American atheists and agnostics know more about religion than professed believers

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166 Responses to “American atheists and agnostics know more about religion than professed believers”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Let the orgy of self-congratulation begin!

    I read the survey methodology and questions. It’s pretty lame; it has FOUR very lightweight questions about non-judeo-christian religions. It’s mostly about christianity, and was mostly applied to a narrow socio-economic group.

    But I also took the 15-question on-line survey, before it boinged, and got 100%! I must be an atheist (I’m not).

  2. Forteto says:

    I have but one thing to say about this: Roftlcopter online.
    I’ve had similer personal experiences, and as a aithiest, I thought a long time about it.

  3. Ultan says:

    The categorization of people in this study seems faulty. Why are atheists and agnostics lumped together? Why are Orthodox and Reform Jews lumped together while “evangelical” and “mainline” Christians are separated? How come the Mormon crazies get a category to themselves while the Jehovah’s Witness and the Seventh-Day Adventist crazies don’t? Which groups are the Quakers, Deists, Mennonites, Parsis, Baha’is, New-Agers, Erisians, Javacrucians, Pastafarians and Jedi assigned to? For that matter, what about the Moslems and the Hindus?

    Did they even validate their questions? What is with that Jonathan Edwards/ 1st Great Awakening question? It’s obscure and insignificant compared to any of thousands of other questions they could have asked. Even of the evangelical Christians only 15% got it right – and there were only 3 choices!

  4. Eric Ragle says:

    As a relatively recent convert to atheism, I can attest to this. The more I learned about the tenets of my former faith, the closer to atheism I got.

    So like I told my wife this more, most people don’t know they major tenets of their faith and those that do are atheists.

  5. Xopher says:

    shadowfirebird 51:

    By that measure there are NO practicing Christians in the world today – or at least hardly any. Because the bible forbids wearing mixed fibre clothing (somewhere in Leviticus, I think) and I’m pretty certain no-one does that.

    Some orthodox Jews wear only single-fiber fabrics.

    Anon 94:

    on another entirely different note, it is interesting that the Egyptian god Horus was born to a virgin

    Not sure where you’re getting that. Isis is Osiris’ sister, but the idea that they didn’t have sex to produce Horus is a new one to me.

    was supposed to be the son of god

    OK, that’s silly. If Horus exists at all he is the son of Osiris.

    was crucifed and resurrected after 3 days.

    Huh? I never heard that. It’s Osiris who died and was resurrected, as far as I know. Isis couldn’t raise him the second time Setesh killed him because she couldn’t complete his body (his penis had been eaten by a crocodile). Never heard that about Horus. Horus was set among the bulrushes in a basket and found by a princess, though.

    shadowfirebird 99:

    Do Christians claim that only the new testament is their religious reference? They do not.

    No, but they do say that Levitican law is not applicable to Christians. The more aware say that the laws of the OT are for Jews, and that you don’t become a Jew by virtue of becoming a Christian. Therefore they’re free to eat shellfish, wear blended fabrics, and lie with another man as with a woman.

    Ibid. 101:

    Personally I’ve never understood those who look for proof of the factualness of religion.

    To me it’s like criticising Van Gogh’s Starry Night as an ineffectual star map, or saying that the QE2 was a lousy ship because she was too big to land at Heathrow airport.

    I am so stealing this.

    • Anonymous says:

      “By that measure there are NO practicing Christians in the world today – or at least hardly any. Because the bible forbids wearing mixed fibre clothing (somewhere in Leviticus, I think) and I’m pretty certain no-one does that.”

      “Some orthodox Jews wear only single-fiber fabrics.”

      Leviticus only forbids wearing clothes that have wool and linen mixed together, not ANY mixed-fibre clothing. But yes, Orthodox Jews do adhere to this.

  6. Xopher says:

    Dammit. My last blockquote ran out before the quote did. The last part of my post above should look like this:

    Ibid. 101:

    Personally I’ve never understood those who look for proof of the factualness of religion.

    To me it’s like criticising Van Gogh’s Starry Night as an ineffectual star map, or saying that the QE2 was a lousy ship because she was too big to land at Heathrow airport.

    I am so stealing this.

    =====
    Is there any way to quote more than one paragraph without separate blocks and big stupid quote marks here? I’m unreasonably irritated by this.

  7. tboy says:

    And I finally get to see the questions, and I roll my eyes.

    Wonderful, representative questions about religious knowledge. Plenty of queries about the Bible and Christianity (12 questions if you think Mormonism is not Christianity, 15 if you don’t… out of a total of 32 questions), and Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism get shoved into “World Religions”.

    But what did I expect? It’s a survey aimed at Americans, who have difficulty seeing beyond their borders. Were it not for the fact that stuff is repeated constantly in your news reports, you wouldn’t even remember which country has which majority in its religion. After all, who gives a shit about the Indonesians, right?

    At least they put in Musa ibn Maimun in the survey. That’s an unusual question to put in. I wonder why they didn’t put in Shabbetai Zevi or the Besht.

    • Gloria says:

      Considering that a significant portion of those surveyed couldn’t answer some very basic questions about some religions (only half could identify the Koran as the Islam Holy Book?), I’d rather think that throwing in more in-depth questions would be pointless.

      I’m unsurprised that the survey focused mostly on Christianity; after all, the United States is *overwhelmingly* Christian. The survey’s purpose is clear to me — to illuminate as much about American Christians’ knowledge of their own religions as of other “world” religions. I think it’s just as interesting to study the former as to study the latter.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Athiests are nosey fuckers

  9. goldmineguttd says:

    I’ve been reading the Bible myself. I’m up to Judges and am greatly enjoying it. Since Joshua I’ve been blogging at http://betterthanesdras.wordpress.com.

    The Bible is actually pretty awesome once you understand a few things and don’t take it too seriously.

    1. It’s a compilation of various sources. This makes the “contradictions” rather meaningless, as they are all arise from bad editing.

    2. There are translations that are much more readable than the KJV or NIV. Find a GOOD translation. I <3 the New English Bible

    3. Understanding the texts without editor’s notes is well-nigh impossible. Get an annotated edition or a bible commentary. These can be theologically tainted, so be careful.

    4. You can skim ALL of Leviticus and not miss anything.

    5. The Christian obsession with the first half of Genesis is pretty bizarre. Within the Bible, it’s the story of Moses that gets the most attention.

    6. The Hebrew Bible is basically a big collection of old Hebrew stories, law, and pseudo-history. It’s not a cohesive entity in any sense.

    7. Jesus, of course, is not mentioned or referred to in the OT, even though Christians like to pretend he was. They pretty much bastardize the Hebrew Bible as a prequel to Jesus.

    7. Seriously, the Bible is pretty cool, you should read it.

    • ebdus says:

      I attended a southern baptist school that (an off-shoot of the infamous Bob Jones University) for 11 years (k4 -9th grade). I read the bible countless times and was kind of obsessed with Revelation for
      a while. If you think it’s a good read, then you should definitely move on to the Qur-an when you’re finished. I’m checking it out right now and it’s just as wacky. The first 100 verses are just bashing the Jews for not being faithful to their god, the god of Abraham, Allah. Muhammad, I mean Allah, is basically chastising on the Israelites for something they did thousands of years before hand. Historical perspective, what of it?

      Best verse so far: J.1 vs 111 – “And they say: ‘None shall enter paradise unless he be a jew or a christian’ Those are their (vain) desires. Say: ‘Produce your proof if ye are truthful.’ ”
      Hysterical.

  10. shadowfirebird says:

    Perhaps my point of view is an odd one, but I see a fundamental (pardon me) flaw in the argument.

    Religion isn’t science, nor is it law. It does not, in fact, matter what the bible — or even the priest — says the sacrament is. The only thing that counts is what the individual concerned believes, and that doesn’t have to conform to, well, anything in order to make the person religious.

    So any claim of “you’re doing religion wrong!” automatically misses the point. Of course, both the catholic priest and the miss-the-point atheist are equally likely to make the claim…

    Concrete example: William Blake. Presumably we can all agree that he was religious. What religion was it? Answers on a postcard please, because no-one else before or since has believed quite what he did.

    • Anonymous says:

      The history of the world disagrees with you. Monotheistic religion, from its inception, has been LAW, writ large. It is law. That’s what it is. It’s law.

      And, yes, you can “do religion wrong”. One person making some prayers and burning some incense ain’t religion, pal, that’s spirituality. Ask the Sunnis if the Shia are doing it right. Ask the Cathars if they were doing it right.

      No, your sentiments about understanding and rugged spiritual individualism are cute. But they are wrong. Religion is institutional, systematic, hierarchical madness.

    • goldmineguttd says:

      This pretty much prove’s the atheist point, that religion is untethered to any reality, a product of the believer’s imagination and nothing more. We’re told to respect religion. If religion can encompass any random belief… we’re being told to respect any belief anyone can possibly have. It’s ridiculous.

      Of course, the other view, that only certain doctrines have some sort of “authority”, is equally silly.

      • shadowfirebird says:

        Depends what you mean by “respect”.

        If I believe in UFOs (to take a random, not-especially-religious example by way of comparison), and I insist that the UFO men want us both to start crossing on the red light, then I don’t think “respect” demands that you cross with me, or even tell me that it’s okay.

        On the other hand if I just quietly sit in a corner reading some UFO magazine and only occasionally bore you with slideshows of mysterious lights, then I do think that “respect” means that you don’t make fun of me. And in return, I have to respect that you don’t (necessarily) believe that the mysterious lights are that mysterious.

        I would myself argue that the idea that only certain doctrines have authority is FAR more dangerous. For a start, it puts the power in the hands of a few people rather than democratically spread across everyone. Pragmatically, that sounds like a bad idea from the get-go.

        • goldmineguttd says:

          If all believers sat quietly in their chairs and read their holy books and believed their weird things, and it didn’t affect anyone else, that would be fine and dandy and I wouldn’t care.

          But that’s not how the world works. Theists aren’t, in reality, quiet about their beliefs. Once all Christians STFU about Jesus, I’ll accept your argument.

          • shadowfirebird says:

            Many, many christians (why just christians?) sit quietly and never talk about their faith — unless at church, and maybe not even then.

            But you don’t hear about them. The noisy minority are the ones that get heard.

            Those and the ones that think their beliefs give them a right to order other people around. I think we would agree that those are the ones that are dangerous…

          • insatiableatheist says:

            Unfortunately, it’s even the ones who sit quietly in the corner, reading their books that lend support and credence to the bloated and greedy blind giant that is religion, Whatever organised system of belief that may entail.
            And it’s those same organised systems of irrationality that hold HUGE sway in the way governments are run and wage war.

