Wow, what a surprise.  A new Pew survey shows that Americans consider themselves to be a “deeply religious people” but turn out to be droolingly ignorant about their own religion, and others.  Guess who knows the most about religion?  The Atheists:

Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant about religion.

Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.

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. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.

“Even after all these other factors, including education, are taken into account, atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons still outperform all the other religious groups in our survey,” said Greg Smith, a senior researcher at Pew.

This is the best quote from the article:

“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people.  Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”  — Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists

(h/t BJ)

  1. Rupert Psmith says:

    Yes, I saw this on HuffPo this morning too and it made me giddy. I think this is again something all three of us smug agnostic/atheists can agree on. :)

    • Metavirus says:

      the quote at the end really sums it up. most every atheist i know knows a ton about lots of religions. this was usually the primary reason they BECAME atheists! it was certainly the case for me. i spent years examining lots of religions. after this long process, i came to the informed decision that they were all just a steaming soup of dangerous, harmful BS.

      • Rupert Psmith says:

        I think there's a lot of truth in that. Here's a wonderful illustration of this in action. This Republican candidate in South Carolina discussing the Burlington Coat Factory Community Center from Friday. She doesn't seem to understand basic history of the Church and when confronted by this she attacks Anderson Cooper as anti-religious.[youtube SfAqarG8l6w youtube]

        • Metavirus says:

          omg, lol. i saw that yesterday — what a fucking idiot. doesn't it remind you of [a comic whose name i can't remember] getting into a fake argument with a white guy, getting flustered by a good jab and then yelling "hey man, you're just RACIST!"

          fundamentalist christianity in this country is starting to look a lot like paranoid schizophrenia. what, with the persecution complex, delusions of nefarious conspiracies that are out to get them, etc. time to call faith in a religious context what it is : a mental illness.

  2. Gherald says:

    Atheists tend to be more educated and have higher IQs, so it doesn't surprise me that the atheists we know are that much more knowledgeable about religion.

    But the interesting thing is that these results hold even after controlling for education levels.

    Here's Yglesias:

    after seeing this blogged in a lot of places this afternoon, it took until I read Jamelle Bouie to see something really insightful about this:

    All that said, let me speculate a bit. To me, it’s no surprise that the highest scorers — after controlling for everything — were religious minorities: atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons. As a matter of simple survival, minorities tend to know more about the dominant group than vice versa. To use a familiar example, blacks — and especially those with middle-class lives — tend to know a lot about whites, by virtue of the fact that they couldn’t succeed otherwise; the professional world is dominated by middle-class whites, and to move upward, African Americans must understand their mores and norms. By contrast, whites don’t need to know much about African Americans, and so they don’t.

    Likewise, religious minorities — while not under much threat of persecution — are well-served by a working knowledge of religion, for similar reasons; the United States is culturally Christian, and for religious minorities, getting along means understanding those reference points. That those religious minorities can also answer questions about other religious traditions is a sign of broader religious education that isn’t necessary when you’re in the majority. Put another way, there’s a strong chance that religious privilege explains the difference in knowledge between Christians and everyone else.

    That seems right on. I would add that members of culturally dominant groups can often manifest a certain blindness about what’s happening inside their own cultures. My experience has generally been that American Christians aren’t fully aware of the religious significance of the US Postal Service delivery schedule or how convenient it is for “everyone” that extra time off is located in late December.

    • "My experience has generally been that American Christians aren’t fully aware of the religious significance of the US Postal Service delivery schedule or how convenient it is for “everyone” that extra time off is located in late December."

      I like this point in particular. As a kid growing up in the Pacific Northwest (and a huge chunk of my childhood in Idaho) even not being religious myself it wasn't until I moved to New York that it really hit me at how perverse and overbearing late December can be for people not born into Christianity.

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