American Ignorance

Growing Number of Americans Say Obama is a Muslim
“A new national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) now say Obama is a Muslim, up from 11% in March 2009. Only about one-third of adults (34%) say Obama is a Christian, down sharply from 48% in 2009. Fully 43% say they do not know what Obama’s religion is.”

http://pewforum.org/Politics-and-Elections/Growing-Number-of-Americans-Say-Obama-is-a-Muslim.aspx

U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey
“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.”
[...]
“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.”

http://pewforum.org/Other-Beliefs-and-Practices/U-S-Religious-Knowledge-Survey.aspx

About Stephen Law
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10817974804323066290 shreddakj

    I find it quite astounding how little most people know about their own religions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00145624739235262178 T. A. Lewis

    This is not surprising. Religion is more about imposing an interpretive causal structure on reality than about particular propositions. This survey tested propositional knowledge, not interpretation of events. And we atheists shouldn't let the results inflate our egos much since many of us do not realize this fundamental aspect of religion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Teaching grads and undergrads at a middle-sized university in S.E. Texas, I am always amazed at how little my students know about their own religion. Needless to say, the vast majority are conservative Protestants. It is disturbing that they know so little about Islam or Judaism, and much less about Hinduism or Buddhism. Yet, I assumed that since this is still the Bible Belt, at least a reference to David and Bathsheba or the story of Job would be familiar to everybody.

    Not so. When I refer to almost any of the standard stories I heard repeatedly in Sunday School, I get blank looks.

    I think most Texas church-goers think the Bible has in it whatever their preacher tells them is in it. Their preacher tells them that the Bible says to dislike liberals, Democrats, feminists, atheists, environmentalists, and gay people. Also, God wants them to oppose abortion and church/state separation and to support abstinence-only sex ed. They hear and vote accordingly.

    Martin Luther must be spinning in his grave, not because so few Protestants now know who he was, but because of the palpable failure of the Reformation. Luther translated the Bible into the vernacular with the hopes that everyone would now read it for himself. Instead, they watch Dancing With the Stars and let their thoughts about the Bible get dictated to them by an ideological elite, just like in the 14th Century.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14544680532155804010 Brenda

    Keith Parsons said…
    "Martin Luther must be spinning in his grave, not because so few Protestants now know who he was, but because of the palpable failure of the Reformation."

    I don't think this survey determined that most protestants know very little about the tenets of their faith. I think it showed the same thing that Jay Leno shows when he interviews people on the street for the geographical knowledge. That people are pretty focused on their own lives and don't retain much after high school.

    I am also not very convinced that "The Prosperity Gospels" are in the reformation tradition. They're somewhere in the vicinity of Scientology.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11494806185915438337 The Universe is an Atheist

    Well, hopefully this will encourage more religious people to actually learn about their religion. If they actually read the bible, I'm certain they'll become atheists. if they actually knew how many similarities there were between all the varying religions, they probably wouldn't be so certain that theirs was the *correct* one.
    As always, the best weapon against religion is knowledge.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14544680532155804010 Brenda

    "If they actually read the bible, I'm certain they'll become atheists."

    Yeah, that's a very common atheist delusion. Dream on.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Brenda,

    I think it is a bit more serious than you indicate. A Protestant who knows nothing about Martin Luther is like an American who has never heard of George Washington. Worse, actually. When I taught Martin Luther's "The Freedom of a Christian" to a class of grad students, it was an eye-opener for some of them. Staunch Baptist students had heard bits and pieces, often garbled, of these doctrines from countless sermons, but never from the horse's mouth. They had heard things about justification "sola fide" many times, but had no understanding of what it meant or what it contrasted with. The difference between this and not knowing the capital of the Dominican Republic when Jay Leno asks, is that this is their RELIGION, their core beliefs and commitments. When you call yourself a Protestant, but you do not know what justification by faith is, or you call yourself a Catholic, and you do not know what that little crispy wafer is supposed to be, something is seriously wrong.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11494806185915438337 The Universe is an Atheist

    Brenda,
    I don't think you should be poking fun at atheist 'delusions' especially if you are defending religious people…
    Not that there's anything wrong with that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Keith Parsons said:
    I think most Texas church-goers think the Bible has in it whatever their preacher tells them is in it. Their preacher tells them that the Bible says to dislike liberals, Democrats, feminists, atheists, environmentalists, and gay people. Also, God wants them to oppose abortion and church/state separation and to support abstinence-only sex ed. They hear and vote accordingly.
    ==============
    Comment:

    It amazes me that Catholics and Evangelical Protestants are completely obsessed with the issues of abortion and gay marriage, when Jesus said absolutely nothing about either issue.

