Pew: Americans know bupkes about religion (and test yourself)

July 28, 2019 • 9:15 am

In a poll of Americans’ religious knowledge reported this week by Pew, two things were revealed. First, most Americans don’t know much about religion—either theirs or that of other believers. Second, it is the atheists, agnostics, and Jews who rank highest on religious knowledge.

You can read the long report, which gives the 32 questions, by clicking on the first screenshot below. But before you do that, take a 15-question quiz (apparently an abbreviated version of what Pew asked people) by clicking on the second screenshot. Do it! You know you want to!

Pew asked 10,971 people, selected, as usual, from landline and cellphone numbers dialed randomly, and state that the “margin of sampling error” (presumably the standard error of the mean) is “plus or minus 1.5 percentage points”. Now, click on the second screenshot that says “Before you read the report”, and then on the brown “next” bar to see how much you know about religion.



First, some braggadocio: I aced the test. Here are my results:

But is that surprising? After all, among all respondents, Jews answered the most questions correctly (18.7 out of 32) and atheists the next most (17.9/32); see below. As an atheist Jew, I was ideally positioned to know about religion—and I wrote a book about science and faith that involved reading a lot about religion, including plowing through the Bible and the Qur’an (the Book of Mormon defeated me). Report your results below, and be honest!

Now, you’re allowed to go back to the first link and see all the questions, and how people did.

As you see from the mini-quiz above, the average number of questions answered by Americans was about half: 7.4 out of 15. In the overall survey, the mean number of questions answered was 14 out of 32. Here’s how the different groups did. Note that “nothing in particular” (which I suppose are the “nones” who don’t say they are atheists are agnostics, scored below the mean, as did the “historically black Protestants,” who got fewer than a third of the questions right:

FiveThirtyEight has a useful summary of the main results (this is a direct quote):

  1. Many Americans know some basic facts about major religions and belief systems — and not just Christianity. Seventy-nine percent of respondents knew that, in Christianity, the Trinity is one God in three persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and that Moses led the Exodus of Israelites from Egypt, a tenet of both Christianity and Judaism. Sixty-two percent of respondents knew that Mecca is Islam’s holiest city and a place of pilgrimage, while 60 percent knew that Ramadan is an Islamic holy month. Atheism (87 percent correctly described it as not believing in God) is better understood than agnosticism (61 percent answered correctly that it means being unsure of the existence of God).
  2. It gets murky for people outside of the basics. Respondents really struggled with some questions. For example, only 24 percent answered correctly that Rosh Hashanah celebrates the Jewish New Year, similar to the number (26 percent) who knew that Islam is the religion of most people in Indonesia. Even some Christian doctrines and facts are not that well-known — despite it being the faith of about 70 percent of Americans. Only 51 percent correctly said that Jesus is the person known for giving the “Sermon on the Mount,” a number I thought was low considering that’s a fairly important event in Christianity. (The other possible answers were Peter, Paul and John.) And just 22 percent of Americans could describe the “prosperity gospel,” which is generally associated with evangelical Christians. (Pew defined it as the tenet that “those of strong faith will be blessed by God with financial success and good health.”)
  3. Americans really don’t know the number of Jewish and Muslim people living in the U.S. According to Pew Research estimates, about 2 percent of American adults are Jewish and 1 percent are Muslim. But only 26 percent of respondents answered correctly that Muslims make up less than 5 percent of the population in the U.S. And only 19 percent knew that the share of Jewish Americans is also below 5 percent. Most either thought the Muslim American and Jewish populations were each larger than 5 percent or didn’t know. But I suspect that the explanation for these inaccurate responses might not totally be about how much Americans know about these two religions but may instead be related to broader issues of innumeracy. Other research has shown that Americans have inaccurate views about the size of many demographic groups and may be particularly likely to overstate the size of groups of which they are not a part. For example, Republicans vastly overestimate the number of Democrats who are black.
  4. Some groups answered more questions correctly than others. On average, respondents answered 14 of the 32 questions correctly. But people who are Jewish (19 correct responses on average), atheist (18) and agnostic (17) scored the best.

