A recent religious literacy poll done by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life shows that Mormons know more about the Bible and general religion than Catholics, Jews, and Protestant Christians. (See “Survey: LDS know more about the Bible than other Christians,” The Salt Lake Tribune, Sept. 29, 2010, p. A4.)
The finding surprised many who would have thought that “White Evangelical,” “White Mainline,” and “Black Protestant” Christians would have scored better than the Mormons. “We don’t study the Bible as much as evangelical Protestants,” Jim Faulkner, the Richard L. Evans chairman of religious understanding at BYU, told a Salt Lake Tribune reporter. “I would have guessed that evangelicals would do better. They have a lot of Bible study classes, some weekly.”
Let’s be honest, folks, these questions should not have mystified those calling themselves Christian. How could more than half of the Protestants not know who Martin Luther was (that’s Martin Luther, not Martin Luther, Jr.)? As my daughter likes to say, “Really?” Other questions that were asked included Where was Jesus born? Who led the Exodus out of Egypt? What religion was Mother Theresa? What day does the Jewish Sabbath begin? (OK, this one is tricky. Answer: Friday evening at sundown—we’ll give a bonus point for that one.)
Out of the 27 questions, Christians averaged 13 correct. If I remember correctly, less than 50% on a test is an F, every time! Atheists averaged thirty percent better with 17 questions answered correctly, for Pete’s sake! And Mormons—most of whom attend one-hour seminary classes every morning for four years of their high school careers—were just a little below that, at 16 correct.
So how can we process this? For one, shame on the Christian churches for not teaching our people better about the Bible and other religions. Instead of our youth groups heading to Disneyland or ski retreats every third weekend, perhaps we ought to be really doing what the BYU professor assumes we’re doing, having “a lot of Bible study classes.”
We can also know that just having a large knowledge of religion and Bible facts is, by itself, not very meaningful. After all, while Mormons averaged 7.9 correct out of the 12 Bible and Christianity questions, atheists and agnostics were not far behind at 6.7. White Evangelical Protestants averaged 7.3, which is very close to the Mormon total. Catholic (5.4) and White Mainline (5.8) believers were left totally in the dust.
Yet if a Mormon brags that he knows his Bible better than Protestants—honestly, I had one Mormon do to me this week—we must gently remind them that those who don’t even believe in God did better overall on this test than the Mormons. Does this mean that atheists have more truth than Mormons and Christians? While someone may know how to correctly answer Jeopardy-trivia-like questions, it’s putting the Bible into practice that matters. Like, believing in one true God, believing that Jesus is God in the flesh, believing that grace, not our works, puts us into a relationship with God, and practicing loving our neighbor as ourselves.
It’s make-up test time. Let’s sharpen those pencils and get to work!
For more information see The Pew Forum’s “Who Knows What About Religion.”