So Many Gods, So Little Time

The majority believes. They’re just not that interested in the details.

| January-February 2011

  • so-many-gods

    Stephanie Glaros

  • so-many-gods

Americans have deeply held personal religious beliefs, but a recent survey shows that many of them don’t exactly possess a kingdom of knowledge about religion in general. In fact, atheists and agnostics, along with Jews and Mormons, handily outscored Christians on many questions about religion in a survey conducted in May and June 2010 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The widely trumpeted proficiency of atheists and agnostics was just one in a string of eyebrow-raising findings from the survey, which posed 32 multiple-choice questions such as When does the Jewish Sabbath begin? What is Ramadan? and Where, according to the Bible, was Jesus born?

The mainstream media covered the poll’s overall findings, but after the initial splash the story passed with very little comment. Parsing the findings again, some notable trends emerged:

Vishnu who? Fewer than half of Americans know the Dalai Lama is Buddhist, only 38 percent correctly associate Vishnu and Shiva with Hinduism, and only about a quarter know that most Indonesians are Muslims.

Church and state confusion. Nine out of ten people correctly affirm that U.S. Supreme Court rulings do not allow teachers to lead public school classes in prayer—the question most often answered correctly on the survey. But beyond this, things go downhill fast. One of the questions people most often got wrong is whether public school teachers are permitted to read from the Bible as an example of literature. Two-thirds of respondents said no, even though the Supreme Court has ruled that the Bible may be taught for its “literary and historic” qualities as part of a secular curriculum. Only 36 percent of respondents knew that comparative religion classes may be taught in public schools.

Because the Bible tells me so. Thirty-seven percent of Americans say they read the Bible or other holy scriptures at least once a week outside of church. But Americans in general are much less inclined to read other books about religion. Nearly half (48 percent) of religious people say they seldom or never read non-scriptural books or visit websites about their own religion, and 70 percent say they seldom or never read books or visit websites about other religions.

roberta meyer
2/1/2011 12:49:36 PM

during my search for God,i read the Koran as well as other written and spoken words by others on thier quest. the two main differences between the Muslim faith and the Chistian faith that the Koran never mentions love. yes the love that is so freely given by God through His gift of His Son who so freely gave His all on the cross. the other is that the God of Chistianity knows who i am, in fact He knew me before i was born came looking for me andcalled me by name.

1/27/2011 8:42:32 AM

Things that should go with out saying should usually be said. So for the record I think we can all agree Hitler was not a Christian. There is a great book on this I beleive called, Inside the Third Reich.

1/27/2011 8:19:41 AM

Dan, Why do you care? I have a close Islamic friend he prays for me and I pray for him we both firmly believe the other is going to hell but we still love each other. Fred Phelps stands outside my church almost every Sunday and tells me I'm going to Hell. I could care less. If these people are getting in your face and telling you you are going to hell and that is there only message tell them to go to hell. The point being why do you care if people tell you your going some place you dont even beleive in? At any rate I am glad you came off your postition of supporting Ricardo's ignorant and uninformed post.

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