Sunday 23 January 2011

Enough to make you cry...

A recent Pew Forum poll continues to cause heads to shake in wonderment.

Fewer than half of Americans can name the four New Testament gospels.

More than half do not recognize that Judaism is a religion.

An early poll showed one in 10 believe Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. Another one in five believe that Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple.

Out of a possible score of 32, lazy mainliners (Catholic and Protestant) averaged a dismal 16. Evangelicals were only marginally more competent, racking up a dim 17. Ouch!

Mormons, Jews, Agnostics and Atheists trounced them, with averages between 20 and 21. That's gotta be embarrassing. I once knew a Mormon guy who thought Saint James wrote the KJV!

Yet despite this wall of ignorance, two out of three Americans believe the Bible has the answer to all of life's important questions. How is that even possible? Many obviously don't believe the Bible, just believe in believing the Bible, then steer well clear of the book itself lest they learn something they won't like.

Academic and writer Stephen Prothero worries that American Christianity is increasingly governed by sentimentalism ( "All that matters is I love Jesus") and super-charged moralism.

The above comments are largely culled from a recent piece in the Vancouver Sun. Columnist Douglas Todd then goes on to wonder about Canadian religious literacy. I would guess that the same survey administered in New Zealand would reveal even more eye-wateringly depressing results. A 15 question sampler from the original survey is available online to try - for those who dare.

Todd wonders what has happened to the Christian emphasis on intellect.

Uh, what emphasis was that? A simpler and more pertinent question is what happened to the basic reading skills that the Jehovah's Witness who knocks on your door still has? Not much intellect needed there, just commitment. And these days no one has to be put off by archaic language. Put on a pair of hygienic latex gloves and cautiously pick up a copy of the CEV Bible, a translation deliberately dumbed down so small children and particularly thick adults can read it. Bible reading isn't rocket science. How difficult can it be?

(Not that dumbed down, easy-read Bibles are good for kids. Ten year olds who can power through volumes of Harry Potter deserve much more credit than that.)

I'm not sure about Canadians, but compared to these results, Kiwis, Aussies, Brits... almost any other national group in the Western world, at least have a great excuse. Our societies are much more secular. Religious profession is far less an aspect of our national character.

Apparently there's little disadvantage in that fact.


  1. Oh well, I got 14 out of 15, missed the one about the First Great Awakening.

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  3. This is, relatively speaking, old news. I remember reading and writing about it several months ago. I wonder why Todd just now heard about it. Perhaps it's Prothero's book.

    It got me thinking again, though: (You're always doing that...)

    The survey itself is a relative joke. It's such basic knowledge -- and that makes the results even more striking.

  4. You answered 15 out of 15 questions correctly for a score of 100%.

    And I thought I was forgetting all this useless stuff!

  5. This doesn't come as a shock to atheists; we tend to be more well-informed about the Bible (we actually read it cover-to-cover) and find Christians painfully unaware of what their holy book says, but are good at picking the parts that support their morality.

  6. You answered 15 out of 15 questions correctly for a score of 100%.

  7. I also got 15 out of 15. I would love to know what the other 17 questions are. Then there is the issue of "average". Very likely many of the people questioned got all or nearly all correct, like us Otagoshians, while many more got none or nearly none. That is called a "bimodal distribution" which is totally hidden when you take the "average" which is more correctly called the mean.

  8. I actually got 13 out of 15 myself. Got the "Great awakening" question right. But misread the Sabbath question and thought Catholics might be less crazy than they actually are.