I’ll add to that a few more tidbits:

a.) The amount of education you have is strongly associated with how well you answered the questions. That’s not surprising, as general education, even if not religious, exposes you to what different faiths believe. And if you’ve taken a world religions class, you do better than if you didn’t, though not as well as general college graduates. Here are the Pew figures:

b.) Catholics don’t know important dictates of their own faiths.  Pew says this:

Half of Catholics in the United States (50%) correctly answer a question about official church teachings on transubstantiation – that during Communion, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ. The other half of Catholics incorrectly say the church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion are just symbols of the body and blood of Christ (45%) or say they are not sure (4%).

Lordy, isn’t that something that all of us know? It’s not a damn metaphor! (But DNA and protein tests can’t be used to test it.)

c.) Only 1/5 of Americans know about that the doctrine of sola fide (described by Pew as “salvation comes through faith alone”) is characteristic of Protestantism and not Catholicism (the latter faith maintains that salvation comes through works, deeds, and acts, like baptism).  As Pew reports:

Just one-in-five Americans (20%) know that Protestantism traditionally teaches that salvation comes through faith alone, a key theological issue in the Protestant Reformation.  One-in-ten incorrectly believe that Catholicism teaches that salvation comes through faith alone, while the remainder of adults declined to offer a response in the survey (38%) or wrongly state that both Protestantism and Catholicism teach this (23%) or that neither Christian tradition teaches this (8%). Evangelical Protestants are more likely than other groups to know the traditional Protestant teaching, though even among evangelicals, far fewer than half (37%) answer the question correctly.

Well, I’m sure some of you will be thinking that atheists did well because they really knew about the doctrines of the faiths they rejected. But that can’t be the whole story, as the questions are about many beliefs: those of Catholics, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, and so on. I suspect that atheists are generally better educated than the average American, though that may be wishful thinking. Also, the Jews did better than the atheists, though I suspect that most American Jews (like me) really are atheists, despite the claims of people like Dave Silverman that atheists can’t say they’re Jews. (Of course many of us do.) Again, I suspect that Jews are better educated than the general population.

But here’s hoping that you readers will take the 15-question quiz and report your scores below. I’ll take an average and standard error after people weigh in. And then be sure to look at all 32 questions given in the long-form Pew report.

Go to it! Who can resist a quiz, especially one on religion?

h/t: Dave

302 thoughts on “Pew: Americans know bupkes about religion (and test yourself)

    1. It was easy, and I wonder what the point of it is. When you’re out of the tribes, it’s easy to know and look in from the outside. Reminds me of the fact that studies show people who only watch FOX faux news actually know LESS than people who don’t watch the news at all. I actually got the Sikh head scarf wrong, attributing to Hindu religion…it’s funny getting a “fact” wrong that had a foundation in bullshit.

  1. I also got 15/15. But this was pretty easy – all of that stuff should be considered general knowledge.

  2. 13/15. I’m an atheist. Apparently I have gaps in my knowledge about Buddhism and Protestantism.

      1. I got two wrong.

        Who the hell know when Jewish weeks start?

        And I thought Protestants had to be baptized which I counted as a physical act.

        So neither by faith alone.

    1. 12/15 – same two, plus I mixed up the Kabbalah with the Kaaba (the sacred rock in Mecca, had to google it after)

      Not to mention the Kabiri (/ Cabiri) …


  3. Go to it! Who can resist a quiz, especially one on religion?

    Not this reader! 15/15 – I thought the questions were too easy.

    But that can’t be the whole story, as the questions are about many beliefs: those of Catholics, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, and so on. I suspect that atheists are generally better educated than the average American, though that may be wishful thinking.

    The second part to this, I think, is that while most USians profess to be Christians – inherent for many is that their belief is the only real one and so they neglect to learn about any of the others. I’d be curious to this this test put to religious homeschool graduates in the US. The types who choose to homeschool for religious reasons generally think the majority of USian Christians are doing Christianity wrong and that they don’t know what they believe. They would probably ace the Christian/Judaism questions. Now, throw a couple on there about US history and Christianity? I suspect David Barton will have done them dirty and they would not do so well.

    1. My experience with my fellow Canadians is similar. People barely know their own faith (Christianity) & have no knowledge of others, mixing up Sikhs with Muslims and having no idea about any non big 3 religion.

  4. This atheist missed the question about the Jewish sabbath. One day out. My only excuse is that you don’t meet many Jews here in Tokyo. 14 out of 15.

  5. 13 out of 15. I got the Buddha one wrong, and the faith alone one. I chose Catholic. I am an ex-Anglican and must not have been attending during confirmation class.

