That’s what a Pew Research study of “religious knowledge” suggests:
Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.
On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.
But look more closely. The study also found that evangelicals and (again) Mormons know more about Christianity than atheists and other groups do. Atheists do better when it comes to world religions. But that shouldn’t be too surprising.
Here are some findings:
More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45%) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ. About half of Protestants (53%) cannot correctly identify Martin Luther as the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation, which made their religion a separate branch of Christianity. Roughly four-in-ten Jews (43%) do not recognize that Maimonides, one of the most venerated rabbis in history, was Jewish.
In addition, fewer than half of Americans (47%) know that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist. Fewer than four-in-ten (38%) correctly associate Vishnu and Shiva with Hinduism. And only about a quarter of all Americans (27%) correctly answer that most people in Indonesia – the country with the world’s largest Muslim population – are Muslims.
Look more closely still: Here is the complete questionnaire. Is it really much of a religious knowledge test? It doesn’t ask anything about who Christians think Jesus is, for example. There is nothing on the Trinity. Or the atonement. Of course, people who don’t know the first book of the Bible (to take another example) are unlikely to know the more important teachings of Christianity. Still, a more substantive test would be more helpful. Do atheists know what Christians believe, beyond knowing the general facts about Christians and the history and politics of Christianity?