Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Did you know that Mother Teresa is Catholic, Maimonides was Jewish, and Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation? Congratulations! You’re more religiously literate than most Americans :

On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.

Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.

[ . . . ]

On questions about the Bible and Christianity, the groups that answered the most right were Mormons and white evangelical Protestants.

On questions about world religions, like Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism, the groups that did the best were atheists, agnostics and Jews.

One finding that may grab the attention of policy makers is that most Americans wrongly believe that anything having to do with religion is prohibited in public schools.

Some other distressing findings from the survey :

Fifty-three percent of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation.

I wonder how many Lutherans missed that question? (I suspect about 53 percent.)
Forty-five percent of Catholics did not know that their church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine in holy communion are not merely symbols, but actually become the body and blood of Christ.

Really, Catholics? Really? So forty-five percent of you think about communion the same way we Southern Baptists do? (By the way, I suspect at least 53 percent of Lutherans knew the answer to that question. You won’t find too many Lutheran who can’t argue about the Real Presence.)

Also, almost no one in American (8 percent) knows that Maimonides was Jewish. Even four-in-ten Jews (43 percent) do not recognize that one of the most venerated rabbis in history was Jewish. (Seriously? What do they think he was? Muslim?)

Not surprisingly, only 11 percent knew that Jonathan Edwards was associated with the First Great Awakening. I suspect only about 11 percent of Americans even know there was a First Great Awakening.

But the saddest statistic (especially for a web editor) is probably this one:

Nearly half of Americans who are affiliated with a religion (48%) say they “seldom” or “never” read books (other than Scripture) or visit websites about their own religion, and 70% say they seldom or never read books or visit websites about other religions.

Since you are reading this blog you are either one of the 52 percent that visits websites about your religion and/or one of the 30 percent who visits a website about other religions. It is therefore your duty as an educated citizen to help raise level of religious literacy. Tell someone who falls into those  48 percent/70 percent categories to read  First Things online. Do it for their own good. Do it for the good of my advertisers. Do it for the good of America.

Note: You can take an abbreviated (15 question) sample quiz here . If you don’t get at least 14 questions correctly you need to turn off your computer and go read a book.

Note 2: I have to confess that while I know who he is, I can’t for the life of me correctly pronounce “Maimonides.” David Goldman told me that he was called Rambam (short for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon) so that is what I’ll be saying from now on.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles