Religious Literacy

I’ve been reading a book on the above topic. The author teaches religion at Boston University. The book discusses basic religious concepts of the five major faiths and a few minor ones.

I’m Canadian. My impression is that, outside of the big cities, the US is a pretty religious nation. You might say the same for Canada, though this is changing somewhat.

The book includes a religious quiz — name four Gospels, name a sacred Hindu text, name the holy book of Islam, where was Jesus born, what are the first five books of the Old Testament, what is the golden rule, name as many commandments as you can, name the four noble Buddhist truths, name seven sacraments of Catholicism, what two things does the First amendment say about religion.

It’s not a tough quiz. But the author claims well over half of religion students at Boston University fail it; and they don’t do better at Chapel Hill. In fact, the author states many churchgoers know next to nothing about their own religion and even less about others.

I’m more spiritual than religious, but I was shocked by claims a majority of people can’t name one Gospel. Can this be true? I’ve never taken a religious course, but you need to know the basics to understand geopolitics and literature. Are religious people often all hat and no casuistry? Or is religion many about social inclusion than dogma?

For better or worse I have seen many Christians who depend on their pastor to read the Bible to them during service, and while they feel like reading it themself would be better, that they feel are getting the word sufficiently and can get away with that. This seems to have them not really know what book things are from, and perhaps have gaps in their biblical knowledge.

Since this is in MPSIMS and not GQ…

I was raised Catholic, went to church every Sunday for 18 years, and I assume I would do better than most Americans on that quiz. A fair amount of time during a Catholic mass, is spent on scripture, the meaning of the scripture, the historical context of the scripture, and the differences between the old and new testaments. It wasn’t a rigorous biblical study by any means, but there was some thought put into it.

A while back my wife decided to start going to an evangelical church, which was a new experience for me. During those services, almost no time was spent on scripture – no readings for sure, just light Christian rock. At most, a “sermon” would discuss 2 or 3 lines, usually the most well known ones, usually stripped of context. Any historical discussion was usually wrong. The sermon and the service were basically feel-good, self-help stuff, and any biblical study was expected to be done at home or at a bible study group. Those groups were not well attended.

She now attends a Methodist church which isn’t nearly as ridiculous as the evangelical church, and while it does include multiple scripture readings during every service, the sermons don’t go into any depth or detail on them. From a “religious knowledge” perspective, I don’t think anyone there would score any better than the evangelicals.

Based on what I see around my city, evangelicals and light protestants outnumber Catholics by about 10 to 1. Take that for what it’s worth.

Half of religion students (students studying religion) or have of religious students (students that are religious).

I’ve heard a few times that religious people tend not to be as knowledge about that kind of stuff as non-religious people. The reason being that there’s a big gap between those that go to church every week and hear 30 second passage and a 5 minute homily vs those that study religion or those that read the bible (in whole or parts) as more of an educational thing.

In other words, ask a religious person and a non religious person about the bible’s views on a certain subject and you’re likely to get wildly different answers. One is likely to be more about the church’s stance on the subject and one more about the actual text.

I think that sort of goes to show that people that go to church pay more attention to the homily than the part where the priest says “A reading from the Gospel according to Matthew/Mark/Luke/John”.

Funny thing is, even if you don’t study it, you can pick up a lot of this stuff if you watch enough Jeopardy. Even they consider it general (albeit advanced) knowledge.

What does it conciser to be the five major faiths? (Judaism isn’t number 5, but I’m betting the book thinks so.)

Also, to cut a little bit of slack to some people…I think when many religious people are accused of cherry picking, they’re not doing it on purpose. That is, someone might spout off that a man shall not lay with another man the way he lays with a woman, they’re not ignoring everything else in that section, they don’t know it’s there.

“Major” doesn’t necessarily mean the religion with the most followers. Sometimes it means the most influential.

This might be skewed by what the author thinks constitutes “the Commandments.” The first set is more than ten. It was also destroyed. The second set is actually of ten, but it’s got some weird stuff in it. Not at all what you’re used to.

Maybe that was the test? To answer the question with a question?