    It is also astounding that many of the conservative Christian believers are staunch supporters of an extreme form of Capitalism that focuses on the gathering of fantastic amounts of wealth by a select few corporate and financial leaders and that would obviously create a huge class of people living in grinding poverty and hunger, when this is the exact opposite of the teachings of Jesus.

    The stupidity and hypocrisy of these people is beyond imagination.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Bradley,

    "The stupidity and hypocrisy of these people is beyond imagination."

    You ain't seen nothin' yet.

    If you have not, be sure to read Charles P. Pierce's Idiot America. Pierce argues that the culture wars are over and the idiots have won. Consider Christine O'Donnell, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Delaware. She is so wacky that, honestly, I just do not see where they could go next. How could you possibly get any nuttier? Have an old man with his pants down around his ankles singing "The Old Gray Mare?" We are WAY beyond liberal vs. conservative in this country. We are now at sane vs. insane.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Brenda said:
    I don't think this survey determined that most protestants know very little about the tenets of their faith.
    ==============
    True, the survey was not designed to determine how much protestants know about the tenets of their faith.

    However, I think there is a good deal of evidence from other surveys that shows protestants to be ignorant about the tenets of their faith or (at least) that show they don't accept those tenets.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    From the Barna Group:

    Evidence of people’s willingness to part with church teaching was shown in other data from the survey regarding what people believe. Among individuals who describe themselves as Christian, for instance, close to half believe that Satan does not exist, one-third contend that Jesus sinned while He was on earth, two-fifths say they do not have a responsibility to share the Christian faith with others, and one-quarter dismiss the idea that the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches. (from: Christianity Is No Longer Americans’ Default Faith)
    http://www.barna.org/faith-spirituality/15-christianity-is-no-longer-americans-default-faith

    For several years, The Barna Group has been tracking how many people possess a "biblical worldview." The organization defines such a life perspective on the basis of several questions about religious beliefs. The definition requires someone to believe that absolute moral truth exists; that the source of moral truth is the Bible; that the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches; that eternal spiritual salvation cannot be earned; that Jesus lived a sinless life on earth; that every person has a responsibility to share their religious beliefs with others; that Satan is a living force, not just a symbol of evil; and that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful maker of the universe who still rules that creation today.
    Using that framework, Barna discovered that the percentage of adults holding a biblical worldview has remained minimal and unchanged over the past three years, despite the widespread public debate about moral issues and the efforts of thousands of churches to enhance people’s moral convictions. Currently, only 5% of adults have a biblical worldview. The percentage varies among faith groups. About half of all evangelicals have such a perspective. Overall, 8% of Protestants possess that view, compared to less than one-half of one percent of Catholics.
    from: Most Adults Feel Accepted by God, But Lack a Biblical Worldview
    http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/174-most-adults-feel-accepted-by-god-but-lack-a-biblical-worldview

    See also:
    Most Americans Consider Easter a Religious Holiday, But Fewer Correctly Identify its Meaning
    http://www.barna.org/culture-articles/356-most-americans-consider-easter-a-religious-holiday-but-fewer-correctly-identify-its-meaning

    Most American Christians Do Not Believe that Satan or the Holy Spirit Exist
    http://www.barna.org/faith-spirituality/260-most-american-christians-do-not-believe-that-satan-or-the-holy-spirit-exis

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14544680532155804010 Brenda

    Keith Parsons said…
    "A Protestant who knows nothing about Martin Luther is like an American who has never heard of George Washington."

    The set of protestants includes many who are not Lutherans and who have been going their own way for a long time. Baptists are not Lutherans and so would not always know who Martin Luther was. So knowledge of who he was is a poor test of religious knowledge.

    I think the test was poorly worded and did not measure general religious knowledge among church goers. I think it measured religious knowledge among the "secular religious" and hence don't consider the results very surprising.