            So whilst the human is accorded respect, I’m afraid the belief I can only hold in contempt.

            @antinous
            And Mithra and Attis and a slew of others.

        • Anonymous says:

          Not only does it depend on what you mean by “respect”, but it also depends on what you think is the object of respect. “Respecting someone’s beliefs” is very different from “respecting the believer”. Individuals may be worthy of respect, but that does not mean that their beliefs are worthy of respect as well. No matter how you define “respect”, I’m not sure why I should ever respect beliefs that are inconsistent or in some other way damaging. For instance, some people believe (mistakenly) that homosexuality is a sin. While I might respect the individual who believes this (because I think that all individuals are deserving of respect), I see no reason why I ought to respect their belief. Moreover, whatever respect I owe to that individual is not due to them by virtue of their holding that belief.

  11. redesigned says:

    Putting my own personal feeling on the matter aside for the moment, I think that this could simply be attributed to the discrepancy in the way these labels are self applied.

    In the USA the label “Believer” is a widely self applied by a large percentage of the population. Many of these people have not studied or examined their belief system, they merely identify with a certain cultural group and share a general belief in common with them.

    Whereas the labels Atheists or Agnostics are usually only applied to people who have a high level of education, and hence understand those specific terms and the implications of what they mean, and have intentionally thought through their beliefs and decided specifically that one of those two labels applies to what they themselves believe and identify with.

  12. insatiableatheist says:

    One of the things I never could quite understand about christians is their unwillingness to acknowledge the books that never made it into the King James fold. Even those in which the mythical christ character speaks and is spoken of.
    It’s like the book is both the inspired word of god and the editorial review of god.

    • Beelzebuddy says:

      Are you referring to the Gospel of Thomas, where Jesus is a secular rabbi preaching salvation not by faith or works, but by gnostic inscrutability? Or the Secret Gospel of Mark, where Jesus “shares the mystery of God” with a young boy?

  13. rhodian says:

    hmmm, far too many posters deliberately failing to recognise “catholic” “jewish” and “muslim” (for example) as cultural identities as well as belief systems. it is perfectly possible to be a catholic athiest, acknowledging both one’s heritage and also one’s intellectual distance from some aspects of that heritage.

  14. dragonfrog says:

    Where the F are the actual questions that were asked? They have a little 15 question quiz, but not the full 32 questions they asked – I’d really love to try my hand at all the questions, but it’s hard to find them (if they even do link to them) when the Pew Forum article itself is full of spoilers!

  15. Anonymous says:

    did Martin Luther really spark the Protestant reformation? Master Jan Hus preached pretty much the same things and was burned at the stake for heresy in Constance in 1415 (a century before Luther), thus sparking off the Hussite Revolution in Bohemia. The Pope organized no less than 5 crusades which were all defeated, largely because the Czech Hussites were led by one of the most innovative and successful generals of all time Jan Zizka. He had organized a peasant army and used war wagons to defeat armies of mounted knights in some cases being outnumbered 10 to 1.
    He never lost a battle, and yet the last 4 years of his life he was completely blind.

    Its fair to say though that Luther was more successful in getting his word out, thanks to the printing press. But he himself was aware of Hus and his writings.

    on another entirely different note, it is interesting that the Egyptian god Horus was born to a virgin
    was supposed to be the son of god, was crucifed and resurrected after 3 days.

  16. Anonymous says:

    No surprise here. Information will by nature generate questions and encourage analysis – two things that any religion wants to avoid like the biblical plagues!

  17. insatiableatheist says:

    Add to those the gospels of Mary, Philip and Judas.
    Half the story is missing.

  18. SamSam says:

    Basically, I think if you believe something, and the thing you believe is something that must be taken on faith alone, then it’s much easier not to think about it too deeply.

    That sheer amount of cognitive dissonance and contradictions you would need to hold in your head if you really examine your religion thoroughly and yet still believe it fully is a great incentive not to bother asking the difficult questions.

    This isn’t to say that no one can ask the difficult questions and still being religious. But for many people, it’s easiest just to stop at “I believe in this.”

    Re: Catholics not believing in transubstatiation and “respecting” the Pope, but not “falling in line with all of the doctrine.” I can understand if this is your belief. I mean, who would want to believe that they are literally eating the flesh of Christ. But how can you still call yourself a Catholic? Being Christian just means believing in Christ as the son of God and man’s savior, but being Catholic involves a bunch of other requirements. One can pick and choose and still be Christian, but would you call a Protestant a Protestant if he said he believed you needed a priest to absolve you of your sins? A Mormon a Mormon if he didn’t believe Joseph Smith was a prophet? Certain beliefs are central to being one thing or another.

  19. dofnup says:

    It isn’t only Americans … I’m from Mexico and I’ve had Catholics tell me they aren’t Christians!! Sheesh.

    In general, I think atheists and agnostics research religion more as they fruitlessly search for meaning behind faith … WHY do people believe what they believe? WHAT exactly DO they believe?, etc etc

  20. redesigned says:

    “cherry picking” the parts they believe in based on an emotional presupposition is all to common among modern believers.

    the people that take that sort of attitude towards religion do the same to science, politics, history, culture based morals, etc. it is a slippery slope.

    I’ve seen YouTube videos by people against science and evolution, they don’t seem to get the irony of computers/internet/video all being products of that same science.

  21. alphagirl says:

    A big part of the problem is the religious folks who keep trying to have their beliefs dictate others’ actions. If they didn’t do that, it really wouldn’t matter what they believe in, including faeries.

    Also, I should be clear that I am not talking about people just fabricating beliefs out of whim. I am referring to the result of genuine introspection, and careful consideration of what one’s beliefs mean, what purpose it fills in one’s life. Just like (some) atheists appear to have done.

    delt664: The expectation of “specific and rigid” does not match with reality for most religious labels. It’s not just that church members vary in how strictly they follow them, religious organizations vary in rigidity of expectations.

    Science has value to everyone collectively. Beliefs have value to the person that holds them, no one else.

    • shadowfirebird says:

      Well said.

      Personally I’ve never understood those who look for proof of the factualness of religion.

      To me it’s like criticising Van Gogh’s Starry Night as an ineffectual star map, or saying that the QE2 was a lousy ship because she was too big to land at Heathrow airport.

      Science is a hell of a tool – maybe the best one we have. But it doesn’t work on things that are subjective.

      • Anonymous says:

        The difference is that nobody tries to use the painting as a star map. You will find lots of people who try to use religion as fact, and try to use it that way on other people.

        And, one might ask, if it’s not something real, what makes it better than any other art?

  22. Xopher says:

    Anon 135:

    I find that to be a surprisingly sympathetic, enlightened, and supportive worldview, particularly for a religion so routinely demonized for having the audacity to publicly assert that they believe their own beliefs to be true.

    I agree that it’s surprising, even shocking. I wrote and deleted a big OT digression about why I think the LDS Church is evil and deserves to be treated that way, but let me say this: publicly asserting that they believe their own beliefs to be true is no part of it.

    If they really believe that “It doesn’t matter what religion a person is, or why. What will matter on the Day of Judgement is whether they lived what they believed to be true,” why in gods’ names are they sending out missionaries? To make it harder for people to live what they believe, and thus keep more people out of Heaven?

    Because Mormon beliefs restrict your life more than any other religion I can think of (maybe Islam gives Mormonism a run for its money, but I think Mormonism still wins the crown). That means the more people who become Mormon, the more people will fail to live up to their beliefs. That makes the behavior of sending missionaries inexcusable, instead of irritating-but-understandable.

    Anon 143:

    Athiesm is in fact a thiesm. They may have a negative relationship towards religion but nevertheless that is a relationship all the same.

    Wow, all the false beliefs about atheism are being trotted out in this thread! You all really are proving the case here. Also, you can’t spell.

    Oh, wait, haven’t seen the “atheists automatically have no morals, because all morals come from religion” bullshit yet. Countdown begins.

    Believers on the contrary have a positive and healthy bond with religion and the religious. I don’t mean to be judgemental but religious people are healthier and have better immune systems.

    Um…citation needed. Where do you get this bullshit?

    Let’s not forget WWI and WWII. Religion too had its wars but at least they were for a cause and not like the senseless violence you find today (think campus shootouts).

    Yeah, like the war over whether to make the sign of the cross with two fingers or three. People burned themselves in their houses over that one. That’s your idea of a good cause? And as for WWII…you apparently don’t think rescuing the world from racist fascism was a good enough reason for war. I think your priorities need rethinking…or thinking in the first place, more likely.

    JoshuaZ 144: You were expecting him to consider hard data authoritative? What an optimist you are!

    • JohnnyOC says:

      “…don’t mean to be judgemental but religious people are healthier and have better immune systems.”

      “Um…citation needed. Where do you get this bullshit?”

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happiness

      “and a review of 498 studies published in peer-reviewed journals concluded that a large majority of them showed a positive correlation between religious commitment and higher levels of perceived well-being and self-esteem and lower levels of hypertension, depression, and clinical delinquency.”

      # ^ Rudin, Mike (2006-04-30). “The science of happiness”. BBC. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/happiness_formula/4783836.stm.

      # ^ Paul, Pamela (2005-01-09). “The New Science of Happiness”. Time. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1015870,00.html.

      I’m actually agnostic myself, but I like to play devil’s advocate sometimes when people get a little apoplectic in discussions..

      The above are some citations. Don’t know how valid (as in double-blind studies, correlation not equaling causation, etc) they are but it was rather easy to find. :)

  23. Anonymous says:

    Um, actually, if you read carefully, it says that Jews and Mormons are within a margin of error on knowledge of religion. There also seems to be some confusion between the word “Christianity” and the word “religion,” which in normal usage aren’t actually synonymous.

  24. godisafiction says:

    So there’s a black rooster and a white kitty cat sitting on the sidewalk…

  25. Anonymous says:

    Athiesm is in fact a thiesm. They may have a negative relationship towards religion but nevertheless that is a relationship all the same. Believers on the contrary have a positive and healthy bond with religion and the religious. I don’t mean to be judgemental but religious people are healthier and have better immune systems. Faith makes life worth living. Of course, it may be said that the abuses of those in authority have given religion a bad name. This is so and should not be forgotten but look where science has gotten us: the trinity of environmental pollution, resource depletion and threat of nuclear warfare. Seriously, I mean, it makes you want to hang your head down and cry. There is in fact nothing whatsoever wrong with religion but the followers are weak and falter from time to time. Besides this unfortunate century has seen more wars than history. Let’s not forget WWI and WWII. Religion too had its wars but at least they were for a cause and not like the senseless violence you find today (think campus shootouts).

