And it turns out they know other people’s bullshit, too.
In particular, a recent survey that quizzed thousands of Americans on their knowledge of religious matters showed that atheists and agnostics are better informed than any other religious denomination.
The full survey had 32 questions. I got 13/15 on the mini-version available on the website (I didn’t realise the Jewish Sabbath began as early as it did and I had no idea what name to associate with the “First Great Awakening”).
This main result shouldn’t be a huge surprise. The caricature of atheists as ignorant fools who’ve blindly turned away from the Good Word is largely a fiction. Most of the non-believers I know have found what I did: the more you learn about this stuff, the less plausible it seems. We come from backgrounds of varying religious intensity, but it’s always been a subject of interest and substantial cultural influence.
I’ve not seen this point being made yet, but I strongly suspect a similar correlation does not exist for those denying belief in scientific matters. I’d be astonished if non-believers in, say, the theory of evolution turned out to be similarly better informed about it than its adherents.
Not sure what grand, sweeping conclusions to draw from that. Science is good and your religion is false. That’ll do.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff coming out of these results, particularly about the extent to which people don’t really know what they profess to believe. For many, religious identity probably isn’t even primarily about the specifics of their own church’s doctrine. It’s a social thing, where people like to stay with a familiar crowd.
For instance, barely half of Catholics (55%) realised they’re meant to believe that the communion host literally turns into the flesh and blood of Jesus. It’s not just a symbol. It really happens. Except, obviously it is just a symbol, and a lot of people are sensible enough to realise that. But this doesn’t seem to undermine the notion for them that the basic premise of religion itself is somehow a good thing.
There are some more baffling omissions. 29% didn’t know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Even if a lot of non-Christians have a surprising lack of interest in any belief system not their own, that seems like a lot.
And the one that most baffled me was that fewer than a quarter of respondents believed that teachers in public schools are allowed to read passages from the Bible in literary discussions. I think I can understand a little better what those godly nuts keep yelling about, and why the world might seem such a scary place to them, if so many really do think that their holy book is utterly banned from any school discussion like this. Forbidding any access to the Bible must be part of the Evil Atheist Agenda.
There were some general knowledge questions thrown into the mix as well, at which atheists and agnostics again did better than average. I’ve just seen the one saying that 41% of Americans don’t know who their vice President is. I think I need a lie down.