    1. Protestants are very loud & proud about not doing works to get into heaven, unlike those godless Catholics. Which, as I think on it, is such a strange thing to perceive as being more pure. It does set the stage nicely for being able to call anyone not a real Christian, despite evidence of so-called Christian values. I would posit that this has led to the phenomenon we see of professing Protestants supporting cruel and ghastly policies in the US – it doesn’t matter what you do, it matters how hard you imagine.

      1. On second thought, I am not sure whether Anglicanism (as I was taught = very high, so high some called it Anglo-catholicism) is all that different to Catholicism. In any case, at age 14, I approached my confirmation classes very clinically. It’s a pity that it took some decades after that to reject it all.

        1. I’ve heard more than one Anglican refer to themselves as a ‘bastard-Catholic’ – so there is that! I, too, find it a pity it took so long to shed the indoctrination, but some long roads are worthwhile.

        2. High Anglicans don’t believe in the trinity and the way they do the cross is not to themselves. I find the whole thing ludicrous. My mom was High Anglican & I think she enjoys the ritual & tradition, but as someone raised without religion, I just see it as weird but interesting from an anthropological perspective.

          1. Anglicans, especially High Church Anglicans, are Trinitarians. Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and mainstream Protestantism (perhaps there’s an exception among the latter) are all Trinitarian. Anglicans, especially Anglo-Catholic ones, may not accept sola fide. There are various ways of fudging the difference between “sola fide” and “faith and works” for ecumenical declarations that can make it same as though there is little doctrinal difference.

            1. I was thinking if Mary when I said trinity. A coworker who converted to Catholic from Anglican to marry her husband is often whispered to by her family “you aren’t worshipping Mary are you?”

              1. Ah, yes– I was thinking of the direction of fewer persons: Unitarianism. We’re both right! It’s easy to see why outsiders would find Christianity (Catholicism in particular), with it’s diverse iconography and intercessionary prayers to all sorts of saints, angels, etc., as a religion with many gods. A Taiwanese student in my lab thought that Christianity was polytheistic; I was especially amused by her perception that the cow and donkey in standard nativity scenes were “sacred animals”.

            2. My mother having tried to make me anglican, and having been subjected to it until I was too big to drag, all I can say is: Everything but the pope. Truly. No Sola Fide– works and deeds were key.

              They even went nuts for the saints, and DO NOT say anything against Mother Theresa. She’ll be a saint one day.

              It was weird. Especially the double talk around the eucharist. Not to my 7-year-old self: do NOT make cannibal jokes during the service.

              Despite the effort, it didn’t stick. I scored 14 (I missed Buddhism’s noble truth… It has been a long time since college and comparative religion- oddly, a requirement at a well-rated secular engineering school. They were shifting from the “Great Books” general studies plan when I was there, and there were some interesting choices made)

              On a philosophical note: I have wondered for many years is sola fide relates to the comfort many in the US have with kleptocratic tendencies among the god-ful.

      2. I got confused about ‘protestant work ethic’ and baptism.

        I thought at least baptism was a requirement.

  6. I briefly hesitated over whether only Protestants believe in salvation by faith alone, wondering whether, at some formal level, this is true of Catholics as well.

    1. I kept thinking about Christ saying “only through me” and figured since Catholics were the first big Christian church, they bought into that. I still think they kind of do and they have said to me that as long as I accept Christ when I die (because apparently he comes to all of us at that moment) then I get into heaven so I tend to think the Catholics think it’s faith over good works.

      1. I think this question was murky, as there are a lot of hedges and explanations in pretty much any church when it comes to “faith vs. works”. For example, in Evangelical Protestant churches (which I mean – they’re Evangelical, obviously they believe in works in practice if not theory,) they’ll say something along the lines of “If you *really believe, then works are inevitable and if works don’t follow it’s actually kinda sorta proof that you don’t really believe.” Catholicism seems to have similar fine print around the topic.

        Funnily, this was probably the question that I’ve heard the *most about in real life situations and yet still the only one that I really didn’t know the answer to, as you never really get a straight or unqualified answer on such things.

      2. “I still think they kind of do and they have said to me that as long as I accept Christ when I die (because apparently he comes to all of us at that moment) then I get into heaven.”

        I think you’re referring to the idea of making a “perfect act of contrition” at the time of your death. This essentially means being sorry for your sins because they offend God rather than because you’re afraid of going to hell. If you can swing one of these on your deathbed, you’re home free.

