by mr dan
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This week the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released the results of a survey called the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey. As you may have already heard, we atheists completely kicked ass, and the news sent shock waves across the internet and the 24-hour news cycle like Christine O’Donnell had just said something.
There is an abbreviated version of the survey on the Pew Forum’s website. I’m not going to give away any of the answers because I want you to take the quiz as well and let me know how you did. I’m not one to toot my own horn but I got 15 out of 15 correct. That’s right, I know everything there is to know about religion. Okay, that’s really not what it means, but getting a perfect score does indicate that I know a hell of a lot more about religion than the average American.
When all the scores had been tallied, it turned out most people knew about half the answers (which makes me twice as smart as them). Atheists and agnostics knew 65% of the answers and Jews knew 64%. Mormons were next at 63%. When you count all the various Christian groups, it looks like they got about 46 and a half percent right, or 49% if you count Mormons as Christians — which I do, and Mormons do, but other Christians don’t.
While most people were fascinated that atheists performed so mid-blowingly well, I was fascinated by the fascination. It’s not a surprise to me that people who don’t believe in something may know more about it than those who do. But here’s the thing that really surprised me. When respondents are grouped by how frequently they attend worship service, the scores pretty much even out. There is almost no difference in the religious literacy of people who never go to church and people who go every day.
Most people knew who led the Jews out of Egypt and could name Mother Teresa’s religion, but only about half knew whether the Golden Rule is one of the Ten Commandments, or could name all four Gospels of Christianity. Almost half the respondents didn’t know what Ramadan or the Koran are. And in today’s world of tense interfaith relations, the latter is a hell of a lot more relevant than who built the Ark. Ignorance will only lead the world into disaster.
Which brings me back to Christine O’Donnell. You’ve all seen the famous clip from Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher in which this tea-bagging nutjob now running for a U.S. Senate seat in Delaware said she knows about Wicca because she “dabbled” in it in high school. Now, a lot of people thought this was a crazy skeleton in her closet. I usually don’t judge a person for something they did in the past and now disavow. Many of my friends who are atheists now once firmly believed in the religion of their youth. I just take issue with her thinking that hanging out with the kids who dressed in black gives her the right to call herself an expert.
Now, I’m not an expert on anything. But I do know a bit. I can’t say I’ve read the entire Bible cover to cover, but I have read the whole of the New Testament, as well as the first five books of the Old Testament, and then a whole bunch of sporadic stuff from rest of the OT. And I was raised going to a Methodist Church and Sunday school, an later a Lutheran Church. I have friends and family who are Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Mormons. I almost married a deacon’s daughter. So I think I’m rather familiar with the stupidity that comprises Christianity.
But still, no matter what criticism I have of religion, and how much information I have to back it up, the believer’s ubiquitous retort is “You don’t understand religion. You can’t understand it because you’re an outsider. You don’t share our faith, and without faith, you can’t really know the true meaning of God’s words.”
So, why does Christine O’Donnell get away with saying she knows about Wicca just because she went on a date with a witch? If supreme knowledge could be obtained via dates, no one would ever have to sleep with their professors to get an A — they could just take them to dinner.
People always say to me, “I know about atheism because my boyfriend in college was an atheist, and he wore socks with sandals, so it must be wrong.” To them, riding an elevator with a Hindu makes you an expert, but even my friends who are former born-agains who were born a third time into atheism can’t get any credit for knowing what the hell they’re talking about.
Christine O’Donnell’s claim to expertness falls flat anyway if you know the facts. She clearly knows nothing about Wicca if she thinks a Witch took her to a midnight picnic on a bloodied Satanic altar. Wiccans, in fact, do not worship Satan or practice human or animal sacrifice. Looks like I knew something else she didn’t know. Sorry, Christine. I guess it takes more than a dabbling to be an expert.
mr dan is vice president of CVA. The views expressed in this post are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Connecticut Valley Atheists or its individual members.