If you want to know about God, you might want to talk to an atheist.
Heresy? Perhaps. But a survey that measured Americans’ knowledge of religion found that atheists and agnostics knew more, on average, than followers of most major faiths. In fact, the gaps in knowledge among some of the faithful may give new meaning to the term “blind faith.”
A majority of Protestants, for instance, couldn’t identify Martin Luther as the driving force behind the Protestant Reformation, according to the survey, released Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Four in 10 Catholics misunderstood the meaning of their church’s central ritual, incorrectly saying that the bread and wine used in Holy Communion are intended to merely symbolize the body and blood of Christ, not actually become them.
Atheists and agnostics — those who believe there is no God or who aren’t sure — were more likely to answer the survey’s questions correctly. Jews and Mormons ranked just below them in the survey’s measurement of religious knowledge — so close as to be statistically tied.
So why would an atheist know more about religion than a Christian?
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.
Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists were included in the survey, but their numbers were too small to be broken out as statistically significant groups.
Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University and author of “Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — And Doesn’t,” served as an advisor on the survey. “I think in general the survey confirms what I argued in the book, which is that we know almost nothing about our own religions and even less about the religions of other people,” he said.
He said he found it significant that Mormons, who are not considered Christians by many fundamentalists, showed greater knowledge of the Bible than evangelical Christians.
The Rev. Adam Hamilton, a Methodist minister from Leawood, Kan., and the author of “When Christians Get it Wrong,” said the survey’s results may reflect a reluctance by many people to dig deeply into their own beliefs and especially into those of others.
“I think that what happens for many Christians is, they accept their particular faith, they accept it to be true and they stop examining it. Consequently, because it’s already accepted to be true, they don’t examine other people’s faiths. That, I think, is not healthy for a person of any faith,” he said.
The Pew survey was not without its bright spots for the devout. Eight in 10 people surveyed knew that Mother Teresa was Catholic. Seven in 10 knew that, according to the Bible, Moses led the exodus from Egypt and that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
The question that elicited the most correct responses concerned whether public school teachers are allowed to lead their classes in prayer. Eighty-nine percent of the respondents correctly said no. However, 67% also said that such teachers are not permitted to read from the Bible as an example of literature, something the law clearly allows.
For comparison purposes, the survey also asked some questions about general knowledge, which yielded the scariest finding: 4% of Americans believe that Stephen King, not Herman Melville, wrote “Moby Dick.”
A youth program associated with the Los Angeles Police Department will no longer be affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America, due to the BSA’s policy of excluding gays, atheists, and agnostics.
The Explorer’s Program, which the Boy Scouts created in 1949, has served since 1962 as a means of giving youth interested in law enforcement practical experience by allowing them to assist the LAPD with crowd monitoring, clerical work, and other tasks. But now the program is set to be re-vamped, dropping both its old name and its last ties to the BSA, which has provided insurance to participants through its Learning for Life program, reported an article posted Dec. 22 at Daybreeze.com.
But the Boy Scouts’ policy of excluding gays, atheists, and agnostics clashes with the city’s non-discrimination policies, and the Police Commission has determined that the LAPD will no longer associate with Learning for Life. The new program will commence on Jan. 1, 2010, and will rely in part on donations.
“It’s bittersweet in the sense that the Boy Scouts or Learning for Life have been part of this for a long time–in name only–but the LAPD is committed to a better program and we can do that without having discrimination,” Police Commissioner Alan Skobin said.
Openly gay Police Commissioner Robert Salzman said that the new program, which he has helped devise, would be “as good or–I’m confident–better than the program it replaces.”
Continued Salzman, “The Boy Scouts are clear that they discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity and religion, and the result of that is I could not be active on the Boy Scouts.”
The Boy Scouts have defended their exclusion policy, taking the battle to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the group’s right, as a private organization, to determine who may belong. But the group has continued to generate controversy, since it is in some cases entwined with city programs.
The Boy Scouts’ chief executive, Bob Mazzuca, told the Associated Press recently that, “We do have folks who say we probably should rethink this.” The Boy Scouts of America will celebrate its centennial in February, 2010; said Mazzuca, “We can agree to disagree on a particular issue and still come together for the common good.”
For all the organization’s emphasis on leadership and ethical integrity, however, Mazzuca indicated that the Scouts were in no hurry to update their policies. “This issue is going on in every nook and cranny of our country,” Mazzuca said. “We’re just not at the point where we’re going to be leading on this.”
Said Lambda Legal’s Kevin Cathcart, referring to the 2000 Supreme Court decision, “The world has changed immensely in these past nine years and the Scouts appear not to have changed at all.”
Said David Niose, who serves as the president of The American Humanist Association, “The Boy Scouts are synonymous with American values and patriotism–like motherhood and apple pie. By excluding atheists and secular Americans, they are essentially saying we cannot be good citizens.”
It’s not just social attitudes that are changing; how people connect, stay in contact, and influence one another’s views also are in flux, as young people grow up with cell phones, text messaging, and the Internet. Said Mazzuca, “We’ve been slow to realize the changing landscape of how people form their opinions.” The AP article said that BSA is now delving into social media such as Twitter and Facebook to plug into youth culture.