    "Pierce argues that the culture wars are over and the idiots have won"

    Nonsense.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05868095335395368227 vjack

    If religion was really as important as many believers claim, wouldn't they want to know more about it?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Brenda,

    Not knowing who Luther was is just the tip of the ignorance iceberg. What really appalls me is the ignorance of the Bible I have observed in 26 years of teaching in higher education. I do not mean ignorance of biblical scholarship–that I take for granted. I mean ignorance of the actual contents of the Bible. The upshot, as I said earlier, is that people all too often think that they are Bible believers, but what they really believe is an ideological gloss inculcated by preachers and pundits who are propagandists for a far-right political agenda. For instance, you have millions who apparently think that the Bible commands them to oppose abortion, gay marriage, and liberalism. When you press them for the Biblical basis for these imperatives, the justification is paper thin.

    Your dismissive comment on Pierce's thesis makes me wonder: In your opinion is it nonsense because the idiots have not won, or is it nonsense because the people he says are idiots are not idiots in your opinion? Either way, I would like to know your grounds for your view.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14544680532155804010 Brenda

    "What really appalls me is the ignorance of the Bible I have observed in 26 years of teaching in higher education."

    It bothers you that the larger culture is secular and materialistic? You sound like a priest complaining that "X-mass" takes the Christ out of Christmas.

    I take it as suggesting that most people are too busy with their lives to bother finding such things out. To them these matters just aren't that important but to YOU they are of primary importance.

    You're a priest.

    "In your opinion is it nonsense because the idiots have not won, or is it nonsense because the people he says are idiots are not idiots in your opinion?"

    Most people are not idiots, they're just not interested in the same things you are. But you think everyone should place as much importance on these matters as you do. So you are narcissistic and arrogant because everyone who doesn't value the things you do must be an "idiot" and whole culture must be going to the crapper because it pretty much ignores you and other atheists and goes on it's merry way.

    We are going through some tough times right now but I think America will just fine.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Brenda said…

    It bothers you that the larger culture is secular and materialistic? You sound like a priest complaining that "X-mass" takes the Christ out of Christmas.

    =========
    Bradley responds…

    It wouldn't bother me or Keith or vjack so much if it weren't for the fact that the USA is one of the most religious countries in the world. About 80% are Christians, and about 90% believe in God (of some sort or other).

    How can someone believe that Jesus was God incarnate, the all-knowing, all-wise, perfectly good creator of the universe visiting the earth, and yet not care what Jesus taught? How can someone who hopes for eternal life in heaven and fears eternal torment in hell not care about whether the Catholic or protestant view of salvation is correct? or not even be AWARE of this disagreement?

    One possibility is that the vast majority of these people are only pretending to be Christians. They are living in self-deception and bad faith (something that an existentialist ought to be concerned about, by the way), and don't really believe any of the stuff they hear and read on Sunday morning.

    Another possibility is that they believe the basic doctrines of Christianity, but are just too stupid to put 1+1 together to come to the conclusion that it is very important (based on their assumptions) that they get a clear understanding of the teachings of Jesus, and of the alternative interpretations (i.e. Catholic vs. Evangelical vs. Liberal Protestant) of salvation and what one must do to be saved.

    If most people in the USA claimed to be an atheist or agnostic or skeptic concerning God, Jesus, the Bible, then we would have much less concern about the level of incredible ignorance about religious matters.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13609656346736636990 Luke Talley

    Bradley,

    As a Christian myself, these statistics sadden and frustrate me just as much as they do you. Indeed, I they probably frustrate me more.

    In line with your first paragraph, 70-80% percent of Americans may profess to be Christians, but the Bible makes very clear that a mere intellectual belief means nothing. James says that even the demons believe that Jesus is real, but that does not mean that they issue forth an all-encompassing belief that changes the way they view the world, pursue a right understanding of Jesus and His Word, the Bible, etc.

    I am a member of a Southern Baptist Church in the south, so I am surrounded be these hords of professing Christians who don't know squat about what they believe. What is worse, this lack of understanding of who Christ is and what he calls his followers to, results in people naming the name of Christ but living like Satan in practice.

    Most who profess Christ, probably including most of the ones polled in that survey who professed Christ, in actuality don't really know Him. Therefore, I am right there with you in my pursuit to convince them of the disconnect.

    In my opinion, this pattern is the single most destructive influence on the Christian witness today.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13609656346736636990 Luke Talley

    Vjack,

    As my post above reiterates, I think the primary question is not "If religion was really as important as many believers claim, wouldn't they want to know more about it?" Rather, the primary question is this, "Are those who claim to be believers, really believers?"

    I would argue that true believers should demonstrate a desire to grow in their understanding of the Bible and all that it has to say. I am not saying that those who do not desire this are definitely not Christians, I am just saying that I would be skeptical of them.


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