        1. I remember when last rites (the seventh of the sacraments) were called “Extreme Unction,” Gary; I’m sure you do, too.

      1. You can’t expect them just to let in all those aborted fetuses & unbaptized babies! They need to get original sign burned off first or they’ll ruin heaven for everyone.

        1. According to Catholicism, aborted fetuses and unbaptized babies go to Limbo. Baptized souls who are not ready for Heaven go to Purgatory first.

          1. I wonder when the fetuses (feti?) began to get to go to Limbo (and then heaven, at the end of time, if the blessed virgin was successful in her request that jesus unlock the limbo gates). I don’t recall that one from childhood about 99 years ago.

            What would interest a blob of 30 or 40 cells in an already clearly tedious (to anyone with half-a-brain) heaven?

    2. That was one of the two I got wrong. The other was about the Jewish day of the Sabbath.

      I’ve never thought my knowledge of religion was good, certainly not by comparison with other people at WEIT, but 13/15 still isn’t bad.

      It says something that the people who know the most about religion tend not to believe in it.

    3. Same here–I picked “both”, it was my only wrong answer. (I’m a Southern Baptist atheist, not a Catholic atheist.)

    1. I got the Abraham (put Jacob), the Catholic/Protestant faith, and the Ten Commandments questions wrong. That last one got me.

      1. I knew the last question. I have had the Ten Commandments memorized since second grade. I was half asleep when I took this, saw “Sabbath”, and clicked it over the golden rule like a moth to a flame. When is the next test so I can redeem myself?

  7. I got 15, although for some of the questions, where “not sure” was one of the possible responses, that would have been a more truthful answer.

    1. I didn’t know Buddhism is another stupid “suffering” religion. I thought it was about finding enlightenment by the denial of self and finding the unity of all things.

      1. The suffering is more a statement of fact. To exist is to suffer. It actually seems to make perfect sense to me.

  8. I got 13/15. I got the yoga one wrong and I should have known better but thought I must be wrong so changed my answer and got it wrong. The grace vs faith question I got wrong as well because I can never get straight who thinks what with Christians.

    1. Sundown on Friday. It’s when you can’t turn on the lights anymore if you’re part of one of the more Orthodox sects.

      1. There are apparently accepted devices that will turn the lights on for you, but they have to have some random wiggle in them, so it isn’t certain when the lights will come on, so you aren’t directly causing them to turn on. KosherSwitch®.

    2. Off topic really, but do any Orthodox Jewish people live in beautiful downtown Goodyearbyen, population < 3000, capital of Svalbard (mainly Spitsbergen)?
      Assuming symmetry so that Sabbath ends at the next sunrise on a Sunday, they would have a long sabbath on the years when the sum disappeared for the winter on a Friday, late October.
      But 6 out of 7 years would allow lengthy winter merriment, making up the difference.
      Much of the rest of the year would also be merry, since it's sunset to sunrise, not the reverse, and no sunsets at all from late April to late August.

      Or would it be non-stop labour, not merriment?

      1. Above was to be mild humour, not too serious. But, upon looking it up, that sabbath ends when some 3 stars appear, NOT, as I conjectured, at a sunrise. Of well! Clouds would present a problem, so presumably there is some additional subtlety here, even the Levant not being cloud-free all the time.

  9. “Pew asked 10,971 people, selected, as usual, from landline and cellphone numbers dialed randomly, and state that the “margin of sampling error” (presumably the standard error of the mean) is “plus or minus 1.5 percentage points”. ”

    And if there was no answer, did they leave a message?

  10. Damnit, only got 14, should have been 15. Serves me right for not reading the question properly.

    I read the question on the Jewish Sabbath as which day is there Sabbath, when the question was more cunningly worded as on which day does it begin.

    1. I probably know this because my Jewish dentist rushes off on Friday afternoon to get home before it’s dark!

      1. I should start doing the same. I can say, “I have to get home before dark because of the Sabbath” and people will ask, “Are you Jewish” and I’ll say “No” and just leave out the door.

        1. Seventh Day Adventists also do this. I lived in a town that was neighbor to an SDA enclave and most of the businesses would let folks leave on Friday afternoon. Mormons aren’t supposed to shop on Sundays – for Sabbath reasons. I feel like we here could have written a much more interesting quiz!

