I just read this article about how a survey shows that “Americans don’t know much about religion.” The article goes on to say that “atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics.”
Really? Mormons know more about religion in general than Protestants and Catholics? Like tell me something I don’t know.
Believing Protestants in particular (i.e. usually Evangelicals) often live in a self inflicted world of ignorance when it comes to other religions. I did note that they at least performed well on questions about Christianity, though Mormons still beat them out.
At least the case for Catholics is more understandable because we’re often dealing with many marginal believers – people that attend on Christmas and Easter but have little other connection to their own religion. It’s not that shocking that they don’t know about a more esoteric doctrine like transubstantiation.
On the other hand, I was a bit shocked that atheists and agnostics performed best of all overall, except for on the subject of Christianity. My personal experience with atheists are that they suffer from the same self inflicted ignorance that Evangelicals do, but for all religions instead of just ‘other religions.’ And my experience with agnostics is that they are agnostic because they just don’t have interest in religion, so I would not have expected them to have a lot of general religious knowledge.
This survey suggests that I’m probably bumping into a heuristics problem. This is particularly easy to believe for atheists because the vocal ones are the ones I’m going to notice and they tend to be the more ignorant ones. The silent ones are probably the majority and probably a lot more knowledgeable about religion in general, often being raised in a religion and having done some real soul searching at some point.
Interestingly, the three predictors of religious knowledge mentioned in teh news article were, get this:
- Education (nothing shocking there)
- Church attendance
- Atheism or agnosticism
This might suggest that best performers in general religious knowledge were highly educated church goers that no longer believed in their religion. Perhaps this isn’t that shocking after all. You’d, for example, expect an ex-believing, but still practicing, Christians to explore other religions and thus become more knowledgeable overall.