unless you understand it.
When it comes to religious literacy, my money’s on a random atheist over a random theist any day of the week. If Kristof wants to argue otherwise, he needs to show us where he’s getting his information from.