Faith By Numbers

Moreover, evangelicals and Mormons outperformed everyone else in biblical knowledge. On some of the biblical knowledge questions, the performance of Mormons and white evangelical Protestants outdistanced atheists and agnostics by tens of percentage points. It’s not actually valid to say that atheists and agnostics know more about Christianity than these two groups do. That assertion would rather apply, with qualifications, to atheists/agnostics versus mainline Protestants and Catholics. (And among the latter, it should be pointed out, performance is merely lower as a percentage of the respondent pool, not non-existent. I have known a number of well-educated Catholics and mainline Protestants who could have answered most of the questions in this survey correctly.)

Overall, with the exception of evangelical Protestants’ poor identification of Martin Luther’s role in the Reformation, Mormons and white evangelicals know basic information about Christianity at higher percentages than atheists and agnostics do.

But if we presented the results of this survey to Jesus, I think he would answer with the two great commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. We may know who Maimonides was; we may know that most Indonesians are Muslims; but do we know how to bless those who curse us? Do we know how to forgive? How to wait on the Lord with meekness and humility? Do we truly believe that good overcomes evil? Do we, in short, have the mind of Christ?

If we can look to the left of us and to the right, and see people who are learning to have the heart and mind of Jesus regardless of their level of education or income -- if we can do that, then we can rejoice in the performance of our faith. That is the test that matters.

* Two outliers in this regard are interesting: white evangelicals, although they did the best among Christians on this question, scored poorly when asked which writer and theologian inspired the Protestant Reformation. Only 52 percent of white evangelicals knew it was Martin Luther, compared to 68 percent of atheists/agnostics and 70 percent of Jews. On the other hand, when asked which American theologian participated in the “First Great Awakening,” 15 percent of white evangelicals correctly answered Jonathan Edwards -- the best performance of any group -- compared to 12 percent of Jews and 8 percent of atheists/agnostics.


J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval intelligence officer and evangelical Christian. She retired in 2004 and blogs from the Inland Empire of southern California. She writes for Commentary's CONTENTIONS blog, Hot Air’s Green Room, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

10/5/2010 4:00:00 AM