Americans don’t know about religion

Here and Now

This story was originally reported by PRI’s Here and Now. For more, listen to the audio above.

Atheists know more about religion than many of America’s faithful, according to a new quiz on religious literacy from The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Jews and Mormons did the best of any religions on the test, and Catholics did the worst. Overall, Americans scored about 50 percent on the quiz, which, according to most high school grading schemes, is an F.

“Not only do Americans not know about other religions, we’re also confused about our own religions,” Stephen Prothero, a religion scholar at Boston University and author of God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World, told PRI’s Here and Now. “Protestants don’t know Protestantism, Catholics don’t know Catholicism.”

Protestants received failing grades on questions like, “What was the name of the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation?” And many Catholics couldn’t answer the question, “Which of the following best describes the Catholic teaching about the bread and wine used for Communion? ‘The bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.’ Or ‘The bread and wine are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.'”

Many people were also confused about what schools could and could not teach about religion. Only 23 percent or respondents were correct in their answers to the question, “According to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, is a public school teacher permitted to read from the Bible as an example of literature, or not?”

Teachers can teach the bible as literature. The Supreme Court makes it clear that “not only can we do it, but we should do it,” according to Prothero. “Because you are not an educated person, unless you know about the world’s religions and something about the bible and its role in western civilization.”

“I think we need to know something about religion on the domestic front, to make sense of politicians who talk about religion and the bible all the time,” Prothero told Here and Now. “And we need to know something about it for international affairs reasons, because how do can we make sense of these conflicts we see worldwide? How do we make sense of al Qaeda, if we don’t know something about Islam and other religions?”

Unfortunately, according to this quiz, most Americans don’t know.

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