    • insatiableatheist says:

      You just made all of that up in your head didn’t you?
      Theists sure do believe a lot of stuff they make up.
      So I guess if you don’t believe in smurfs that is also a form of theism is it?
      And do you seriously believe that fighting wars on the behalf of imaginary friends is a just cause?
      You’re right about one thing though, I do want to hang my head and cry, albeit for different reasons to you I’m sure.

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        insatiableatheist,

        Your moniker echoes the mindset of a religious fanatic. Creationists and flat-earthers see themselves as perfectly reasonable and correct, too.

        • insatiableatheist says:

          Really? I thought it echoed the mindset of a realist craving knowledge. Quite the opposite of religious fanaticism. I suppose monikers can be misleading though, generally made up on a whim.
          Yes, creationists and flat-earthers see themselves as perfectly reasonable and correct, but so do murderers and rapists and politicians and doctors and cab drivers and just about every everybody.

    • delt664 says:

      You need to do things:

      1. Learn what the words you use mean. Not the meaning you want them to have, but the correct meaning.

      2. Cite your supporting evidence when you make outlandish claims.

  26. andyhavens says:

    Maybe atheists know more about religion for the same reason that IP lawyers know more about public domain…

  27. Anonymous says:

    There are several reasons Mormons score so high (though primarily in the Christian category). This is primarily due to the fact that Mormons do not have a separate clergy. To have a functioning lay clergy, each member must be prepared to step into positions of teaching or leadership at any time. Except for some high level positions, most Mormon leadership positions last from 2-5 years. To ensure the education of everyone, Mormon church lasts 3 hours on Sunday (Sacrament meeting, Sunday school, and Group meetings, roughly equivalent to a Sermon, Bible study, and fellowship meetings.) There are also weekly and monthly meeting of various groups (Young Men, Young Women, Primary, Relief Society, Priesthood Quorum). As well as Family Home Evening, which is basically weekly church services conducted in the home.

    In high school, Mormons also attend seminary (usually before school, though in my school district there were so many Mormons that Mormon students registered for a “free” period and went off campus for religious instruction – not to worry, everyone who didn’t got half days their Senior year or could fail four classes and still graduate on time). The seminary included a year of study of the New Testament, a year of the Old Testament, a year of the Book of Mormon and a year of the Doctrine and Covenants/church history.

    Beyond ensuring a population of competent lay ministers, Mormons are specifically taught how Mormonism is different from other forms of Christianity. This isn’t just, oh we’re different, but rather a complex look at various interpretations of biblical verses across religious traditions. All Mormons are expected to be able to marshal arguments for their Christianity and to point out the places where interpretations differ.

    Mormons also believe that, aside from some religious rites practiced in the temple (eternal marriage, etc.), knowledge is the only thing you will have from this life after you die. So many take education very seriously.

    Until I moved to Brooklyn, the only people I knew who had read the Koran were Mormon. In fact I can still safely say, that the only people I know who have read the Koran are Muslims and Mormons. Mormons are also the only group of people I’ve known who know the difference between Pauline and Christian doctrine (One of my Jewish friends who once took a class in New Testament as Literature – she’s been about it).

    Of course, I’m an atheist (raised Mormon). But it’s interesting to consider the cultural and religious reasons behind a better understanding and education of any topic. For instance, what would the world look like if any one of us could be randomly selected to teach school at any moment? Would we all study more? We would pay more attention to recent scientific and mathematical advancements? What if we all believed that education and relationships were all you got, rather than things like money? (As an unmarried 27 year-old woman you would think I would hear a lot of snark or criticism about deciding to go back to grad school from the people in the congregation I grew up in, but literally everyone replied with a variation on, “Grad School? Oh you’re so *good*!)

    I think Mormonism is as deeply flawed as any other religion, but aspects of its culture have always seemed like they might be good if they could be scaled up.

  28. Anonymous says:

    I had an interesting experience in college with a dorm-mate who was pretty dismayed that my friend was Catholic.

    It turned out that the dorm-mate thought it was extremely important to read the King James Version of the Bible, as opposed to any other versions. She thought reading the KJV might disabuse my friend of some Catholic heresies, and that one thing that was predisposing Catholics to so many errors was the bad Bible translations they use. See

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_James_Only_movement

    So I thought this was interesting and started trying to talk to her about the textual transmission of the Bible. It turned out to my huge astonishment that she didn’t know what languages the KJV had been translated from (!), whether the Old and New Testaments were written in the same or different languages (!), or who had translated the KJV (!). Ever since then I’ve been trying to understand why these kinds of details were so unimportant to her, while I, who don’t think humans have access to any divine revelations at all, had been interested to learn Greek and try to read the New Testament in the original.

    On the other hand, I met a Protestant seminarian who thought the KJV translators were “as [divinely] inspired as the original authors” of the Bible but who was very familiar with textual criticism and thoroughly comfortable reading ancient languages. So I learned that not everyone in the King James Only camp was anti-intellectual, by any means.

    But there is a pretty powerful anti-intellectual tradition in some parts of American religion that’s not shared by religious traditions of other times and places. And I don’t know what to make of it.

  29. sally599 says:

    This vaguely reminds me of people who are vegetarians but still eat bacon because bacon is soooo good. Which is fine but you’re not really a vegetarian then are you?

    • shadowfirebird says:

      By that measure there are NO practicing Christians in the world today – or at least hardly any. Because the bible forbids wearing mixed fibre clothing (somewhere in Leviticus, I think) and I’m pretty certain no-one does that.

      A religion isn’t a receipe that’s written down somewhere, that you can follow in order to become religious. Beliefs are something that you work out for yourself – you don’t get them from somewhere else.

      And by the same token a Christian (for example) who decides not to go to church any more isn’t suddenly an atheist. He’s just a Christian who doesn’t like going to church — despite what the local vicar would say.

      • Scurra says:

        “By that measure there are NO practicing Christians in the world today “???
        That suggests that you don’t know much about Christianity. Which was built on the idea that Jesus came to form a New covenant that superceded that old one that no longer applied because it was for a specific racial group who had had to spend forty years in a desert and thus had a bunch of rules that were largely about surviving that. The New Testament is about proclaiming that God is for everyone, not just for the select few. Jesus refined the Ten Commandments down to two – and subsequent thinkers have got that one pretty much down to a version of the Golden Rule; it’s just that our version mentions God. (I think it was St Augustine who put it as “Love God and do as thou will.”) If you think that we are expected to live by the Mosaic Law, then obviously you can make us look silly. It just doesn’t work, because it’s not true.

        Ms Koerth-Baker captures it well in #65. I’m one of those people who came to believe through a lot of thought and research. As a result I find it really hard to argue with some Atheists since on the whole a lot of what I believe is the same as them with the sole exception of believing in God. It’s the “Christians” I have the most trouble with.

        You should always be suspicious of anyone who stands up and says “You must believe exactly what I believe, because I am right.” Generally that leads to very bad results.

        • delt664 says:

          “As a result I find it really hard to argue with some Atheists since on the whole a lot of what I believe is the same as them with the sole exception of believing in God”

          Sounds like you are a deist / theist. More people need to learn these words, understand them, and use them correctly. When talking to individuals, I find that many people who identify as belonging to a specific religion are actually deists or generic theists.

          I cant remember the last time I saw a checkbox on any form that included Deist or Theist.

        • shadowfirebird says:

          You’ve managed to completely miss my point. I’m not suggesting that there are no practising christians in the world today; I’m suggesting that there is a logical dichotomy in the idea that in order to be a christian you must follow a list of specific rules. (And in any case I was citing christianity as an example, not arguing specifically about that religion.)

          If there is a book of rules you must follow to qualify as a Christian, then it must surely be the bible. Do Christians claim that only the new testament is their religious reference? They do not. Normally both testaments are packaged together; the “old testament” is arguably common between two or three faiths, at least partly, but the version packaged is a specific christian one.

          Do Christians follow all the many rules in the bible? They do not, not even non-literally. It’s a matter of interpretation – and while many turn to external help to do that interpretation, the final analysis is in the hands of the individual.

          In christianity, I believe the terminology is usually something about finding god in your heart?

          • Scurra says:

            “Do Christians follow all the many rules in the bible? They do not, not even non-literally. It’s a matter of interpretation – and while many turn to external help to do that interpretation, the final analysis is in the hands of the individual. ”

            And you’ve missed my point too – which is that in the New Testament Jesus gave us just two “Rules” to follow: Love God with all your heart and with all your soul, and Love your neighbour as yourself. Not they are easy Rules to follow, but they trump everything else. There’s no issue of “interpretation” to worry about.

            That’s what makes Christianity different to Judaism (and, arguably, to Islam as well.) Our disagreements come through Tradition, not through Rules. Although unfortunately, Tradition is far more divisive!

            But ultimately that’s why you won’t find many Christians following the Rules of the Old Testament. Because they don’t apply. (Of course, this puts something of a spoke in the wheel of those who then want to protest against, e.g. homosexuality, because they are then reduced to trying to interpret some vague bits in the Epistles to back their case up. So they appeal back to the OT, and look where that gets them…)

          • Beelzebuddy says:

            Yeah well, that’s just, like, your interpretation, man.

            The Council of Trent disagrees with you.

            As does Luther, though he also disagrees with the Council of Trent in that the rules, while they still apply, don’t actually count, as such.

            The Jews for Jesus would also like to say a few words about this whole cherrypicking thing, and the not even wanting to stone whores in the street which we can’t really do anymore but should still approve of in general principle.

            It doesn’t actually matter what you’re using to reach your interpretation, others will reach wildly different ones and you’ll both insist that yours is the infallible word of god.

          • Scurra says:

            Um, where did I say I was claiming the “infallible word of God”? Those would be your words, not mine.

            I will concede that you are partially correct about the Council of Trent. That Council restated Catholic Doctrine which is largely, as I pointed out, Tradition. Interpretation of Tradition is almost always the problem. (As I am not a Catholic, it is also of supreme irrelevance to me personally. You may notice that I am not saying that this means that I am right and Catholics are wrong, merely that it is irrelevant to me. But I’m sure you’ll find a way to claim otherwise. That’s usually how it works.)

