What we learn from the PEW Forum


This map shows the percentage of the U.S. adul...
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There is an interesting article going around based on a survey done by the PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life.  The claim is that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than Catholics or Protestants.  I took the 32 question test myself, here, and got 30 right.

After I took the quiz I spent a lot of time just wandering around the PEW Forum website looking at all of the information they have gathered.  It is very interesting.  What I found most fascinating is this map that allows you to look at the United States and peoples’ responses to various religious questions.  I guess it’s to be expected, but the area of the US known as the “Bible Belt” had high percentages responding to these religious questions, such as “Do you believe in God -absolutely certain?”, “Attendance at religious service at least once a week”, and “Frequency of prayer – at least once a day”.

Interesting is the fact that Utah does not score as high as the Bible Belt with the responses to these questions.  When they compiled the data from all of these questions and put together the report “How Religious is your State?” , Mississippi is the most religious state, but Utah is number 12.  The only category on which Utah comes close to Mississippi is “Attends religious services at least once a week”.

The most fascinating question, for me, was “Interpretation of Scripture”.  In Utah 29% believe that scripture is the Word of God, literally, word for word, while 45% believe that scripture is the Word of God, but not literally true, word for word. 16% believe scripture is not the Word of God, but written by men, and 10% did not respond.   If we compare that to Mississippi, where 64% believe that scripture is the Word of God, literally, word for word, 24% believe that scripture is the Word of God, but not literally true, word for word, 7% believe scripture is not the Word of God, but written by men, and 5% did not respond.

What does this mean?  Is there a correlation between believing that scripture is literally the Word of God, every word of it and an absolute certain belief in God? (where Mississippi responded 91% believe in God-absolutely certain, but in  Utah it was only 80%.)  I guess a people that strongly believe that scripture is literally the Word of God, spoken by his mouth and is infallible, would also have a pretty certain belief in God.  I mean, if you don’t believe in God, it’s hard to believe that He wrote a book, right?  But when people accept scripture as only inspired of God, and not His direct intervention, it’s a little easier to begin to be uncertain about God’s existence.

I want to make absolutely clear here that just because someone does not believe that scripture is literally the Word of God, does not mean that they doubt God.  I believe the Bible to be the Word of God, given to men by inspiration.  They wrote what they were inspired to write, but that was hundreds of years ago.  There is still a lot of truth in scripture, and if one reads with the Spirit then that Spirit can reveal truth and speak to one’s heart and mind.  I believe that a personal relationship with God is required to understand scripture – as scripture has different meanings for different readers, depending upon their personal spiritual situation in life.

But I love reading studies like this, thinking about studies like and discussing what these studies mean.  Religion is such a part of who we are as individuals, it shapes so much of the way we view the world.  I wish there were more religious education in this country.  In Germany most schools have some Religion/Ethics class where they study different religions. Not to convert any of the students,  but to expose them to other belief systems and help them understand what others believe.  I would like a class like that in American high schools, it would help decrease the rumors and lies that are floating around about so many religions that we do not understand.  I had the amazing experience in  Germany of attending a religion class at the local school.  As missionaries, we were invited to come and speak to the class and talk about Mormonism.  It was great, since the students learned about our religion straight from representatives of the religion and not second-hand from some other source.  We were not there to convert, we handed out no Books of Mormon, no pamphlets or anything, we were simply informing the students about the LDS religion.  I wish I understood Judaism and Islam as well as I understand Christianity, and I wish I knew the specific differences between the different Christian churches.

In school, as students learn about other religions, they learn to respect other religions.  They don’t have to accept and believe in the religion, but accept that others do believe it and respect that fact.   Justice Brandeis famously said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”, and I would say that Education is the best form of Sunlight.

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