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Survey documents American ignorance of religious knowledge

September 28, 2010

A survey of 3,412 Americans conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has documented the extent of religious ignorance.

While 44% of Americans speak frequently with friends and family about religion,

  • only 71% could name the place of Jesus’ birth
  • 67% inaccurately believe that public school teachers are forbidden to “read from the Bible as an example of literature”
  • only 63% could name the first book of the Bible
  • only 54% could name the Muslim holy book
  • 52% of Americans think that Catholics believe that “the bread and wine are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ,” while 45% think that Catholics believe that “the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ”
  • only 46% could name Martin Luther as “the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation”
  • only 45% could name the four Gospels
  • more Americans (28%) believe that Billy Graham participated in the First Great Awakening than that Jonathan Edwards did (11%)
  • more Americans (36%) believe that Brown v. Board of Education case-- which ended segregation in public schools-- focused on evolution than believes that the Scopes trial (which actually focused on evolution) did (31%)

The survey also found that

  • 69% are “absolutely certain” that God or a universal spirit exists, while 17% are “fairly certain” and 6% are atheists
  • 48% read Scripture at least monthly
  • only 59% of Americans know that the vice president of the United States is Joe Biden


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  • Posted by: lauriem5377 - Sep. 28, 2010 9:44 PM ET USA

    We have lost nearly 2 generations of American Cathoilcs who have been taught little about their faith. I look to parishes to educate both the adults and children in the parish the important elements of our faith - and then to the families to sustain and carry on the work of passing on the treasure of our faith. We have lost so many Catholics from Mass because they no longer even understand what it really means.

  • Posted by: wolfdavef3415 - Sep. 28, 2010 2:35 PM ET USA

    I came back to offer this thought: There are no responses from Muslims in the original study. Why? Were they purposefully excluded or should we assume something about the randomness of the sampling procedures?

  • Posted by: Defender - Sep. 28, 2010 12:17 PM ET USA

    I would love to see university professors in our Catholic schools answer these and other questions. I can't help but think that the results would be enlightening, especially if they are asked if they believe each question of Catholic doctrine (that they teach) to be true.

  • Posted by: wolfdavef3415 - Sep. 28, 2010 9:08 AM ET USA

    Yes, but this is what happens when talking about religion publicly can get you sued, so what did we honestly expect? Interesting that atheists, Jews, and Mormons were separated by less than a full point in the results. Of course, the article I read pointed out that atheists were the 'smartest' group so the results were to be expected. Of course, the NYT interviewed an atheist for this quote. To show balance, they interviewed, well, no one else. Outstanding journalism again.