Testing Americans' religious knowledge

Atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons led in quiz on religion

By Helen T. Gray

McClatchy Newspapers

Published: Saturday, Jan. 1 2011 1:24 a.m. MST

So you think you're smarter than your neighbor about religion.

For fun, take this quiz:

1. What is the first book in the Bible?

2. Is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" one of the Ten Commandments?

3. Name the first four books of the New Testament.

4. Who inspired the Protestant Reformation?

5 When does the Jewish Sabbath begin?

6. What major religion was founded by Joseph Smith?

7. Is Ramadan an Islamic, Hindu or Jewish holy month?

8. What religion is the Dalai Lama?

9. What is the biggest religion in India?

10. According to the Supreme Court, can a public school teacher read from the Bible as literature?

These were some of 32 questions in the Pew Forum's recent U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey that covered core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions. The results ranged from expected to surprising. The research was conducted by the Washington-based nonpartisan Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.

What group knew the most about religion? The answer made big news

recently: Atheists/agnostics rated the highest, closely followed by Jews and Mormons, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics.

Pew researchers concluded: "This survey shows that large numbers of Americans are not well-informed about the tenets, practices, history and leading figures of major faith traditions, including their own.

"Many people also think the constitutional restrictions on religion in public schools are stricter than they really are."

They said previous Pew studies have found that the United States is among the most religious of the world's developed nations. Nearly six in 10 U.S. adults say religion is "very important" in their lives, and roughly four in 10 say they attend worship services at least once a week. And in this study, most Americans correctly answered at least half of the questions about the Bible.

Among the findings:

More than four in 10 Catholics (45 percent) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize, but actually become the body and blood of Christ.

About half of Protestants (53 percent) cannot identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation, which made their religion a separate branch of Christianity from Catholicism.

About four in 10 (43 percent) of Jews did not know that Maimonides was Jewish. Maimonides was one of the most venerated rabbis in history.

Fewer than half (47 percent) know that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist.

Fewer than four in 10 (38 percent) identify Vishnu and Shiva with Hinduism.

About one quarter (27 percent) know that most people in Indonesia are Muslims.

Nine in 10 (89 percent) know that U.S. Supreme Court rulings do not allow teachers to lead public school classes in prayer.

Only 36 percent know that comparative religion classes may be taught in public schools, according to Supreme Court rulings.

About seven in 10 (71 percent) know that the Bible says Jesus was born in Bethlehem.