Where was Jesus born? What is Ramadan? Which biblical figure led the exodus from Egypt? What religion are the Dalai Lama, Joseph Smith, and Mother Teresa?
Researchers from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, an independent research organization, recently phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them questions like the ones above, questions about the Bible, Christianity, and other world religions and religious figures. In a report on the study in the New York Times,reporter Laurie Goodstein wrote: “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.”
Does this surprise you? It did me. Why would atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Mormons know more about religion than people from the other groups who took the survey, such as Protestants or Catholics?
Some 53 percent of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation. That might be troubling for us as Lutherans, but more than that, it made me ask how those surveyed didn’t learn that fact in a history class somewhere along the line. The Reformation was a religious movement but it was also an important event in world history.
I took a brief sample quiz on The New York Times Web site and got 5 out of 6 questions right (I missed one about the predominant religion of Indonesia).
There will be those who will use selected pieces of the research to support their own viewpoints and agendas, and there will be some hand-wringing and head-shaking. And then the media will forget about it.
But I wonder: Is it important for us to know about other faiths? How much does this general ignorance contribute to the ways we misunderstand those who hold different beliefs? Can we be tolerant of other belief systems without knowing much about them?
What do you think?