Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pew Poll: Religious Ignorance

Nicholas Kristof, in today's NY Times, has a column about the Pew Research Center poll on religion.  He writes,
Almost half of Catholics didn’t understand Communion. Most Protestants didn’t know that Martin Luther started the Reformation. Almost half of Jews didn’t realize Maimonides was Jewish. And atheists were among the best informed about religion.
 Looking at the questions he samples in his article, I can see why people failed the test.  He picked 13 that he characterized as dealing with extremism and fundamentalism.  Here are the first three:

1. Which holy book stipulates that a girl who does not bleed on her wedding night should be stoned to death?
  • >ddd
  • a. Koran b. Old Testament c. (Hindu) Upanishads
2. Which holy text declares: “Let there be no compulsion in religion”?
  • >x
  • a. Koran b. Gospel of Matthew c. Letter of Paul to the Romans
3. The terrorists who pioneered the suicide vest in modern times, and the use of women in terror attacks, were affiliated with which major religion?
    a. Islam b. Christianity c. Hinduism

 You can find the other ten questions and the answers in Kristof's editorial.  (The NY Times online is still free, but you may have to register to read it.)

I bring this up only because I just put up three posts (Part I: Snowy Plover, Part II: Beach Hoppers, Part III: Kelp Flies) about how complicated the world is and the need to recognize how little we know instead of making bombastic  authoritative statements about things we don't understand.    He says the same thing this way:
. . . the point of this little quiz is that religion is more complicated than it sometimes seems, and that we should be wary of rushing to inflammatory conclusions about any faith, especially based on cherry-picking texts.


  1. I took it last week. Missed one. I was sloppy. It seemed overly simple, but I'm not surprised with Pew's findings.

  2. I missed one, too. I can't remember which question — go figure. I think the most interesting part of being an atheist is the realization that it is considered by some religions to be especially vile. I think just that fact says a great deal about extreme faith. And in a very curious way I find that a comfort because I honestly just don't get it.


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