According to a study released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life yesterday, atheists and agnostics (those who believe there is no God or who aren't sure) knew more, on average, than followers of most major faiths. Atheists scored an average of 20.9 out of 32 in a quiz about different faiths, while religious respondents averaged 16.5.
The survey found that Jews and Mormons did best among the faithful, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 respectively. Hispanic Catholics scored just 11.6 on average. Fewer than half of the 3,412 adults surveyed could identify Buddhism as the Dalai Lama’s religion, while only 54 per cent correctly said that the Koran was the Islamic holy book. More than four in five respondents, however, knew that Mother Teresa was a Catholic. The survey also found that people had surprising gaps in knowledge about their own religions. Almost half of Catholics surveyed did not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion actually become the body and blood of Christ. A majority of Protestants, meanwhile, could not identify Martin Luther as the driving force behind the Protestant Reformation. Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, who worked on the survey, said: “We know almost nothing about our own religions and even less about the religions of other people.”According to the study, atheists and agnostics tend to be people who grew up in a religious tradition and consciously gave it up, often after a great deal of reflection and study. Atheists and agnostics also tend to be relatively well educated, and the survey found, not surprisingly, that the most knowledgeable people were also the best educated. However, it said that atheists and agnostics also outperformed believers who had a similar level of education.