Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Atheists Know More Than You!

When I say "you," I'm referring to the whole lot of you who are Jewish and Christian and whatever else you might call yourself. That is, according to a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life study, reported on in today's New York Times.

Mad props to those who identify as Atheist/Agnostic. But what explains why the A/A group seems to know so much more about religion than those who identify themselves with and profess it? I've got a simple answer, and no offense to my good buddies who are A/A, but I find most atheists and agnostics to be fairly, well, defensive about their stance. In my experience, they know a lot more than anyone else because they have to or need to in order to stand up in arguments of why exactly being religious is wrong, ridiculous, or just straight pointless. Without a religion to dwell on, knowledge on world religions is pulled from every corner of the earth in order to understand and explain away its ideas. Maybe that's a radical view, but from my experience, you have to be educated about something if you really want to argue it. Religious individuals are firm in their faith or beliefs set and often don't question anything because belief and faith are enough; in the end, there's no need to defend anything. It's a sort of false confidence that often leaves religious individuals befuddled when asked about basic big questions of their religion. When I say this, of course, I'm referring to everyone: Jews, Christians, Muslims, you name it.

Here are some of the surprising (and embarrassing) statistics with my thoughtful commentary:

+ Fifty-three percent of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation. This is just ... wow. This is really sad. It shows you how much people in the modern period pay homage to the big dogs of the religious past. 

+ Forty-five percent of Catholics did not know that their church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine in holy communion are not merely symbols, but actually become the body and blood of Christ. Seriously? Really? I wonder if this alters how any Catholics feel about the rite/ritual. It also reminds me of the amusing (to me anyway) TV spot on some thief who stole the body and blood of Christ from a church in Pennsylvania. The people quoted in the spot kept saying "Someone stole the body! How could someone steal the body?!" Which just made me giggle. Anyone who just turned on their TV would assume that someone picked up a body from the morgue or something.

+ Forty-three percent of Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the foremost rabbinical authorities and philosophers, was Jewish. Oh wow. Really? Maimonides! Thirteen Principles of Faith! Probably the greatest mind of his time! This is embarrassing, and probably relates to a lack of education on the big dogs of Jewish history and memory. Shame shame shame my yidden!

+ The question about Maimonides was the one that the fewest people answered correctly. But 51 percent knew that Joseph Smith was Mormon, and 82 percent knew that Mother Teresa was Roman Catholic. Okay, so maybe I can dismiss the Maimonides thing. Mad props to the people who answered it correction (I wonder which group managed to get it right the most?). Glad to know that so many are familiar with Joseph Smith and Mother Teresa. It shows how far back our religious memories go -- they pretty much stop pre-1800 it appears. 

(Interestingly, they didn't get enough Muslims to really be able to say how their knowledge compared. This seems really, really bizarre.)