Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Religious Knowledge VS Religiosity

Pew did a research study on Americans' knowledge of religion. It probably should not surprise us that the more religious you are the less you seem to know about religion. This is, of course, does not apply to our own Law Talking Guy. He is certainly an outlier. But the trend is pretty clear. If you click on the link provided in the first sentence you can take a short version of the quiz yourself and compare to different demographic groups. This story from the Daily Telegraph in the UK reports the full survey results.

I'm an atheist. I do not believe in the supernatural. I scored a 93% on the quiz and only missed scoring 100% because I misread a question and it won't let you edit your answers. Atheists and Jews performed the best overall. Hispanic Catholics the worst. According to the Daily Telegraph story, the region of the US that performed the worst was the South, the most religious demographic group in the country by far.

I think this shows evidence of a trend we already knew about. Namely that education and religiosity are generally negatively correlated. The better educated you are, the less likely you are to be strongly religious.

I also think this shows evidence of something most atheists know but most religious people refuse to acknowledge. Most atheists have given a good deal more thought to religion than most religious people have.

From a political perspective this really shows where politicized religious conservatism is coming from. In contrast to how they see themselves, the religious right is not a movement of orthodox religious people trying to apply to policy the Bible's teachings honestly and faithfully. It is far more accurate to say that they claiming the Bible supports the social views that they hold independently of any serious religious consideration or examination. In short, they are little different how they come to their views than the semi-literate graduates of the madrasahs in the Middle East and South Asia. We who oppose the religious right have thought this for years. But now we have a little chance to say "we told you so."


USwest said...

I scored 100% and was raised Catholic. But I am educated and my family was practicing, but moderate. I no longer practice. In other words, we often ignored the less desirable precepts of the faith and we were all pretty stubborn about making up our own minds about things. I think education is the main difference. I agree that many people try to justify themselves by relying on religious books. Think is, Catholics read the Bible, but don't study it really. It's just part of the Mass. The real study is the "rules", the catechism.

One thing that I find interesting is when Americans who were once say Catholic declare themselves Buddhist.

What does that mean, exactly? I don't consider Buddhism a religion, but a philosophy. So are these folks trying to avoid calling themselves atheists? It seems to me that to be a religion, you have to have some set rules, some set worship practices and times, etc. But maybe I am just to set in my Catholic ways.

Raised By Republicans said...

I've always thought judging people was a big part of it too. And identifying exactly who the "other" is.

The Law Talking Guy said...

The ignorance of the religious conservatives is not that much news, unfortunately. Even about religion. Especially about religion, one might say.

The canard that only dumb people believe in God, however is not supported by this study. Nor that education should lead to atheism, or naturally does. I suspect, in fact, that American colleges in particular do almost nothing that results in atheism. The urban middle class youth who populate most colleges come in as atheists and leave the same way.

Raised By Republicans said...

The article does not say that "only dumb people believe in God." Nor do I say that "education leads to atheism." But it does point to a correlation between lack of education - at least about religion - and high levels of religiosity (not the same thing as believing in God).

Your point about social class and education and religiosity all being correlated is well taken.

Raised By Republicans said...


What I do think the article shows is that the common perceptions about religiosity and knowledge about religion among most (certainly not all) religious people are probably incorrect. In my experience as an atheist living in America, I can say that when I'm confronted about it by religious people (usually relatives), they tell me that they believe that the reason I'm an atheist is because I just haven't thought about it enough. That I'm an atheist because of ignorance of the obvious truth of "the Word."

This data is so interesting to me because it appears to show the opposite. That the same people who belong to these mega churches and tell me I only disbelieve out of ignorance are actually far more likely to be the ignorant ones. It's like sweet vindication for one of the last minority groups in this country that people can openly discriminate against and get away with it.

The Law Talking Guy said...

The study is a bit more nuanced, though. Here's what it says, "On questions about Christianity – including a battery of questions about the Bible – Mormons (7.9 out of 12 right on average) and white evangelical Protestants (7.3 correct on average) show the highest levels of knowledge. Jews and atheists/agnostics stand out for their knowledge of other world religions, including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism."

In other words, Mormons and White Evangelicals knew more about Christianity, while atheists/Jews know more about other world religions. This is somewhat at odds with how RBR has presented the study.

The really surprising result is how well Mormons do. This is either (a) attributable to something about Mormonism or (b) when combined with the poor showing of blacks and Hispanics, a mere testament to the fact that Atheists, Jews, and Mormons are more likely to be white and middle class.

Raised By Republicans said...

OK, fair enough. But you have to let me have my little moments. Be honest, for all their persecution complex, Christians are the most privileged group in the country and Atheists the most "legitimately" excluded. More people think it's "OK" to say that atheism disqualifies a candidate for public office than just about any other characteristic. At the same time, all prominent public officials are expected to pray or say "God" something or other on Christian holidays. Obama is getting grief because he hasn't picked a church out after being forced to leave his previous church because of the un-PC views of one of its pastors.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. From the short quiz only, I don't think several factoids correlate to any sort of religious education at all. Make a civics quiz in which basically you just have to recognize a few names and some general periods of time....does that make you an historian?

Raised By Republicans said...

I think the reported results are based on a much longer version of the survey.

USWest said...

Tell me RBR, have you always been atheist or did you arrive at this after passing through a stage of belief?

I wonder if part of the background here is just that. To be an atheist, does one have to consider religion first? If so, then RBR's relatives are the ones who haven't "thought" it out. Would an atheist have to explore all religions a little to determine that it's ll bunk? Whereas a Christian inherits his/her belief and may not be as likely to explore?

Raised By Republicans said...

I think US West makes an excellent point/question. I was in fact a believer in my youth. I went to Sunday school on Sundays and went to confirmation classes at my parents' Presbyterian church on Wednesdays. I was also in that church's boy choir.

My first step away from church and religion occurred when I went to summer camp through my parents' church when we moved from one town to the city I ended up going to high school in. I was harassed mercilessly by the pious kids of that church.

I was also a boy scout (Eagle Scout actually). Boy Scouts has always been nominally religious but not nearly as religious as it has become since the Mormons started to dominate it in the 90s.

It wasn't until my senior year in High School that I really took a decisive drift towards - at first - agnosticism. I became a firm atheist while in college.

My relatives largely inherited their religiosity from family.