          1. Oh yes because they recognize Saturday as the Sabbath as well and go to services. My Roomba rests on Saturday also. I can’t decide if it’s Jewish or a JW. I think a Jew because it doesn’t try to convert me. 🙂

    2. 14 out of 15. Though I know the Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday, I misread the question in the same way, so got that one wrong.

  11. As another ignorant antitheist, I, too, got only 13 of the 15. What little I know of the fanatic’s irrational nonsense is probably limited to that incidentally gleaned from reading the books of Dawkins, Hitchens, Coyne, et. al.

  12. 13. I misread the one about the Jewish Sabbath (what day does it *start, which would be sundown the day before) and wasn’t sure about what Catholics think about faith vs. works.

    It doesn’t surprise me that knowledge of religion is lower among the more devote though. I remember my mom always bemoaning the many myths Protestants had about Catholics (they worship idols, they think Mary was a goddess,) even though she grew up in a steel town where those were by far the two dominant religions, so the groups would have had plenty of exposure to one another. I think in a way it was a point of pride for the faithful not to know too much about groups that were considered ‘other’, other than enough to lob a few insults and snarky comments.

    I wonder if there’s a correlation between the quiz and how much news exposure a person has. Even though I live in a very diverse area, asking Muslims if and where they go on pilgrimage, or people wearing turbans what religion they belong to, just doesn’t come up in casual conversation. I’m pretty sure most of those factoids are things I’ve heard on / read in the news at one point or anther.

  13. Just off to do the quiz.

    Pew polls come up fairly often here. Is it worth the effort to use their “Create a group quiz.” option?

    1. 15, as expected. Someone up-thread said this was really a general knowledge set, and I agree.
      In defiance of the law, my school stopped providing Religious Education classes at age 13/14, when the real examined courses started. (I think that RE was offered at O-level ; I don’t think anyone ever asked to do the course in the history of the school.) We had end-of-year, within-school exams, the marks for which were appended in our annual report. The teacher’s comments were :

      (bloody hell – it sounds like a right demolition derby on the F1 – rain and crashes everywhere. I think that’s the 4th safety car of the race!)

      Sorry, back to Mr Verity – a great name for an RE teacher, it must be said – and his report book comments :
      Exam score : 100%
      Top of the year! As an atheist, Aidan should be ashamed of himself!

      I left the report book (and exam certificates!) at home when I went to Uni. They disappeared. Sorry, no “video or it didn’t happen” evidence.

  14. I probably know this because my Jewish dentist rushes off on Friday afternoon to get home before it’s dark!

    1. A quick primer, the Buddha examined life and saw the Four Noble Truths. Like a physician writing a SOAP note, the Buddha stated: life is suffering, suffering is brought by desire, suffering can end by ending desire, by following the Bible Eightfold Path.

      There, now you’re Buddhist. 😉

    2. I missed that one too. Since I didn’t know there were four noble truths in the first place, it wasn’t too surprising.

      1. what is funny is just today, I was browsing a list of books, and one had “four noble truths” in the title.

        One of the Rinpoches wrote it.

  15. Full house, 15/15. Most of the questions were very easy. The only one that I had to pause over was identifying the correct “noble truth” of Buddhism, and even that was easily worked out with a little thought.

  16. 13/15


    no. 13 (Jesus’s life) and 14 (something about teaching salvation is only through faith)

    … what are there general rules about multiple choice question tests? My experience with these kind of tests is that the answers can stimulate thought along certain lines to an answer that I would not have thought of “cold”.

    1. are there general rules about multiple choice question tests?

      I don’t really think so. At least, not for MCTs compared to anything else. The rule most people forget in the stress of the exam room is “read the question, and answer the question asked, not the question you want to answer”. Remember that, and you’re already ahead of the field.

      On which subject, Bottas walking home and Stroll potentially on the podium … nope, just strolled past by Vettel. I’m going to look forward to the video of the GP.

    2. 14/15. I missed the one on “faith” because not all protestant faiths believe this. Some believe you’re pre-selected by God. Some believe in “works”. Etc. There is no uniformity in either protestant or catholic beliefs, and probably not in other religions also.

  17. I did actually get 15/15, but must admit to 5 guesses of a sort:

    Kabbala might have been Islam and Sabbath starting Friday rather than just after midnight Saturday were guessed correctly re Jewish superstitions.