            The Protestant Reformation was generally rebelling against that Tradition by trying to go back to those two Rules. [Incidentally, as someone above pointed out, Luther is only remembered because he was the lucky one. It's kind of like the First World War in that it would almost certainly have happened, just not in quite the way it did. (Calvin would probably have dictated the direction a lot more, and I, for one, am glad that didn't happen.)] Of course, Protestantism is just as full of Tradition now…

            I can’t comment on the Jews for Jesus movement as that seems to be somewhat far off the “mainstream” track. But I can sort of understand why they might want to maintain the Rules of Judaism – I know enough about the very early Church to know that they might even be close to what at least one faction of the original believers held; there’s certainly good evidence within the New Testament to that effect. But the great strength of Christianity is that because we only have those two Rules, lots of us can co-exist quite happily. Sure, there are people who tell us that their way is the “infallible Word of God”, but when it comes down to it, they still only preach Tradition. (Would you like to have an argument about penal substitution theory?)

            As you correctly point out, it’s all about “interpretation”. I just have trouble in seeing how there is any alternative interpretation of “Love God…” etc. And you don’t even need “The Bible” to work the existence of those two Rules out! (As can be seen from the fact that the so-called Golden Rule is much the same.)

          • insatiableatheist says:

            Surely there’s a lot more to christianity than living within those two rules?
            Is not the prime requirement the belief in the christ-character as a deity?

          • Beelzebuddy says:

            I’m sorry, you don’t get to define everything that you agree with as a “Rule” and everything you disagree with as mere “Tradition,” terms which you’re seriously torturing beyond all meaning here.

            Tradishuuuuun

      • sally599 says:

        See for me that is the problem, it should be a recipe—for something to be a governing force in someones life there should be rules and while those rules can be changed through some meaningful process such as the pope saying for example that premarital sex is now OK or the Vatican deliberating on it like the supreme court. But I don’t see you giving your life over to a higher power and then setting your own rules on a whim—what if I decided the rules about killing didn’t apply to me because this dude was being a real jerk and he deserved it. If you’re talking about a post-Jesus God there’s no problem, he’s like mom and will forgive you but what if I’m Jewish, that probably wouldn’t work out so well. But hey, I’m my own kind of Jewish and killing is OK if I say so. OK so now I’m reminded of the Tea Party which is really popular and really doesn’t know what it wants, a la Seinfeld it’s a group about nothing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  30. Baldhead says:

    I’m hardly surprised about the top three marks in there. Many Athiests/ agnostics don’t believe because of what they learned about religion, Jews and Mormons are encouraged to study and analyse their holy books (and other holy books) because that is seen as the best way to learn the true path. I’ve long felt that while the Bible may be the best selling book in the world, it doesn’t mean all those people have actually read it.

  31. Anonymous says:

    So I go to a Catholic school and I’m agnostic. And it’s true. My theology teacher has openly taught the class that athiests are horrible people. In fact just today he went on a rant about how atheists have thier own website and by billboards so that they can get everyone to believe what they believe. He was genuinely outraged at thier attempts to convert people. So I raised my hand and asked about the crusades.

  32. princeminski says:

    Holy Moley, lotsa comments. Having worked in art museums and taught art history for thirty years in the Bible Belt, I can “testify” that many people who were brought up in various belief systems (Buddhism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, etc.) are woefully ignorant of some pretty basic stuff. Arguably they get more comfort from their faith than I do from being able to regurgitate technical minutiae as they are illustrated in various art forms. Like Robert Hughes, I am “religion deaf” in the way that some people are tone deaf. So it goes. As for the “recently converted” atheist above, art historically speaking, let me quote Marcel Duchamp: “To be anti-art affirms art in the same way that an atheist affirms God. To be truly anti-art, one must be indifferent.”

  33. holtt says:

    I’m appreciating your posts, shadowfirebird.

  34. mellowknees says:

    Of course atheists and agnostics know more about religion. We have to know how to defend ourselves against recruiters. The best way to defend one’s self against someone attempting to recruit you into their “club” is to know more about the rules and regulations than the recruiter. :)

  35. Bloodboiler says:

    Being an agnostic living in a habitually Lutheran culture, I’ve long found it strange how often it seems that most of “us” seem to confuse basic tenets of “our” religion and e.g., Catholic tenets. For example, “our” religion is big on letting everyone into heaven since Jesus died specifically to make that possible and God’s grace is universal etc. However, it would be hard to find a habitual Lutheran among “us” who thinks murderers, rapists etc. get to go to heaven. The more religious among “us” would insist that people end up in (non existing) hell for far less.

  36. bardfinn says:

    Cart before the horse, in a sense.

    Brighter people are more likely to be engaged in a life spent in pursuit of intellectual knowledge, rather than the politics of who makes assistant manager, where to get their next status symbol, how many grandchildren their parents expect, where their next meal will come from, will they have shelter this time next year, etcetera.

    Intellectual knowledge isn’t actually confined to discrete categories, and sometimes the solution to a particular problem requires knowledge from many different “domains”. Sometimes it’s a matter of having a particular skill set that few others possess but which is in somewhat high (but not too high) demand – leading to enough leisure time to intake some culture other than folk tales handed down by small insular communities (and the ability to disregard or discount any negative consequences of that).

    Many cultures also hold one particular value: loyalty, whether right or wrong. They ingrain into children that they must be loyal to their family / community / church / faith / community, no matter what, right or wrong, and not think for themselves — because the family / community / church / faith / community holds their futures in bond, and questioning or leaving them means forfeiting their lives, careers, identities and families.

    Those who are bright — who manage, through culture, upbringing, enlightenment, circumstance, betrayal by a community, or sheer refusal to not think for themselves — are more likely to spend time questioning the basis of their culture, upbringing, circumstance, community, faith.

    In my humble opinion, both Mormons and moderate Muslims have one particular value in common: Both are taught to be loyal to their families and their faith, and both are commanded to learn /everything they possibly can/. In both cultures there is a God of the Gaps rationalisation for seeming contradictions (God / Allah / Jesus moves in mysterious ways, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence). They are also not taught the Western “classical liberal” education which has as part of it the underpinnings of rhetoric and reasoning – the long list of fallacies of reasoning that many atheists stumble upon or are handed at some point in their lives. They’re not taught about the value or necessity of pruning knowledge, but are merely commanded to pursue knowledge. An overload of information — and no way to organise, evaluate, or make sense of it — tends to keep people from leaving their culture, community, or faith — because the world then becomes a large, strange, and scary place.

    There are, IMHO, significant numbers of Buddhist atheists because Gautama was just this guy, y’know – ? and many Buddhist traditions include some tools for critically evaluating, pruning, removing, resolving, and balancing one’s intellectual pursuits.

  37. Anonymous says:

    What the difference between this and normal people? Most people don’t know much beyond there world. Why else would the cbc program talking to Americans be able to get governor of a us state to talk about the problems of melting snow homes? Go 300 miles from the USA broader and give someone a Canadian 20 buck bill and they go what is this? Most people don’t go beyond their little worlds or life’s. Both are pushing there own brand of religion. Christian or atheist at some point jump from facts to a faith they are the only true view point. Most people just don’t know very much that doesn’t fit their world view point.

  38. Chairboy says:

    There are many theists who love to point at this as if it were ammunition that we “just can’t get over religion”, and that it somehow proves that we’re seething cauldrons of hatred.

    The celebration of ignorance among vast swaths of theists is a perplexing phenomena, almost as if their holiness is increased by their lack of basic understanding of their own religion.

    • spm says:

      another topic to avoid at the dinner table. Growing up in Catholic schools for 12yrs, a few years as an alter boy and so on, I can’t bite my tongue when people defend catholicism, especially when they interpret it as “they” see it. To me, it’s always you either follow to the T or you don’t believe. It’s weird because my wife will still claim to be catholic, but when i debate her on certain things about it, she’ll agree with me, yet she’s still traditionally brainwashed to be a “catholic” (and she’s a very smart woman). The hypocrisies are sickening (marriage/divorce, deny gays/being gay, stealing, pedos, the list goes on). I have nothing against people who chose a religion and follow it, I’ve read all the BS, if i had to believe in fairy tales, i’m sure i could find another mythology with greater stories. i know what being a “good” person is, i don’t need a work of fiction to guide me.

    • lasttide says:

      Equally as bad are atheists that will endlessly gloat about this as proof of their intellectual superiority. See the Huffington Post thread for examples.

      • satn says:

        But we are superior…This survey is saying exactly that.

        Even with similar education levels, we are superior!

        BOW DOWN TO YOUR ATHIEST OVERLORDS!

        (but not in a religious way, we are still mortals)

        • lasttide says:

          This is possibly true about American atheists, but not necessarily atheists in general. This is because American culture is fairly religious, so American atheists typically were raised in some form of religion, which they studied and eventually rejected.

          However, this is not the case in the rest of the world. The former Soviet states are full of atheists. In much of Europe, atheism is more common than religion. These people were raised without religious beliefs, so the questioning attitude that is typical of American atheists is not necessarily present.

    • Anonymous says:

      There are many theists who love to point at this as if it were ammunition that we “just can’t get over religion”, and that it somehow proves that we’re seething cauldrons of hatred.

      It goes nicely with pointing at atheists who are ignorant of religion, and saying they just don’t know enough about it. Theists, like every other group, have their share of half-liars.

  39. Anonymous says:

    Did anyone point out that the greatest mass-murderers in history were atheists? (Communists and National Socialists)

    Maybe it is a good thing American Atheists are kept busy with the question of religion.

    If you really want a Christian who knows their Bible inside and out you’ve got to find yourself a Plymouth Brethren but as you pointed out they are precious few.

    But lets not forget the Devil himself is reputed to have a masterly command of scripture and apparently never misses a church service.

    Sometimes the Gospel falls on rocky soil…

    BTW: I got 14 on the test but could have gotten 15 if I wasn’t rushing and paid closer attention to the school repression questions. Seriously, It wasn’t even remotely challenging.

    • delt664 says:

      “Did anyone point out that the greatest mass-murderers in history were atheists? (Communists and National Socialists)”

      This is a common argument, and is another example of religious people speaking on topics in which they are under-educated.

      The National Socialists developed their own Blood-religion based on eugenics and ancient Norse religion. In fact, their bias against the Jewish people was partially based on religion. Additionally, the Catholic church had various levels of involvement with the National Socialist party. To claim that Hitler / the Nazis were atheistic demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding in this area.

      Regarding the soviet communist party, it appears that Stalin was an atheist, but to insinuate that he murdered his citizens because of his atheism is ridiculous. The soviet communist party recognized that religion is a control mechanism, and did not care to share their control with anything. Additionally, it appears that several senior members of the soviet communist party were in fact religious, and that the Orthodox church did exert a measure of power behind the scenes.

      The assumption that atheism drives people to violence is idiotic. Would you say your lack of faith in Zeus, Mithra, Zoroaster, Odin, fairies and leprechauns drives you to violence?

      We can sit here and make lists of bad people, and see who was an atheist and who was religious all day long. The only thing it would prove is that neither atheism nor religion is truly the basis for morality.

