Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In US, Atheists Know Religion Better Than Believers. Is That Bad?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In US, Atheists Know Religion Better Than Believers. Is That Bad?

Article excerpt

A new study shows that many devout Americans know less about religion than do atheists. To some observers, it suggests a shallowness of faith. To others, it is evidence that Americans know the spirit better than the letter of religion.

For a highly religious people, Americans have plenty of room to improve their knowledge of religion, according to a new survey that's stirring debate about the health of faith in America.

The US Religious Knowledge Survey, released Tuesday from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, found atheists and agnostics know more basic facts about the Bible than either Protestants or Catholics. Among the other findings:

- 57 percent of Protestants can name the Bible's four gospels.

- 55 percent of Catholics know their tradition teaches that sacramental bread and wine become Christ's body and blood.

- 15 percent of white evangelicals know Jonathan Edwards participated in the First Great Awakening.

Take Pew's religious quiz: Are you smarter than an atheist?

Based on a May-June survey of more than 3,400 American adults, these findings point to a dearth of religious knowledge in a country where nearly 6 in 10 adults say religion is "very important" in their lives.

"If you can't even name the four books that tell us about [Jesus'] teachings and way of life, then you're in big trouble," said Fuller Seminary President Richard Mouw. "You don't know who Jesus is if you don't even know Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John."

Not all Christian educators are worried, however. Wilhelmina Jenkins, an Atlanta physicist, says people are hungry for knowledge of history and other religions in the adult Bible study class she leads at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Atlanta. She says facts are helpful, but "academic" questions - such as those asked in the Pew survey - don't reveal much about a person's understanding of his/her faith tradition.

"I don't think this [survey] got to the heart of what most people know about their own religious experience," Ms. …

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