    Re a Christian one, ‘Protestant’ for ‘faith alone’ rather than ‘neither’, since surely there are e.g. Old Order (horse and buggy) Mennonites who are regarded as Protestant but they think God also expects good works, e.g. pacifism, (maybe that’s avoiding bad works!) from them.

    Buddha’s ‘the truth of suffering’ was got by elimination, but somewhat guessing.

    I remembered only that either Abraham nearly murdered Isaac or else Isaac nearly murdered Jacob, but Isaac wasn’t a choice.

    So my expectation was more like 13/15, not the lucky 15/15.

    How’s that for honesty? But to brag, I’ll bet I could have got them all with no guessing 30 years ago! I am, as you may know, atheist from about 18 years old, having been raised a Catholic, in English Canada, so basically the Irish form of superstition.

    1. That Abraham and Isaac story is ridiculous and I learned it from studying English literature because lots of mediaeval literature concerns biblical stories. Not only does Abraham agree to murder his son as a test showing that God is a psychotic asshole and Abraham the world’s worst father, but the real good guy is Satan, who comes there to talk Abraham out of the whole business.

      1. Satan usually is the good guy, if you read the stories literally. Ditto for the anti-christ in Protestant rapture-porn. I grew up reading that stuff (hey, it was what I could get my little, grubby mitts on!) and was torn, even in my tender years, by trying to understand why bringing world peace, solving world hunger and being good looking and diplomatic were signs of evil.

        1. I know! As a kid I couldn’t figure out why it was bad to eat fruit that gave you knowledge. Knowledge was science & science moved our civilization forward, everyone knew that! And reading was important – didn’t God want people to learn to read? I didn’t get how it was so bad to encourage such things either. You can imagine as a child I wasn’t one to obey for the sake of obedience either so would have been considered aggravating by many adults.

        2. You missed out raising the standards of music performance from the positive attributes of the devil.

            1. Think about it. Christians kneeling, sometimes kissing, tools of execution, staring wide eyed at a human bleeding and expelling his last breath as their totem.


              1. Indeed. When I was practicing Orthodoxy (the Christian kind) ‘long-suffering’ was the highest praise you could heap upon someone.

        3. The Satan of Milton’s Paradise Lost is beset by hubris, but is certainly charismatic. “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven,” as he says.

          1. Come to think of it, the Devil of the Faust stories is a charismatic character, too, though payback is a bitch when he comes ’round to collect.

        1. That’s how I knew I had the right answer to that one! The song immediately came to mind. Is there some other source for that story?

          1. I think I read it in a Christopher Marlowe play. Clearly I’m not very hip though I knew about Kabbalah because of Madonna.

              1. Or wearing an eye to keep away the evil eye. I know people who still do that.

          2. Something like
            ‘Him the Almighty hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky, down through ruinous perdition to bottomless combustion, who durst defy the omnipotent to arms’
            (some errors there for sure),
            but being stuffy like me in reading Milton, as well as Dylan, will, I expect, get one plenty of Old Testament info.

            But Milton was even worse than Dylan on the guitar and harmonica!

            1. Without looking, something like ‘..there to dwell in adamantine chains and penal fire…” must be added, and likely more!

        2. Yeah, Dylan was keen on biblical allusions even before he caught his Slow Train Coming to Christianity.

          After all, even Judas Iscariot had God on His Side.

          1. I was always a Dylan fan. Still am. Though the Slow Train lyrics were offensive, I quite liked the album with Dire Straights backup.

      2. I’ve always thought we atheists misinterpret the Abraham and Isaac story. Perhaps it records the advance in human culture where human sacrifice is no longer demanded by the deity.

        1. I think we interpret it correctly and the god loyalists interpret it wrong. They are willing to obey at all costs. That leads to bad things.

          1. I think it is both: Abraham exhibits the supreme human attribute with reagrd to his relationship with god: Abject, grovelling obedience.

            But it also is intended to show god now will no longer require human sacrifice (well, except that big one — his own son).

        2. A capricious deity changes his mind on human sacrifice?

          Was that before or after slaughtering all those Egyptian infant boys?

          1. And god is supposed to be now and forever but it changes its mind all the time. Probably just a gas-lighting thing. Psycho.

          2. Your second is a more challenging question that might have been on the survey (A: Abraham and Isaac came before the Jews fled Egypt. Genesis before Exodus).