    • Xopher says:

      The Nazis, as we apparently have to repeat every time there’s one of these threads, were not atheists. Go and read.

    • Anonymous says:

      Did anyone point out that the greatest mass-murderers in history were atheists? (Communists and National Socialists)

      This intended slur on atheism gets repeated a lot, but it only demonstrates the point here.

  40. Blaine says:

    Interesting article. Thanks!

  41. arikol says:

    most believers I know (not all that many, admittedly) don’t really know all that much, in my experience, about religion or the world around them (lack of curiosity?). And the believers I know possess the lowest education levels of any of my acquaintances, as well as very limited curiosity (which is a bigger issue, IMO, than education level).

    The hardcore christians I know (fewer than 10) continue this trend to its logical extreme..

  42. Anonymous says:

    It’s simple.

    As the knowledge about religion increases, the probability of a theist becoming atheist or agnostic increases.

    And obviously, the probably of an atheist or agnostic becoming a theist is very low.

    Therefore, when you measure there will be a correlation between information and atheism/agnosticism, because the first leads to the latter.

  43. jvwalt says:

    Best comment on this is by Ed at Instaputz: “Americans treat the Bible the same way they treat the Constititution – like a website Terms of Use agreement. They don’t bother reading it, they just click ‘I agree.’”

  44. Anonymous says:

    people are just fucking ignorants.

    They use religion like a bank where they put money and time and in return it proves they are good persons.

    Most of those persons dont believe in anything, nor morality nor philosophy nor anything. But they will stand by whats familiar, simply due to tradtionalism. Its a kind of cultural dissonance where they cant recognize the crazy shit they do just because they always did it.

    The best debate I had with a theist summed up to me starting to defend the Book of eddas and the God Odin and he claiming that Odin was just a fairytale and a myth, then being at a loss for words when trying to prove why that was different from his beliefs.

  45. delt664 says:

    “I’m a {insert religious affiliation here} but I don’t believe in {insert item from holy text or doctrine here}.”

    Well, that is all well and fine. You are absolutely free to pick and choose what you want to believe and what you want to discard.

    However, this practice is in many cases specifically forbidden by organized religions. For example, say you identify as a catholic, but you decide that the holy trinity is kinda weird, and that you don’t really think you are eating human flesh and blood during mass. If you reject part of these core beliefs you are not really a catholic. You choose a path that is catholic like, but try going to the pope and telling him all the things you don’t buy into. You could very well be excommunicated.

    Just as someone who disregards certain articles of the Constitution is not truly a Constitutionalist, someone who does not adhere to the entirety of scripture / doctrine of a specific organized religion is not truly a Catholic / Muslim / Mormon / Scientologist / Branch Dividian.

    In fact, it was only recently that most socially acceptable religions stopped murdering people for failing to adhere 100% to doctrine and scripture. These organizations have always known that it was a slippery slope from deciding that maybe God didn’t really want you to stone people who cut the hair around their ears to deciding that maybe the whole thing is just a control mechanism invented out of imagination anyway.

  46. RedMonkey says:

    I’ve always found this myself anecdotally, so perhaps this is just the confirmation bias speaking but … most religious people I’ve known tend to think of God as Santa Claus always looking to hand out material goods, and happiness to “his flock” for their time on earth. Even tho’ most religious texts I’ve read pretty clearly state that God just wants you to be a “good person” by following the “rules” and they’ll reward you in some form of after-life.

    Although it would be remarkable schadenfreude if I’m wrong about the afterlife – and the faithful enter the afterlife in some glowing white light, finding Jesus/Mohammed/Moses only to hear, “But wait, there’s a test!”

    • Anonymous says:

      The idea that you put Moses on the same level as Mohammed and Jesus is laughable, Moses is not as important to Judaism as people think. Mohammed founded Islam, Jesus is the basis of Christianity, Moses was just a prophet.

    • turn_self_off says:

      Reads like a case of closet calvinism to me. To boil it down, god shows that you do good by showering you in good favors. As such, you can be all kinds of bully (calvinism was what basically broke the religious stance against usury). But as long as you get out on top, god apparently approved.

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        In Calvinism, God showers you with presents because you are good, not because you do good. Since it’s predestined, your behavior doesn’t affect your status but does reflect it, as does your material condition.

        • turn_self_off says:

          in other words once your “sure” your part of the chosen, you can run riot without care for morals or anything else? Not sure how much diff there is.

  47. wolfiesma says:

    One of the most interesting classes I remember taking was a religious studies class in middle school prior to going through the rite of confirmation. Lots of detailed, fascinating information about the sacraments, their meanings, history, etc. The teacher was a law professor, iirc, who volunteered to teach the classes to us on the weekends. I think it made the experience of getting confirmed alot more meaningful and powerful than it might have been without all that good, clear, illuminating instruction going into it.

    Approaching religion from a studious/intellectual angle is fine; that was my introduction, and it appeals to me personally, but it is not the only way to approach it. The most important aspect of religious practice, it seems to me, is the psychological experience that accompanies religious activity. And that psychological experience is not necessarily predicated on belief, or religious training, or intellectual sophistication, or lack therof. What we are really talking about is a chemical reaction inside the brain that sometimes occurs in some people that can induce certain feelings, one of which you could describe as something like universal love. (At least I think that’s the point, right?) Institutionalized religion is just one vehicle for supporting and encouraging those states of mind. Obviously, organized religion supports other activities having nothing to do with universal love, but what human institution is not deeply flawed in one way or another? Doesn’t mean we’d be better off with no institutions, does it?

    I’m not a practicing member of any religious group, but I’ve had enough subjective experience of religious “states” to want to accept those feelings in others. And I’ve seen people transformed in postive ways through their religious practice. Based on that, my instinct is to want to defend those religious practices that seem to encourage positive, pro-social, mentally healthy behavior. I can relate to the atheist mindset, too, except for that strain of really militant atheism that seems to want to slice off the religious experience of man from its collective unconscious. Not to be snarky about it, but good luck with that! :P

    • Beelzebuddy says:

      The emotion you describe is called elevation, and many aspects of religion have been designed specifically to draw upon it, from the grandeur of mosques and cathedrals to the pomp and circumstance of ancient rituals. In this sense, it’s no different than Fox News winning viewership by appealing to its audience’s emotional need to belong.

      Anon 110:
      I see much more of this in the media then I ever receive ‘get saved or burn’ sermons from religious friends of mine.

      The type of person to give “get saved or burn” sermons aren’t likely to seek out heathen friends to begin with. In contrast, I haven’t yet had a single atheist knock on my door to ask if he could share the wonder of the natural world with me.

      Come to think about it, the number of people I come across bitching about how antagonistic atheists are is considerably larger than the truly annoying atheists or godbotherers put together.

  48. Anonymous says:

    I think the survey would have been more meaningful if they’d asked who John Murray was, or Joseph Priestley for that matter.

    Or, here, try these three, ye proud:

    Who first said “Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”?

    A) Abraham Lincoln
    B) Rev. Theodore Parker
    C) Rev. Martin Luther King
    D) Rev. Abner Kneeland

    Who first said “a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people.”?

    A) Abraham Lincoln
    B) Rev. Theodore Parker
    C) Rev. Martin Luther King
    D) Rev. Abner Kneeland

    Who was the last man in the USA imprisoned for blasphemy?

    A) Antinous
    B) Rev. Theodore Parker
    C) Rev. Abner Kneeland
    D) Charles Lee Smith

    If you can’t get these dead easy ones, you don’t know dick about American religious history. I envy you; you have a long and fascinating course of study ahead! The USA has been home to great men, who have made lasting and unique contributions to theology.

    • Anonymous says:

      OK, answers are B, B, C.

      Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King were quoting Parker.

      Abner Kneeland was not the last man convicted of blasphemy; the US Supreme Court did not overturn blasphemy laws in 1928. But he was the last man to do hard time for it; he was (unsurprisingly) a pantheist as well as a champion of women’s rights and similar unpopular causes.

      Religious folks led the fight to free the slaves, the fight for women’s rights, and the fight for gay rights. Religious folks have been leading the fight for the right to gay marriage; I attend a church which has married gay couples in defiance of the law for decades.

      But you atheists already know all that, right? Cause you all have read Parker, Kneeland, Olympia Brown, and all? I kid you, gently; an’ you hurt no other, believe what you will.

      • Xopher says:

        That’s “An* it harm none, do as thou wilt.” That admonition is known as the Wiccan Rede†, and it’s the basic ethic of Wicca, a Neo-Pagan religion.

        Just sayin’.
        ___
        *Either archaic or pseudo-archaic‡ for ‘if’.
        †Loosely, “advice.” More like “admonition.”
        ‡Gerald Gardner, who founded Wicca, told all sorts of lies and was a huge phony. He wanted to claim that Wicca was Deepeley Aunciaunt, so he wrote all kinds of texts in a fake-archaic style that fools absolutely no one who’s had a look at Chaucer in the original.

  49. delt664 says:

    “I’m a {insert religious affiliation here} but I don’t believe in {insert item from holy text or doctrine here}.”

    Well, that is all well and fine. You are absolutely free to pick and choose what you want to believe and what you want to discard.

    However, this practice is in many cases specifically forbidden by organized religions. For example, say you identify as a catholic, but you decide that the holy trinity is kinda weird, and that you don’t really think you are eating human flesh and blood during mass. If you reject part of these core beliefs you are not really a catholic. You choose a path that is catholic like, but try going to the pope and telling him all the things you don’t buy into. You could very well be excommunicated.

    Just as someone who disregards certain articles of the Constitution is not truly a Constitutionalist, someone who does not adhere to the entirety of scripture / doctrine of a specific organized religion is not truly a Catholic / Muslim / Mormon / Scientologist / Branch Dividian.

    In fact, it was only recently that most socially acceptable religions stopped murdering people for failing to adhere 100% to doctrine and scripture. These organizations have always known that it was a slippery slope from deciding that maybe God didn’t really want you to stone people who cut the hair around their ears to deciding that maybe the whole thing is just a control mechanism invented out of imagination anyway.

  50. Hank says:

    I was doing great up until the last one. I know there was a First Great Awakening, but I don’t know who was associated with it. But still, 14 out of 15 right from this atheist.

  51. Anonymous says:

    I live in Utah, and at the local thrift store picked up a comparative world religion textbook, produced by the Mormon church, which is used as part of the curriculum at the various BYU universities and at institutes the lds church sets up adjacent to most US universities, colleges, and community colleges. So, basically, every Mormon college student at least has the chance to take a class in world religions. I don’t know of any other church that does anything remotely like that; most (more or less) seem to bury their heads in the sand.

