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Atheists Score High on Religion Survey

September 29th, 2010
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Atheists score high in US religion survey
ENI-10-0660

By Chris Herlinger
New York, 29 September (ENI)–If you want a question on religion answered in the United States, ask an atheist.

U.S. atheists and agnostics are among the groups that scored highest in a recent survey of knowledge of world religions by the Washington-based Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion and Public Life. U.S. Jews and Mormons also got top marks.

Still, the study found that white evangelical Protestants, and Mormons scored highest on questions about Christianity. Atheists, agnostics and Jews scored highest on questions about the intersection of religion and public life, such as the U.S. Constitutional guarantees and protection of religious freedom.

The survey of 3412 adults, taken between 19 May and 6 June, suggests that large numbers of Americans do not know, “about the tenets, practices, history and leading figures of major faith traditions – including their own”, Pew said when it announced the survey results on 28 September.

The study also suggests that Americans are generally knowledgeable about the basic facts of the Bible, with 71 percent of those surveyed knowing that biblical accounts say Jesus was born in the city of Bethlehem.

More than six in 10 polled, 63 percent, also correctly identified Genesis as the first book of the Bible.

The study found that, on average, those surveyed answered 16 of 32 questions correctly, with atheists and agnostics correctly answering nearly 21 questions, and Jews and Mormons answering nearly as many correctly. Protestants averaged 16 correct responses, and Catholics got almost 15 questions right.

Among the other findings:

• More than half of Protestants polled, 53 percent, could not correctly identify German reform leader Martin Luther as a key figure in the Protestant Reformation.

• Nearly half of the U.S. Catholics surveyed, 45 percent, were ignorant of a key tenet of Catholic teaching – that the bread and wine in the Mass or Holy Communion become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and do not remain, as various Protestant traditions believe, religious symbols.

• Only about a quarter of those surveyed, 27 percent, correctly said that the majority of Indonesians are Muslims; less than half of those polled, 47 percent, could not identify the Dalai Lama as a Buddhist; and only 38 percent could identify the figures of Vishnu and Shiva with the tradition of Hinduism.

• Survey results and a version of the quiz: http://www.pewforum.org/ [395 words]

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