Thursday, May 1, 2014

Secular ignorance?

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times made a curious comment in a column he wrote about religious literacy.
Secular Americans are largely ignorant about religion, but, in surveys, religious Americans turn out to be scarcely more knowledgeable.
Sure, American Christians are pretty poor in the religious knowledge department, but despite what Kristof claims, secular Americans actually know more about religion, not less. Don't believe me? Here's the results of a Pew Research Center survey on religious knowledge. They asked 32 questions about religion, and it was found that non-believers actually know the most. 

 As you can see the average score for Christians was 15.7 out of 32, and only 45% got 17 or more correct.
Jewish Americans did a bit better with an average score of 20.5 of of 32, and 73% getting at lease 17 correct. But the winners were atheists and agnostics. We had an average score of 20.9 out of 32 correct, and 82% with 17 or more correct.

So let me get this straight... American Christians only score a 49% on average, while atheists score a 64% on average. None of the scores are very good. But you will notice that atheists have a higher percentage with higher scores than any other group.

The Pew Research Center actually have a similar quiz that anyone can take online. On that shorter 15 question version, the average score was still only 50%. The average Christian score is 49% (39-61% depending on denomination. Atheists scored 64% again, and Jewish Americans edged to the top at 65%.

Again, none of these scores are great. Though it does show that atheists know religion much better than Christian Americans on average. How did I score? A perfect 15 for 15, and my Pagan wife only missed one. Atheists knowing more about religion doesn't surprise me though. After-all, it's our knowledghe of religion that often leads to us eventually rejecting it.

But he's not finished... Kristof also bafflingly said this:
Secularists sometimes believe religious knowledge doesn’t matter because the world is leaving faith behind. Really? Faith is elemental in much of the world, including large swaths of America.
I actually feel that the opposite is true.  Religious knowledge actually is important, because the more you know about religion, the more you know just how dangerous and ridiculous it can be. If you assume that the Bible is all good, you may be more likely to elect candidates that claim to govern Biblically. But when you read the Bible (and other holy books) like non-believers do, you will see that it is far from a pleasant text and something we should not aspire to use as a guide for government or life in general.

Tellingly, Kristof just claims that secular Americans don't know religion and doesn't supply any supporting data. Well, I took care of that for him, but the true story is that we actually know religion better than just about anyone. We aren't atheists because we don't know religion... We're atheists because we do know religion!

-Brain Hulk

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