    As I once taught comparative world religions at the collegiate level, the textbook was of interest to me.

    Although it certainly had a LDS point of view, the book was admirably complete. The general gist of it was this:

    1. God give truths to all people, via a variety of religious and cultural means — basically as much as He can get across, to as many people, as He possibly can.

    2. That is a very good thing, and generally ennobles humanity.

    3. Nearly all religions bear striking similarities about what constitutes moral behavior, and what does not.

    4. It doesn’t matter what religion a person is, or why. What will matter on the Day of Judgement is whether they lived what they believed to be true. On that standard alone will mankind be judged (by Jesus Christ, of course, but still).

    I find that to be a surprisingly sympathetic, enlightened, and supportive worldview, particularly for a religion so routinely demonized for having the audacity to publicly assert that they believe their own beliefs to be true.

  52. Rob Knop says:

    Of course, if you look at the actual survey results on the Pew site, you find out that the headline here on BoingBoing and at the LA times site is the classic news headline misrepresentation of what is really said in favor of a slanted and/or sensationalist declaration.

    F’rinstance, the average # of questions answered about the Bible and Christianity had Mormons at the top, and “White Evangelicals” second, followed then by Atheists/Agnostics who were *very* closely followed by Protestants. For what that’s worth.

    Re: the whole transubstantiation thing, this seems like the classic case of atheists crowing about the “stupid” beliefs of the religious, and telling them what they’re supposed to be believing rather than what they really do believe. When I try to post on my blog about being an evolution-accepting, science-practicing Christian, I always get some atheists saying that if I accept any of the Bible as useful, I have to accept it all as literal truth…. Meaning, in other words, that atheists want me to be a fundamentalist Christian, or think that it’s somehow inconsistent if I am Christian at all if I’m not fully fundamentalist. The only other people who think that are the fundamentalists…. When I’m feeling uncharitable (and given the behavior of some of these folks on the Internet, that’s becoming increasingly common), I assume it’s because it’s so much easier to argue against religion when religion openly denies scientific knowledge.

    Anyway, if you talk to actual Catholics, you’ll find that even though they respect the Pope and the hierarchy, they don’t fall in line with all of the doctrine. (No surprise; find anybody in any hierarchy that they respect and support, and you’ll find that there are some of the rules or strictures of the hierarchy that they don’t personally like.)

    • JoshuaZ says:

      Rob, you are missing the point. The headlines aren’t misleading. They don’t claim that atheists know more than Christians about Christianity. The headline is that atheists and agnostics know more about religion in general. And that’s strongly true given the data. Overall scores go Atheists/Agnostics, then Jews, then Mormons, the Evangelical Protestants. Of course even if we look at the data only focusing on Christianity as you want to, the fact is that atheists have almost as much knowledge on average as evangelicals and have more than Protestants (although it looks like they are all within a very close cluster).

      So what’s the upshot? Atheists/agnostics know more about religion as a whole and know about as much about Christianity as most Christians.

    • sally599 says:

      So this is where I have a problem—since when do you get to pick and choose what parts of religion are valid. If people get creative control over religion then I’m making a new one and every Monday shall be a holy day so that no one has to work. Thing about this in terms of law. You can believe that speeding is not a big deal but it won’t actually stop you from getting a ticket.

      • tboy says:

        So this is where I have a problem—since when do you get to pick and choose what parts of religion are valid.

        And this is where I have a problem. Since when I realized that I was a free person, and when I realized that you were not the Islamo-Pope.

        My religion. My business with whatever imaginary entities, wherever. No one, least of all you, gets to dictate what I believe in. And what I believe in is my damn business.

        You’ll have to excuse me. Ever since someone on the Internet basically said liberal Muslims are “heretics” and that the Correct Interpretation Of Islam belongs to the most conservative and bigoted segment of the ummah — without ever being a Muslim — I’ve seen red every time someone tries to take away my autonomy from my because I iz ignorant brown person.

        • sally599 says:

          Um—if you think they are imaginary then you probably don’t believe in them—-I have no problem with that. To clarify—my comment is regarding my problem with religion and why I’m not religious—I really don’t care what you believe in, go for it (well as long as it doesn’t involved anything generally perceived as criminal activity like killing babies or the other fun stuff attributed during the vengeful god phase, before he had his own kid, well sort of anyway). My comment to Rob, who is pretty brave to jump in on this thread is really just regarding my general confusion as to why anyone thinks that they get to determine the rules when they are supposed to be worshiping someone who is at a higher level and has already set forth rules. I know there are arguments that all these books were written by men and many are translations but if there were a God don’t you think he’d check for typos before a billion copies were printed?

      • phillamb168 says:

        “since when do you get to pick and choose what parts of religion are valid”

        Since… always? Examples:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Schism
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestant_Reformation
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamentalist-Modernist_Controversy

        From a historical perspective, the basic way of identifying oneself as a member of a religion, at least from the Christian perspective, was believing in the tenets of one Creed or another. Beyond the beliefs laid out the in the creeds you have a lot of room for what you believe and what you don’t. This is fairly interesting because, before the Symbolum Nicaenum, the Church as a whole was facing this very dilemma: different sects would take some aspects of Christianity while rejecting others, which made for quite a bit of confusion when it came to knowing what exactly Christianity was.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicene_Creed
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostles_Creed
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westminster_Confession_of_Faith
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larger_Catechism
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shorter_Catechism
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Directory_of_Public_Worship
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scots_Confession
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Heidelberg_Catechism
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helvetic_Confession
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barmen_Declaration
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confession_of_1967

      • Trevel says:

        He doesn’t get to pick and choose what parts are *valid* — he gets to pick and choose what parts he *agrees with* (Or, to put it a more religious way, “believes in”.)

        • sally599 says:

          So what your saying is religion is a consumer based product—it doesn’t make a difference what God says the law is, just what you think he said. Sounds pretty sweet—I myself have chosen heaven but omit belief in any restrictions required in life.

          • shadowfirebird says:

            “it doesn’t make a difference what God says the law is, just what you think he said.”

            Since the only documents that show what god says are controversial to say the least – for a start, no two of them agree – what else can you possibly do?

            Religion is, by definition, what people believe. If there was evidence, or even a definitive source, it wouldn’t be religion.

          • EH says:

            Uh, I think the fact that The Bible can be used to justify rape and molestation to be a pretty big red flag that maybe it should be ignored. Too bad no religion wants to foreclose on the sexual benefits of clerical power.

          • Trevel says:

            “So what your saying is religion is a consumer based product—it doesn’t make a difference what God says the law is, just what you think he said. Sounds pretty sweet—I myself have chosen heaven but omit belief in any restrictions required in life.”

            Do you honestly believe that you are capable of knowing “what God says the law is” beyond “what you think he said”? To pick a single item, do you actually believe that, as a modern human being, you — or someone indicated by you — are capable of an unbiased understanding of a text written thousands of years ago full of cultural references to a culture you’re not part of and written in a language that, presumably, you do not speak?

            I believe many things, and I believe I’m probably wrong about any number of them and I don’t know which. I consider this to be a rational, scientific method of formulating a belief system. I might be wrong. See above.

            You get to believe what you choose to believe. That doesn’t make you right. That doesn’t make your beliefs representative of everyone in whatever religion you profess to be part of, even if you’re the Pope. But you still get to choose them. And so do I.

            On the other hand, best of luck on claiming that Monday is a holy day on which no one shall work. As I recall, that’s how we got the two day weekend in the first place — I’d love to see it extended to a default three day weekend. Can we start up a cult of Fridolians that can’t work Fridays and go for the fourth?

    • escowles says:

      Of course it’s easier to argue against a fundamentalist, literal-interpretation version of a religion. The Bible is an atheist’s treasure-trove, with literally thousands of textual contradictions, from the trivial genealogical errors right up to the multiple, hard-to-reconcile accounts of the crucifixion.

      A more moderate reading of the Bible (or any other religious text) that takes it mostly as parable and spiritual guidance, is much harder to caricature and demonize. You have to get into the messy business of trying to prove the non-existence of phenomena with no clear written specification you can pin people down on. Taken to the logical extreme of Deism, how could you possibly disprove the existence of a non-interventionist god?

      That’s why most “atheists” I’ve talked to are really Bertrand Russel atheists (see http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/russell8.htm ). You can’t really prove the non-existence of gods, so in some sense you would have to be agnostic on strictly logical grounds. But you can also view the probability of there being a god to be infinitesimal, so there’s no practical difference between that and atheism.

      In my experience, most atheists don’t have a big problem with moderate, ecumenical believers. If you’re not trying to enact a theocracy and accept my right to believe something different from you, then you’re OK by me. Though I’m not surprised you get a lot of flak from atheists on your blog, since the internet is full of assholes of every persuasion.

    • Anonymous says:

      Possibly the persons arguing with you consider that once you take it that some of it is fake then it must all be fake.

      A bit like believing in Gods, if they cant consider logical to believe in Odin Zeus and other gods you find to be mythological, they wont believe in yours either.

    • Hank says:

      And if you listen to the Pope, you have to obey all the doctrines of the faith or you’re not Catholic. So, Catholics are just fine with evolution, and they are also cannibals.

    • Joe says:

      Sorry, William, the headline is accurate, and you are attempting to argue otherwise by distorting it. The headline says that atheists know more about religion, not that they know more about Christianity.

    • Teller says:

      Please stop being rational and acting like an adult when a topic involves religion on BB.

  53. lifesart says:

    Obviously, atheists have studied religion and figured out that it’s all BS. If the believers actually learned all the precepts of their faith, they would be horrified. Thus do the leaders of these ‘theists’ feed them only wormfood.

    • phillamb168 says:

      Not all people feel the need to take all precepts of faith literally.

    • Jason Rizos says:

      Sort of what I was coming here to say, just more gently. Call it arrogance if you will, but I do “believe” that most religious folk with a brain, if they truly knew the facts of how religions formed two or three millennia ago, they would see that no one religion is superior to any other, that Jesus is just a different version of Dionysus and Buddha. Would this turn them to atheists? I don’t know.

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        Jesus is just a different version of Dionysus and Buddha.

        Actually Jesus is a different version of Osiris, as is Antinous.

  54. phillamb168 says:

    This is rather timely, as I happen to be an ordained Deacon in the Presbyterian church and am just NOW reading my Bible all the way through. Why haven’t I done this in the past? I have no idea. Honestly it’s tough getting through something that’s in some ways more difficult to understand than Chaucer, especially the Old Testament, so that’s probably got something to do with it.