“One of the magic parts of this adventure is that none of the bedrock things that made us who we are have to change for us to be more relevant and dynamic,” Mazzuca said.
Brad Pitt was raised as a Southern Baptist, but apparently, his faith didn’t stick.
The 45-year-old actor doesn’t believe in God, he told Bild.com.
“No, no, no!,” he declared, when asked if he believes in a higher power, or if he was spiritual. “I’m probably 20 percent atheist and 80 percent agnostic. I don’t think anyone really knows. You’ll either find out or not when you get there, until then there’s no point thinking about it.”
Pitt doesn’t seem to have a problem with others believing though.
“Religion works,” the actor said in a 2007 interview with Parade.
He adds, “I know there’s comfort there, a crash pad. It’s something to explain the world and tell you there is something bigger than you, and it is going to be all right in the end.”
The superstar, currently promoting his upcoming World War II film, “Inglourious Basterds,” also told Bild.com that he enjoys aging, prefers motorbikes over cars, and that while money can make things easier, it can also be a burden.
Pitt says he and longtime partner Angelina Jolie sleep on a “3 meter wide bed” to fit in their six kids.
“But even that isn’t big enough,” he admits. “They all come crawling in in the morning. It’s just about surviving! We all have sleep deprivation.”
Â I deleted my MySpace profile weeks ago due to my disdain for the way myspace is run, this recent news makes me even happier I did.
Cleveland, OH.â€” Social networking site, MySpace.com, panders to religious intolerants by deleting atheist users, groups and content.
Early this month, MySpace again deleted the Atheist and Agnostic Group (35,000 members). This deletion, due largely to complaints from people who find atheism offensive, marks the second time MySpace has cancelled the group since November 2007.
Whatâ€™s unique in this case is that the Atheist and Agnostic Group was the largest collection of organized atheists in the world. The group had its own Wikipedia entry, and in April won the Excellence in Humanist Communication Award (2007) from the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University and the Secular Student Alliance.
â€œMySpace refuses to undelete the group, although it never violated any terms of service,â€ said Bryan Pesta, Ph.D., the groupâ€™s moderator. â€œWhen the largest Christian group was hacked, MySpaceâ€™s Founder, Tom Anderson, personally restored the group, and promised to protect it from future deletions.â€
â€œIt is an outrage if Rupert Murdochâ€™s News Corporation and the worldâ€™s largest social networking site tolerate discrimination against atheists and agnostics– and if this situation goes unresolved Iâ€™ll have little choice but to believe they do,â€ said Greg Epstein, humanist chaplain of Harvard University. News Corporation, Murdochâ€™s global media corporation which also includes Fox News, purchased MySpace in 2005.
â€œMy personal profile was deleted as well, and despite weeks of emails to customer service, plus a petition signed by 500 group members, MySpace wonâ€™t budge. I think these actions send a clear message to the 30 million godless people in America (and to businesses whose money was spent displaying ads on our group) that we are not welcome on MySpace,â€ said Pesta.
For a Wikipedia article on the now defunct atheist and agnostic group, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheist_and_Agnostic_Group.
For links to Pestaâ€™s defunct group and profile, visit http://www.MySpace.com/aiffb.
Â Ok, admit it, none of you were expecting ANY of the presidential candidates to say something like this: “Iâ€™m agnostic.” .. Granted he wasn’t talking about it in the religious sense, it’s just fun to hear politicians say such things.
Obamaâ€™s voting record is one of the most liberal in the Senate, but he has always appealed to Republicans, perhaps because he speaks about liberal goals in conservative language. When he talks about poverty, he tends not to talk about gorging plutocrats and unjust tax breaks; he says that we are our brotherâ€™s keeper, that caring for the poor is one of our traditions. Asked whether he has changed his mind about anything in the past twenty years, he says, â€œIâ€™m probably more humble now about the speed with which government programs can solve every problem. For example, I think the impact of parents and communities is at least as significant as the amount of money thatâ€™s put into education.â€ Obama encourages his crossover appeal. He doesnâ€™t often criticize the Bush Administration directly; in New Hampshire recently, he told his audience, â€œIâ€™m a Democrat. Iâ€™m considered a progressive Democrat. But if a Republican or a Conservative or a libertarian or a free-marketer has a better idea, I am happy to steal ideas from anybody and in that sense Iâ€™m agnostic.â€ â€œThe number of conservatives whoâ€™ve called meâ€”roommates of mine, relatives who are Republicansâ€”whoâ€™ve said, â€˜Heâ€™s the one Democrat I could support, not because he agrees with me, because he doesnâ€™t, but because I at least think heâ€™ll take my point of view into account,â€™ â€ Michael Froman, a law-school friend who worked in the Clinton Administration and is now involved in Obamaâ€™s campaign, says. â€œThatâ€™s a big thing, mainstream Americans feeling like Northeast liberals look down on them.â€