What do Jews, atheists, agnostics, evangelicals have in common?

“Jews get 18.7 questions right, on average. Self-described atheists and agnostics also display relatively high levels of religious knowledge, correctly answering an average of 17.9 and 17.0 questions, respectively,” Pew said Tuesday.

“Protestants as a whole correctly answer an average of 14.3 questions, with members of the evangelical Protestant tradition (15.5) doing best within this group,” the report said.

The research concluded that U.S. adults generally can answer basic questions about the Bible and Christianity, but they struggle when asked about key points of other world religions.

Many even are unfamiliar with what the U.S. Constitution says about religion as it relates to elected officials.

The Pew Research Center quizzed nearly 11,000 U.S. adults on various topics, and while surveys often ask people about their opinions, “this one was different,” Pew said.

It asked 32 fact-based, multiple-choice questions about religious topics.

“The average U.S. adult is able to answer fewer than half of them (about 14) correctly,” the report said.

“Overall, eight-in-ten U.S. adults correctly answer that in the Christian tradition, Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus – rather than the Crucifixion, the Ascension to heaven or the Last Supper. A similar share know that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity holds that there is one God in three persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Eight-in-ten Americans correctly identify Moses as the biblical figure who led the Exodus from Egypt, and David as the one who killed an enemy by slinging a stone, while seven-in-ten know that Abraham is the biblical figure who exhibited a willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to God.”

Also, nine in 10 correctly said an atheist is someone who does not believe in God, and even the basics of Islam are common knowledge, with six in 10 knowing Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims.

“On the other hand, Americans are less familiar with some basic facts about other world religions, including Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism. Just three-in-ten U.S. adults know that the Jewish Sabbath begins on Friday, one-quarter know that Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year, and one-in-eight can correctly identify the religion of Maimonides (an influential Jewish scholar in the Middle Ages).

“Roughly one-in-five Americans (18 percent) know that the ‘truth of suffering’ is among Buddhism’s four ‘noble truths,’ and just 15 percent correctly identify the Vedas as a Hindu text.”

Many were unfamiliar with the size of religious minorities in the U.S., and only 27 percent knew that the Constitution states there shall be “no religious test” for U.S. officeholders. Fifteen percent thought the Constitution demands elected officials “affirm that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and 12 percent think the Constitution requires elected officials to be sworn in using the Bible.”

The findings are from a survey done online Feb. 4 to 19 of 10,971 respondents. The study was conducted mostly of members of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (a nationally representative panel of randomly selected U.S. adults recruited from landline and cellphone random-digit-dial surveys and an address-based survey), supplemented by interviews with members of the Ipsos KnowledgePanel. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.

Its 32 questions included 14 about the Bible and Christianity, 13 about other world religions, two about atheism and agnosticism, two about religious minorities and one about the Constitution.

Only 9 percent of respondents were able to get as many as 25 questions right.

Jews and atheists may have scored the highest partly because they are “highly educated” groups, Pew said.

“Among Christians, knowledge of the Bible and Christianity is closely linked both with the amount of effort respondents say they invest in learning about their faith and with their religious background. Christians who say they regularly spend time learning about their own religion (for example, reading scripture, visiting websites, listening to podcasts, reading books or magazines, or watching television) answer more questions correctly about the Bible and Christianity than do those who say they make such efforts to learn about their faith less often (9.4 questions right out of 14 total, vs. 6.8),” the report said.

It also revealed:

  • Only half of Catholics correctly answered the question about transubstantiation.
  • Only 20 percent know Protestantism teaches that salvation comes through faith alone.
  • Half were able to explain “prosperity gospel” is the idea that “those of strong faith will be blessed by God with financial success and good health.”

“This is the second time Pew Research Center has tested how much U.S. adults know about religion. The first survey, conducted in 2010, found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons were the top performers, while in the new survey, atheists, Jews, agnostics and evangelical Protestants scored highest. However, there are several important differences between the two surveys that make them not directly comparable. To begin with, many of the questions asked in the new survey were not asked in 2010. Just 12 of the 32 current knowledge questions appeared on the 2010 survey, and all the repeated questions have been modified in ways that make direct comparisons impossible,” Pew said.

In 2010, the survey also was done by phone.

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