    For those of you who seem to always think of “religious” people as ignorant should remember: there are plenty of ignorant atheists, too. I wish everybody could have a deep understanding of their faith, its history and values. The world would certainly be a nicer place.

  55. Joseph Hertzlinger says:

    There were two groups of irreligious people in the survey “Atheist/agnostic” (who did well) and “Nothing in particular” (who did badly). I suspect the difference is that atheists will argue in favor of unbelief, whereas nothingists don’t bother. In other words, the atheists should be compared to Christian missionaries. I suspect they would do worse.

    As for the level of knowledge of atheists, I don’t think the rest of us should be that impressed. As far as I can tell, a typical atheist becomes an atheist in middle school (formerly known as junior high school). In other words, they are rejecting a middle-school understanding of religion. It’s as though they were rejecting modern physics on the grounds that not everything is relative or Darwin’s explanation of evolution on the grounds that the fittest don’t always survive. (For example, the “Open letter to Dr. Laura” that went around the blogosphere a few years ago sounds amazingly like Christine O’Donnell talking about evolution.)

    • insatiableatheist says:

      “a typical atheist becomes an atheist in middle school”
      Actually, everyone was born an atheist.
      It’s belief that comes later, and then only for some.

      @anon #133
      “Did anyone point out that the greatest mass-murderers in history were atheists?”
      Completely false, as others have pointed out, but has anyone pointed out that the greatest mass-murderers in history all had moustaches?
      Now there’s something to think about, right?

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s even worse than their rejecting a middle school understanding of religion, since I guarantee that the vast majority of those people haven’t had much in the way of actual religious education since probably grade three.

      On the other hand, most religious people seem to be operating with a third-grade understanding of religion too. I think that the understanding level – as distinct from “knowledge” – of religion (and science, and pretty much everything) is pretty low in the general population.

    • JoshuaZ says:

      Joseph,

      So essentially you are claiming that your personal anecdotes somehow override actual hard data showing that atheists/agnostics know more about religion than the general population. Ok…

    • lorq says:

      “As for the level of knowledge of atheists, I don’t think the rest of us should be that impressed. As far as I can tell, a typical atheist becomes an atheist in middle school (formerly known as junior high school). In other words, they are rejecting a middle-school understanding of religion.”

      And also this from Anon. #137:

      “It’s even worse than their rejecting a middle school understanding of religion, since I guarantee that the vast majority of those people haven’t had much in the way of actual religious education since probably grade three.”

      Well! Remarkable how you both know all about us! How you can “guarantee” facts about the “vast majority” of atheists! I guess I and every atheist I know must be pretty atypical then, as neither of your descriptions fit any of them. By what rigorous process did you come by such astonishing, sweeping knowledge?

  56. boduelmike says:

    Come on, now. Be nice to each other.

    We all believe in something.

    I believe I’ll have another beer.

  57. Anonymous says:

    @Rob Knop – While I agree with some of your points, I will mention that the transubstantiation of the bread and wine is probably the most fundamental belief to Catholics so it is a little shocking that as many as 40% don’t believe it, however the description given makes it sound very different than what the belief entails since it clearly is not referring to physical ‘flesh and blood’.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks Anon, for telling me what my most fundamental belief is, what would I do with out some atheist telling me how to practice my own religion

  58. dolo54 says:

    I too am an atheist that was raised Christian. I was in a Quaker church for a bit, a religion I very much respect (although at a young age I found I could not fully embrace non violence as they practice it). I was always fascinated by religion, read the King James in its entirety by age 11, went on to read religious texts of other religions which are all quite interesting and have many things of value even (perhaps especially) to non believers.

    Eventually I came to regard religious stories as parables. Polytheistic gods can be read to represent the different parts of the human psyche and reading stories about them in this light creates very interesting interpretations.

  59. Anonymous says:

    Religious people know more about the one true god (their religion) though. Why would a faithful person spend any time learning about the lies of the schismatics, heretics, unbelievers? What do the Obviously Wrong have to teach the enlightened?

    To be sure though, atheism takes as much faith as belief in god. Neither belief has a shred of proof. There is neither proof for nor against a divine being.

    As an agnostic, I laugh at you all.

    • Anonymous says:

      I can’t stand the belief that atheism is a belief. Atheism is the lack of belief. Agnosticism is the lack of knowledge.

      Separate things, not exclusive. You can be an agnostic atheist, and I don’t really see how you could be an atheist without being agnostic, since not being agnostic would mean you are completely certain of the unprovable.

      • Anonymous says:

        There are at least six separate, distinct types of atheism… but unfortunately the Pew test did not ask atheists to rate their knowledge of atheism. The belief system you’ve just espoused is usually called “strong naive atheism” by philosophers and theologians.

        The word “atheism” is greek, and it means “having no gods”. It has held this meaning since the fifth century BC and implies (but does not require) a lack of belief in the actual existence of god(s). An atheist can believe in Zeus but refuse to serve, worship or acknowledge him. There are several large and ancient atheist religions.

        The word “agnostic” is pseudo-greek coined by Huxley in 1896. It means “having no claim to knowledge”; Huxley said “Agnosticism is not a creed but a method, the essence of which lies in the vigorous application of a single principle… Positively the principle may be expressed as in matters of intellect, do not pretend conclusions are certain that are not demonstrated or demonstrable.”

        It’s best not to arbitrarily redefine the English language to suit your belief system – unless you want to prevent communication outside a clique, and discourage the spread of understanding.

  60. bwcbwc says:

    This makes sense. If faith and belief are sufficient, there is no need to “know”.

  61. Anonymous says:

    If you read the study, Jews actually did best in the study.

  62. Frank W says:

    Whenever someone comes up to me to share their particular idea of The Good News, I ask questions. From the assumption that they understand what they try to convince me of. Scares the heebies out of ‘em every time.

  63. Anonymous says:

    I think this is easy to understand and not surprising. For example: in a country such as Spain, where a vast majority is said to be catholic, is difficult to be an atheist, because there is no much tradition on free thought. Conversely, it’s easy for a child to be a catholic: just do whatever everybody in your environment do, from your parents and rest of family to all your classmates and teachers. Therefore, one has not need to be very knowledgeable about his/her religion: you just leave yourself alone.

    If atheism, and specially atheism into a believing environment, can be considered a kind of opposition to something, then you have to know that something well, to know what are you opposing to.

    Besides, it seems to me that communion is not the central rite of catholicism: it’s only one of seven so-called sacraments, just like marriage, baptism and so on. I agree, however, in that it’s the most shocking rite from a non-catholic point of view, given its strange nature when you look at it in deep. On the surface, it’s only a recall of the last supper.

  64. Anonymous says:

    Let me address the Mormon situation. I grew up Mormon, so I kinda know. Mormon kids are expected to attend a high school class (seminary) for their four years of HS. One entire year is devoted to the old testament and one entire year to the new testament. Reading these books is actually involved. Reading them. There’s a lot of memorization as well. Scripture chase anyone? Mormons who grew up Mormon and who did what they were supposed to actually read the Bible. I did. It’s really boring, though.

  65. Anonymous says:

    Only 32 questions covering multiple religions? The Pew headline is a bit exaggerated. Might be true, might not. In the spirit of “the sheep are white on this side,” the conclusion should be “atheists in study score better on Pew Questionnaire.” Interesting, but not conclusive.

    I’d get my ass kicked if I even tried to pass this off as statistically valid.

  66. foobar says:

    In all fairness to Catholics, there’s a long tradition of just ignoring the clergy when they get out of hand.

    • William George says:

      So that explains why all those kids got raped for so long. Everyone in the congregation were trying to politely ignore it. Makes horrifying sense.

  67. robulus says:

    Joseph. Anon. Lorq.

    Lift! Lift, damn you!

    Check out Maggie @ 82, Wolfiesma @ 107. That’s what you’re up against.

  68. Maggie Koerth-Baker says:

    Some thoughts from this atheist:

    >It’s my experience that belief in a god and belief in specific dogma of the church you attend every Sunday are not necessarily 1:1 related things. Like political parties, most people would be hard-pressed to find a religion they 100% agree with, but they like the community and don’t really feel like starting their own church, so they pick one that’s close. I don’t really think that’s a bad thing. In fact, I think it smacks of people making decisions for themselves, based on what they personally believe, rather than what they’ve been told to believe. That’s Good. Even if they come up with beliefs that are different than mine.

    >Religion is often more cultural than it is spiritual. Especially for ritual-based religions like the Catholic Church. Lots of people get enough out of the cultural experience that they don’t really worry about the details like transubstantiation. Part of me finds it silly that they don’t care. Part of me (the part that misses ceremony and the sense of religious community) understands. My husband and I have gone to Midnight Mass for the experience, post atheism. I’m not gonna judge.

    >Atheists are, in my experience, people who left first the religion they were born into and then religion altogether not because they were angry at god, but because they did a lot of research and decided that they didn’t believe. That doesn’t make us smarter, more ethical, or less prone to contradictory, hypocritical behavior. It makes us people who like to research things. Plenty of believers I know fall into the same category. They just came to different conclusions.

    • sally599 says:

      Not everyone was born into a religion, some of us didn’t go to church as kids. Can I tell you that when you read or hear about religion with very little exposure to any type of religion its exactly like hearing that someone still believes Santa lives at the North pole with all of the little elves. But now people are specifying that Santa has special chameleon powers that allow him to disappear so that when the pole was reached nobody was there—or maybe he’s only visible to believers and everybody’s story is different because they all think that it only matters what they believe. Its not always a logical exploration of all the options—for me the Bible was the same as Shakespeare, interesting and there may be some lessons to learn because its about life but I’m not going to bow down before the bard. What I learned about religion mostly came from Art History, which makes me wonder if the difference in this study may be how people learn about religion. If you learn from a church they’ll pick out a few things here and there and toss it together with some stories to make a point about some modern issue which is a different approach than a class which tends to target an awful lot of the worst aspects (like killing the first born sons—-one image I would prefer to forget). I can’t see a guy getting up on Sunday and talking about how their awesome God killed a bunch of kids just because he could. I don’t see them emphasizing that you are eating flesh the way an image could show the same. It could easily be an issue of how liberal your college was.

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        Not everyone was born into a religion, some of us didn’t go to church as kids. Can I tell you that when you read or hear about religion with very little exposure to any type of religion its exactly like hearing that someone still believes Santa lives at the North pole with all of the little elves.

        I was raised without any religion and don’t think that way at all. Religious stories are metaphors for philosophical and psychological concepts, even if most adherents take them literally. Frankly, I view materialism as symptomatic of a neurodeficit, as evidenced by the strict literalism and ametaphoria that often ride in the same cart.