Also, I wouldn’t be too shocked that a majority of people failed a quiz that asked questions for a multitude of faiths. Even someone who knows their own religion, isn’t necessarily going to know the basics of someone else’s. Even if they just started (as in haven’t learned anything yet from) a religious studies course.

A quiz show that ran on Basque TB (Date el Bote, ETB2, 2002-2009) used to have questions on religion. I’m not talking about “recite Isaiah 3, International Catholic Bible edition, in either Spanish or Basque”, I’m talking about “what is the last book in the New Testament?” or “name one of the founding members of the Jesuits” (both Loyola and Xavier were “local boys”; their feasts are the respective regional holidays of the two Basque-speaking autonomous regions of Euskadi and Navarre).

There would occasionally be a person who knew his altar from his alba, but they were less and less frequent as time went on. They ended up removing those questions because of the high failure rates.

The book mentions there are 15m Jews, and considers this one of the 5 major religions due to its influence and age, not its number of adherents.

It also gives two versions of 12 Commandments, both Hebrew and Old Testament. It includes the history of religion in the US and a basic dictionary of religious terms and concepts from many religions, including Baha’i, Sikhism, many branches of Protestantism, etc.

Just about anything that you’d think most people would/should know, all too many people don’t (or at least they can’t come up with it when asked).

“It’s taking longer than we thought.”

A2010 Pew Survey found that only half of Christians generally, and only a third of Catholics, could name the four Gospels, so including non-Christians could easily lower it to half of people not even knowing one Gospel. It also found that only 42% of Catholics knew that Genesis was the first book of the Bible.

Respondents on a 2019 survey did much better, but buried at the bottom is the fact that the 2010 survey responses were given in real time to a questioner, while the 2019 survey was a take-home exam on the internet. I would never accuse the respondents to the latter survey of using Google to jog their memory, but that’s because I don’t have a cynical bone in my body.

I suspect many who consider themselves believers aren’t aware their religion promotes infanticide, genocide, and slavery, or don’t care. Maybe they’re better off illiterate.

There’s nothing wrong with self-help or self esteem. I’m not, at all, against religion. I think it does a lot of good. I think believing in something bigger than yourself is healthy.

Literal interpretations, however, can be especially problematic. This is especially so given problems with translation, oral history, the power of story and myth, and mixed motives behind influencing others.

I don’t see anything wrong with faith. But if something is a major part of your identity it wouldn’t hurt to have some insight.

You don’t see anything wrong with believing things to be true in the absence of evidence that your belief is justified?

Hi, Dr_Paprika!

According to the most recent polls I’ve seen, the percentage of Americans self-identifying as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular” is about 33%, while it’s 30% for Canadians.

I suspect these figures are considerably lower in rural areas of both countries. Based on my recent travels in the outback, religion is thriving, at least based on the number of new large/mega-churches that have sprung up on enormous amounts of acreage.

I’d have flunked it. I was even blanking on the name of Islam’s holy book. And the prime reason I can name a few of the Ten Commandments is because they appear on billboards along I-71 in southern Ohio and I’ve been traveling that stretch of road a lot lately.*

*There is also a “Hell Is Real” billboard on I-71 supplying a name for the newly established Columbus-Cincinnati rivalry in pro soccer. :smiley:

Not necessarily. See William James’s “The Will To Believe.”

(Plus, “faith” can have other meanings besides “believing things to be true in the absence of evidence that your belief is justified.”)

I once worked in an office with three Roman Catholic women. I was surprised and appalled by their lack of knowledge of their own religion. For example, they all thought that Jesus founded the Roman Catholic Church, which was exactly the same as today’s Church, in every unchanged detail, the “One True Church.”

They also ridiculed me for believing there was a Saint Elmo.

Some guy said it can be just fine to believe things without evidence… I don’t find that compelling.

It sure can! And yet, the only definition of faith that religion can lay claim to when it comes to supernatural claims of the divine and the afterlife is the one that comes without evidence. But then, of course, there is equivocation whereby certain believers like to say “Oh yeah well you have faith in things too!” referring more generally to belief or confidence (based on evidence) even as they avail themselves as faith in the unseen (without evidence) definition.

I’m always surprised at how incurious people are about pretty much everything, including things they themselves are engaged in. Why should religion be any exception?