I really don't know quite what to make of the results from the Pew Forum's survey of religious knowledge in the U.S. The big headline in the Times yesterday was "Atheists outdo some believers in survey on religion." The headline was Basic religion test stumps many Americans. But I don't know...is it basic religion to know who Maimonides is?
I mean, there were some stunners. I was shocked at how many people couldn't identify Martin Luther as the instigator of the Protestant reformation. But that's because I thought that was something everyone learned in 9th grade world history. Although it's basic religious knowledge, I thought it was just basic knowledge, period.
I was interested to see how many Catholics thought the Catholic Church teaches that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are symbols of Christ's body and blood. Although it's more fun to say, "Ha ha! Those Catholics don't know what the Church's doctrine is!", I wonder if another read might be that even those teaching the Church's doctrine don't believe or teach that doctrine. I don't know. Just speculating.
Dan Schultz, a blogger/pastor/author, put it this way on his Twitter feed: "The Pew survey on religious knowledge strikes me as a measure of reading levels in our nation. Doesn't anyone pick up a book any more?"
He's also thinking about giving the quiz to his congregation as a conversation starter. I think that's a cool idea. There's a handout with 15 of the 32 questions, but also the full phone-survey questionnaire, which was fascinating in its own right. For instance, it reports that "half of the time interviewers asked to speak with the youngest adultmale currently at home and the other half of the time asked to speak with the youngest adult female currently at home. If no respondent of the initially requested gender was available, interviewers asked to speak with the youngest adult of the opposite gender who was currently at home." What effect did age have on the results?
I'm afraid it sounds like I'm excusing the abysmal results of this survey. Well, maybe I am, a little. I'm just not sure it says what they say it says. After watching one or two rounds of Ellen De Generes' "Know or Go," I'm not sure this shows a special failing on the part of people of faith.