        • Anonymous says:

          Frankly, I view materialism as symptomatic of a neurodeficit, as evidenced by the strict literalism and ametaphoria that often ride in the same cart.

          Very generous of you. It’s awesome when materialists claim any spirituality is a symptom of some psychological problem or other, too. Perhaps someday every difference of opinion can be explained clinically.

  69. alphagirl says:

    count me as another appreciating shadowfirebird’s comments.

    Where does this false dichotomy come from where it’s either choose a man-made religious doctrine to strictly follow or reject all spiritual belief?

    oh, yeah, religious leaders trying to control people. Then you add atheists trying to tell people their beliefs don’t count if they don’t fit some pre-fab definition. fark them both.

    but yeah, back to the topic of the post… it would be great all around for people to learn more about their own religions and others’. More knowledge (if it doesn’t lead to atheism as has been suggested) would at least lead to questioning, and fewer “us vs. them” mentalities.

    • Phrosty says:

      I can see where you’re coming from. I undoubtedly and unfortunately fall into your aforementioned atheist archetype… but in my (our) defense, it’s awfully hard to take someone seriously when they’re convinced of the existence of talismans, spirits, and fairies. See where we’re coming from?

    • delt664 says:

      The issue of false dichotomy seems to be muddled here. Anyone can believe whatever they want, there are many shades of grey. The issue is pointing out the problem of self identifying as a member of a specifically defined organization, yet rejecting one or more of the defining values of that organization. In politics, this is not a problem.

      However, when you are talking about organizations claiming that their specific doctrine / scripture is universally correct, to the exclusion of all others, there is no room for shades of grey. Disagreement with on any specific point excludes you from that specific organization. This does not mean you no longer hold any beliefs, just that you are no longer an (insert organization here). When this happens to enough people who share a set of beliefs, a new religion / church is usually created to institutionalize the new specific belief set.

      I don’t really care if an individuals beliefs fit into a specific package or not, but when they claim a specific and rigid definition, I expect them to be using that label correctly.

      As far as beliefs not counting, I am of the opinion that any belief without reproducible, supporting evidence (faith) has no value whatsoever.

      • Trevel says:

        Not really; generally speaking, each group has core beliefs, and they also have Not That Important beliefs. (And a lot of trouble comes from confusing these.)

        You can’t, for instance, really be an atheist and believe in a loving, personal God. The belief that there is no god is pretty core to being an atheist. You can, however, be an atheist and believe in the Steady State Theory; Big Bang isn’t a core belief of atheism, although it is the most common.

        The Core Beliefs of Christianity — well, it’s hard to narrow them down because there’s a metric ton of different denominations, and each of them considers different things core. There being a God would be generally crucial, and some vague connection to some version of the Bible, belief in the existence of Jesus… There’s probably, somewhere out there, a church that DOES insist that its members not wear multi-fabric clothes. (Amish, I’d think) — but how the heck can you go to a sea of differing beliefs, take out a spoonful, and claim that THESE guys are the One True Christian Faith and that everyone who isn’t like them isn’t?

        It’s at least understandable when the guys who hold to those particular beliefs do that. Bit bizarre when someone else decides to declare it for them. “They’re all wrong, of course, but the Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism is the One True Christian Faith — everyone else is not just wrong with their beliefs, they’re wrong about being Christians.”

        • delt664 says:

          “Bit bizarre when someone else decides to declare it for them.”

          Not when the only thing being declared is a regurgitation of the the set of beliefs codified by the organization an individual is claiming membership to.

  70. Joe says:

    “Taken to the logical extreme of Deism, how could you possibly disprove the existence of a non-interventionist god?”

    I could conceive of a universe created by a conscious act; maybe a physics experiment in some other universe could have created our universe’s Big Bang. But if so, the creator(s) would probably be rather ordinary products of evolution, possibly unaware of what they did, and even if they had some means of tweaking the physical constants to make an “interesting” universe more likely, they would still have no reason to be aware of or care about our pale blue dot.

    I call myself an atheist, not an agnostic, because my disbelief in the god of the Bible/Koran is about as strong as my disbelief in the Easter Bunny, and a non-interventionist “god” would just be an aspect of nature. After all, can you prove that there’s no Easter Bunny? Shouldn’t a rational person admit the possibility?

    • bwcbwc says:

      “Taken to the logical extreme of Deism, how could you possibly disprove the existence of a non-interventionist god?”

      You can’t disprove it, but by Occam’s Razor there is no need to prove or even postulate such a being in formulating your life’s morality. The only reason that I can think of to postulate/believe in such a deity is to satisfy a personal craving for a purpose to life, the universe and everything beyond our own mundane existences.

      For me it’s like recognizing religion as “the opiate of the people”, while still taking low doses of the drug.

      • Anonymous says:

        The only reason that I can think of to postulate/believe in such a deity is to satisfy a personal craving for a purpose to life, the universe and everything beyond our own mundane existences.

        Well, keep trying. I’m sure there are plenty of other reasons. I have no personal cravings such as you describe, nor do I wish to have any “afterlife” (it sounds very tiresome).

        Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also. –Marcus Aurelius

        I believe in God because it makes me happy. Being a part of the universe, I like being part of something all-encompassing and divine. It’s a great joy to me, to have all things be my brothers and sisters.

        I believe in the cosmos. All of us are linked to the cosmos. So nature is my god. To me, nature is sacred. Trees are my temples and forests are my cathedrals. — Mikhail Gorbachev

  71. RevWubby says:

    What people should take away form this isn’t that atheists are someone superior or more intelligent that theists (we aren’t, trust me) but that, in the aggregate, people who spend more time studying and caring about a religion are MORE likely to reject it than hold to it.

    This studies results may be a critique of theists in that people who see knowledge as a threat to their understanding tend to remain believers more often than those who see knowledge as benefit.

    And I would consider it fairly trivial to demonstrate that more demonstrably true knowledge is morally greater than less.

  72. jasontromm says:

    Does anybody have a link to the list of questions that were asked in the survey?

  73. Derek C. F. Pegritz says:

    As an atheist, I *love* reading about world religions and mythoi of all sorts for prettymuch the same reason I love reading fantasy fiction: it presents a rich “otherworld” for me to visit and fool around in before coming back to reality.

  74. tboy says:

    As it is, I can’t read the original research (“Server too busy”), so I can’t really answer this question: Atheists / agnostics know more about which religion?

    Do they know more about the difference between hadith, shari’a and Qur’an? What about the Torah and the Talmud? What is mokhsha, and how does it differ from Nirvana? Who (or what) is Guru Granth Sahib? Who is the Bahaiullah?

    Is someone conflating “religion” with “Christianity” again?

    • Anonymous says:

      Most Americans are Christians. So even if most Buddhists know more about Buddhism than most atheists do, all it takes is for most Christians not to, and the result won’t change much.

    • Hank says:

      I took the quiz. It’s 15 questions long. Most of the questions aren’t about religion, but about the intersection of people and religion (eg, What religion was Mother Theresa?). There, though, are some actual religion questions (eg, Who is the leader associated with the Exodus? With which religion is Ramadan associated? The above-discussed cannibalistic tendencies of Roman Catholics)

      It doesn’t actually require much in-depth knowledge of any particular religion to do well on the quiz.

      • tboy says:

        It doesn’t actually require much in-depth knowledge of any particular religion to do well on the quiz.

        There are 32 questions. And judging by the stats, you all did abysmally with Indonesia. Which is ironic, since they’re the country with the largest population of Muslims in the world.

        I don’t even know why I’m wasting time here any more. U.S. Study Shows Americans Don’t Know Crap About Religion Apart From Their Narrow Experiences; No One Outside Of America Is Surprised.

        • Gloria says:

          Naturally, I can’t presume to know anything about you, but personally, I would only conflate religious knowledge/ignorance with religious tolerance/intolerance only so far, as the latter, to me, is the genuinely offensive thing. I may not know the intricacies or even some of the basic facts of many religions, but it doesn’t mean I would ever impinge on believers’ rights to worship or express themselves freely. And I think it behooves us to remember that just because a person is guilty of ignorance doesn’t mean it is willful or malicious.

          Frankly, speaking as an atheist, does knowing the Jewish Sabbath begin on Friday make me a better person? Not really!

  75. Anonymous says:

    The difference here is you’re asking fairly specific questions to a broad demographic of people, millions of people in North America claim to be Catholics or Christians because they grew up in a catholic home or went to a catholic elementary school. If you ask them on a survey, ”Are you catholic?” they will say yes.

    People who admit to being atheist or agnostic have generally put time and thought into deciding what they believe, much like people of various religions who actually practice what they believe.

    A lot legitimate ‘Christians’ that I know have Biblical and historical knowledge (relative to the Bible) far superior to anyone I have met, going onto the street and asking some 18 year old girl if she believes in God, and then asking her to explain what the act of communion is rooted in isn’t exactly a fair representation of what Christianity/Catholicism is today.

    Constant articles like this make me start to wonder if the atheist/agnostic movement is more pushy with their beliefs then most religions are, as I see much more of this in the media then I ever receive ‘get saved or burn’ sermons from religious friends of mine.

    • insatiableatheist says:

      Are you aware of the demographics of the survey or are you just taking a guess?

      “with their beliefs THEN most religions”
      and
      “in the media THEN I ever receive”
      should read “THAN”.

      Sorry to be anal, but I’ve seen a lot of this mistake recently and it’s an itch I’ve gotta scratch.

  76. Spencer Cross says:

    If anybody else is digging around trying to find the shirt from the photo, I found it via Revolution Books in Berkely:

    http://www.revolutionbooks.org/p/buy-books.html

    …and there’s another version available here:

    http://www.knoddingskull.com/products.php?id=31

  77. Anonymous says:

    “But . . . but you can’t treat religion as a sort of buffet, can you? I mean, you can’t say, ‘Yes please, I’ll have some of the Celestial Paradise and a helping of the Divine Plan but go easy on the kneeling and none of the Prohibition of Images, they give me wind.’ It’s table d’hôte or nothing, otherwise . . . well, it could get silly.”
    -Terry Pratchett

    You dont get to pick what you want. Its a faith for a reason. If you dont have it, just dont call yourself a christian/catholic/whatever, its an insult to true followers and will make people treat you as if you are following the thing.

  78. BaconGlory says:

    I was not brought up in a religious family, but attended several churches with my friends in high school. I find that I have too logical a mind to believe in religion.

    The only thing I really know is that if God does exist, he is either impotent or an a-hole. Given those options, I choose to believe that he does not exist.

    Also, I call call him “he” because I like to think that no woman would screw up world this much.

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