A new study out by the Pew Research Center takes a look at religious knowledge across the United States. Some are shocked by the results, while others are not. What are your thoughts on the study stating that the most knowledgeable groups about religion comprise of atheists, Jews, and Mormons?
These findings resulted in quite a few ruffled feathers as well as intrigue. The findings purely fascinated me.
The first thing that needs stating is that the headlines touted the knowledge of three distinct groups that might upset many mainstream Christians, however the news is not all bad for them. The question one might ask is, why did they score under the other three groups? One might also ask, just how much under did mainstream Christians perform?
Truthfully? Not bad. Not great, but not bad. Here’s the base results of the 32 question quizze given to more than 3,000 Americans:
With an national average of 16 out of 32 questions correct, here’s the average breakdown by subgroup:
Atheists/Agnostics – 20.9
Jewish – 20.5
Mormon – 20.3
White Evangelical Protestant – 17.6
White Catholic – 16.0
White Mainline Protestant – 15.8
Nothing in Particular – 15.2
Black Protestant – 13.4
Hispanic Catholic – 11.6
So sure, there’s a definite drop after you see the top three, but it’s not all bad. There was definite evidence that amount of schooling, background, and location played a role in how well people did. Unless you were Jewish or Mormon. Those two groups outperformed regardless of education level which is something to look at in and of itself.
Studies have long since proclaimed Mormons and Jewish to be among those that value education. This is probably a good reason behind the results of this study. But here’s a look at some of the reasons that perhaps Mormons outperformed their Christian counterparts, taken from my own musings as well as quick discussions with other Mormons in leadership and non leadership positions.
Now, I know this study isn’t going to prove to all the Christians out there that we are Christian, regardless of our using the name of the Savior in our Church name. (That’s right, while we’ve come to accept people calling us Mormon, which was once a derogatory slur, the actual name of our church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Sadly, there are many that I’ve met who did not know this and seemed surprised that we would use the name of he-who’s-church-it-is in the actual name of our church. Good surprise, but surprise none the less.) I think it is safe to say that regardless how you feel about us, we do seem to know our stuff.
According to the study, Mormons scored the highest on Biblical knowledge with 7.9 out of 12 questions correct. (White evangelicals came in second with 7.3 correct.) We also scored third highest in the world religions category with 5.6 out of 11 questions answered correctly. (Above us were Atheists at 7.5 and Jews at 7.9.)
Now, to the reasons:
One of the first things out of people’s mouths: Seminary. For non-Mormons out there, Seminary is typically thought of as the school one must attend in which to become a clergyman. If someone says they are entering the Seminary, you know they want to be some sort of preacher, pastor, or the like. For Mormons, with a lay (IE: non paid made up of the general public of the congregation) ministry, we don’t have anything like this.
So what is Seminary? It’s a four year study of scripture that our high school age students around the world participate in. If you are lucky enough to live in Utah, or somewhere with an overwhelmingly high Mormon population this can get placed into your normal school day. For the rest of us unlucky souls, this means an hour of instruction before the school day starts. Seminary in my congregation runs from 6-7 AM Monday-Friday. This is free for all high school students and a requirement if you want to attend BYU. Each year you study a different book of Scripture. For those unsure what our scriptures are that would include a full year for the Old Testament, the New Testament, The Book of Mormon, and finally the Doctrine and Covenants (IE History of the Church).
That’s a good start to learning about religion, especially our own. We also have courses at the college level open to all adults. At BYU this is required of all students, and areas in America offer it primarily for college-aged adults and sometimes for those past the typical college age and is called Institute. It builds on what you learned in Seminary.
The very next thing involved our Church worship. We attend three hours of Church on Sunday alone. Twice a year, the leaders of the Church itself speak to us for 12 hours in one weekend. (With an additional hour and a half the week before geared toward teen girls and their leaders in the spring and all adult women in the fall.) If you want to check it out, it streams live over the internet, on BYU TV, on smart phones with the Mormon Radio app, and in some areas on local tv and is this very weekend. These proceedings are translated live into dozens of languages and you can download within about four hours these proceedings to listen to you on your mp3 player, home computer, or what have you. And in one month’s time we can receive a published version of the addresses in print which are then used as lessons on the fourth Sunday of each month as well as whatever personal study we’d like to do on our own. And, by the way, you can read conference address for several decades on the church website.
Which segways right into that… according to this study nearly half of Americans (48%) say that outside of their scripture, they do not read books on religion or use the internet to learn about even their own church. Of course only 37% said they read their scripture at least once a week outside of services. However black Protestants (29%), white Evangelicals (30%), and Mormons (51%) stated that they DID read books about religion and accessed the web to learn about their own religion at least once a week. I can attest that we use lds.org on a daily basis in my house. I will also attest to having people call me for information and I’ll say, "But that’s on lds.org" and then end up pulling the information for them anyway.
Another factor that probably allowed us to score high in this survey is our missionary action. You can spot our 20 year old Elders a mile away. Who else would be at the Boy Scout Jamboree in a white shirt, black pants, and a tie when it’s 112 degrees outside? Or riding a bike in a non-urban area? Even the Kirby salesmen leave the suits at home. These boys look like door to door bankers when they are tracting. A mission is typically a two year long, full time, at the cost of the misisonary and his family experience in which daily scripture study is required, meeting people with different beliefs is a given, and can even include learning another language in a matter of months. (Women can also serve missions that include the same requirements but are 18 months in duration.)
There’s other factors from our encouragement of weekly family nights which are supposed to include a lesson, family scripture study, study between husbands and wives, attending the Temple for further worship and edification between Tuesday and Saturday, the training our members receive throughout the year in fulfilling their duties in the congregation, and preparing for lessons or addresses. (For example I just spoke for about ten minutes at a baptism of two girls on not only baptism but the Holy Ghost. I’ve spoken to the church membership about Temple work, prayer, family history, overcoming adversity, the meaning of Christmas, blessings, and the power of the priesthood. Who knows what my next address will be on!)
There’s plenty of other things I heard mentioned that I could expound on, but I think I’ve done enough for now. I will say I found the study fascinating. And scary. Are there really people who think that Stephen King wrote Moby Dick? Yikes!
At any rate, maybe now that you can see some of what Mormons do, you can understand the results. These programs and expectations must factor into the results in some way. Have you any thoughts?
If you want to read more, here’s the link pewforum.org/Other-Beliefs-and-Practices/U-S-Religious-Knowledge-Survey.aspx
There is also a quizze of fifteen questions based off the full quizze you can take. What religion was Mother Teresa, who founded the Mormon religion, who started the reformation, what is Ramadan, and other such questions. All are multiple choice which makes it a bit easier.