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Thursday
Sep302010

Could this be true? Study shows atheists know more about religion than professed believers.

Boing Boing is reporting the findings of an American study which shows that atheists have greater knowledge of some elements of religions than the followers of those faiths.  Boing Boing's report makes for interesting reading! However, what it fails to mention is that that while atheists may have far greater knowledge about certain elements of various faiths (by virtue of the fact that they would justify their stance by having reasons to support their lack of belief), surely they cannot have a better general, or overall, understanding of the subtleties of a particular religion?

For example, while many atheists may know some interesting facts about the creation narrative (I have even heard some atheist friends quoting words and portions of verses from the original Hebrew text to make a point), it is unlikely that they would have equitable 'technical' knowledge about others elements of a particular faith, e.g., the emphases of compassion, goodness, or love as expressed in those faith traditions.

Regardless, this is a an interesting article.  What do you think - is it true, do atheists know more about religion than professing believers?

A new Pew survey on religion in America finds that atheists and agnostics are more likely to be well-versed about different religions' beliefs and practices than people who profess a belief in those religions. For example, atheists and agnostics are more likely to know that during Communion (Catholicism's central rite), the wafer and wine are meant to transubstantiate into the literal flesh and blood of Christ -- they aren't merely symbolic, as 40% of Catholics believe. Atheists and agnostics are also more likely than Protestants to know that Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation (the majority of Protestants could not identify him).

Interestingly, Mormons are, on average, better versed on the traditional New Testament Bible than evangelical Christians and mainstream Christians, many of whom consider Mormonism to be apostasy.

American atheists and agnostics tend to be people who grew up in a religious tradition and consciously gave it up, often after a great deal of reflection and study, said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum.

"These are people who thought a lot about religion," he said. "They're not indifferent. They care about it."

Atheists and agnostics also tend to be relatively well educated, and the survey found, not surprisingly, that the most knowledgeable people were also the best educated. However, it said that atheists and agnostics also outperformed believers who had a similar level of education.

The groups at the top of the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey were followed, in order, by white evangelical Protestants, white Catholics, white mainline Protestants, people who were unaffiliated with any faith (but not atheist or agnostic), black Protestants and Latino Catholics.

Reader Comments (1)

I think that because of an emphasis on right belief as expressed by many congregations, often believers eyes are blinkered to any religious discourse outside of their own little faith box. They are afraid to think outside of their community's beliefs and so cease learning anything beyond that which results in a narrow minded faith which often blinds even believers to some aspects of 'compassion, goodness ad love'.

October 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNeil Vels

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