            The Bible is a human document and God doesn’t exist, so we can dispense with worrying about God’s characteristics or desires and consider what the actual writers thought or the history they intended to record, while attempting to filter out the nonsense that is in there.

            There were many religions (with different gods) existing along side early Judaism that practiced human sacrifice – the Bible tells us so. At some point Jews did abandon human sacrifice (well before they abandoned mass slaughter in war). At what point and why did Jews, in many ways our cultural ancestors, give up human sacrifice? It’s an interesting question of human history and happened long before it did in other cultures (meso-American, Viking). I’m speculating that the Abraham and Isaac story marks the dividing line.

        1. No the Angel says “heh god was just kidding” and gives the message to not do it from god. But there are sermon fragments that talk about Satan appearing to Abraham on the way to sacrifice Isaac. Satan appears as an old man. You can read about the conversation here:

    2. Re a Christian one, ‘Protestant’ for ‘faith alone’ rather than ‘neither’ …

      Yeah, I got that one right, too, but also thought it a bit confusing, in that the Protestant Reformation made a big deal about the so-called “three solae” — sola fide, sola gratia, sola scriptura — by faith alone, by grace alone, by scripture alone.

      Given this, I figured the answer Pew must be lookin’ for was “the Proddies.” 🙂

  18. 15/15. I’m an atheist.

    Some of the questions are a little tricky. I thought the one about the start of the Jewish sabbath could trip people up. Common knowledge is Saturday and my initial thought was that, but my neighborhood in NYC has a lot of orthodox Jewish owned businesses that close Friday afternoon so they’re not working past sundown when the sabbath starts.

    I’m not that surprised that many Catholics got questions about Catholicism wrong. Roman Catholic doctrine cover enormous amount of material in great depth. Unless you went to catholic schools like I did as a kid, there’s a lot you probably don’t know. Just one example is that capybaras can be eaten during lent, even though the church discourages eating meat at this time capybaras spend enough time in water that they can be considered fish which is perfectly fine to eat during lent.

      1. My recollection for beavers is that only the hindquarters could pass as fish for Lent, since that part of the body spent most time in the water! If I’d gone to Catholic schools in Amazonia, instead of NY, I’m sure I would have learned about capybaras.

        1. I believe I heard turtles were also allowed as fish in some counties, leading to the endangerment if some turtles. Stupid religion.

        2. With apologies to Jerry perhaps, surely us Catholics should have been able to also gobble away on parts of a (hopefully already dead) duck as well (though no chicken or turkey, or it’s ‘to hell with you’ literally).
          But actually if the Friday prohibition had come to refer specifically to mammals, once biology had taught the Pope something new, presumably whales etc. would have been added to the prohibited list, whereas octopi could still be munched on, and now, all the duck, chicken and turkey we could stomach.

        3. Wish I’d’ve known about beavers’ hindquarters; they’re probably tastier than the fish-sticks that were the staple of Friday suppers during my Catholic youth. 🙂

    1. I suppose, cladistically, we’re all fish. And the fact that Catholicism doesn’t allow us to eat some fish means they reject evolution. 😀


  19. 15/15, but I would have scored that back in the days when I was a fundamentalist. Not all fundies are ignorant, but too many are.

  20. 15/15. I wasn’t 100% confident of the “through faith alone” one – I thought the correct answer might be “neither”. The others were all very easy, I thought.

    1. Well, you do get out of Purgatory free. The question is ‘how soon?’.
      Should have been a question about Limbo. Don’t the poor little buggers get stuck there till Jesus comes drifting down on a cloud, and then only if he didn’t get out of bed on the wrong side that day?

  21. Got 15 out of 15.

    The one I had hard time with was about the Buddhist noble truths. But then I remembered Sam Harris talking about the truth of suffering.

  22. The prosperity gospel goes beyond “the tenet that ‘those of strong faith will be blessed by God with financial success and good health.’” It includes the notion that the faithful will make financial contributions to the Church and then be rewarded by God. Several years ago, for amusement value, I watched televangelist Mike Murdock. Apparently, he is still going strong. Not surprisingly, he is quite wealthy. This guy was one cool, smooth character. I could see how many desperate people would succumb to his pleas. His pitch was that if viewers sent him money, prosperity would be bestowed upon them. I laughed out loud at the end of the show when a disclaimer briefly appeared on screen stating that Murdock could not guarantee that prosperity would follow a financial contribution. My faith in humanity plummeted after watching him.

  23. 14/15 Got the salvation by faith alone question wrong. Raised a catholic, atheist from mid teens, never really learned about protestants. Can’t really face doing it now.

  24. 13/15. I hesitated on both the Purgatory and the start of the Jewish sabbath questions so of course I got both wrong. That’s me and multiple choice to a tee.

  25. I got them all right. I would be surprised if many who comment here missed more than a few. The only question causing a little struggle was the faith vs. works one. I’m not sure *all* protestant sects believe works are unimportant, but the other choices could be eliminated, so I got that as well.

    The most amusing thing was Prof. Coyne’s observation: According to Catholic doctrine, we have Jesus’s DNA.

    I knew the sacraments were the *actual* blood and body of Christ – Leibniz wrote a paper defending the proposition (pure politics, I doubt he believed it) and one of the “crimes” brought against medieval Jews was kidnapping and torturing the host (the cracker, or the body of Christ). The DNA conclusion was something I knew, but didn’t realize I knew – thanks for that.

    1. With you. I missed the faith alone question, assuming based on my reasonable knowledge of Xianity, that if you had faith in JC, you were golden.

      Based on another comment, below, I still hew to this.

  26. 1 scored 14/15 nearly cementing my atheist cred. I missed the one about the start of the Jewish sabbath as mentioned in #32 above.

  27. 13/15; missed Mecca and the day the sabbath begins. When John Silber taught undergraduate philosophy at the University of Texas he began the semester with a quiz about Christianity and a rant (after we’d all failed it) that started “You call yourselves Christians . . .”

  28. 15/15

    Mostly general knowledge, or perhaps it is because I am Canadian, teach at a University and am over 65. I suggest more questions would yield different results

  29. 15/15, but then I went to Catholic schools for grades 1-12, and was the head altar boy at my church (I did the high masses with the monsignor!), so perhaps not surprising.

    For question 6, on purgatory, none of the answers is correct, but given that it’s multiple choice, you can figure out which answer they wanted. The answer they want, “Where the souls of those who have died undergo purification before they enter heaven”, is not right. Only certain souls go to purgatory– those who have died with unforgiven sins that must be expiated. I’ve seen some explanations online that say “sinners” go to purgatory, but this is also wrong. All men are sinners, as they say; but those who have properly confessed all their sins don’t go to purgatory. (At least that’s what I recall from 12 years of Catholic school!)

    1. Catholics who die in “The State of Grace”, that is, they have no un-confessed Mortal sins on their soul may be sent to Purgatory. Purgatory has some similarities to Heaven but those souls there are denied “the sight of God”. These souls remain in Purgatory until they atone for their Venial sins and the “temporal punishment due to sin”. The latter is measured in days. Once this atonement is completed the soul is transferred to Heaven. Additionally, friends, relatives, etc still living may perform good works and say prayers for such a soul. These acts provide “indulgences” also measured in days. These reduce the time the soul must serve. A Plenary Indulgence, at one time available from Rome for cash payments, gets the soul immediately released from Purgatory.

    2. As I recall, it’s only those with venial sins on their souls who get a pass to purgatory. Dying with a mortal sin on one’s soul is one-way, non-stop ticket to hell.

  30. 14/15.

    I missed Kabbalah, though I should have known that! I’m not Jewish, but when I was younger, I worked in a reform Judaism summer camp for several years. (I even used to know the whole shehakol – phonetically anyway). I’m mad at myself for that one.

    1. Kabbalah is not an integral part of Judaism. I’m guessing most Jews look at it like most Christians look at Jehovah’s Witnesses, or maybe Mormons.

      1. Kaballah is Jewish mysticism, and the main text that describes it is called the Zohar. Traditional Kaballah is definitely part of Judaism.

        The Hollywood Kaballah Light that was so popular a decade ago is looked down on; it’s just a way to take advantage of gullible gentiles. It’s more like a cult, and it’s not considered a branch of Judaism.

        1. When I wrote “Kabbalah is not an integral part of Judaism” I meant you don’t have to study or follow the Zohar in order to be Jewish. Also, Biblical era Jews knew nothing about it.

          The Zohar originated in 13th century Spain and the little I know about it comes from studying the history of Jews expelled from the Iberian peninsula in the 15th and 16th century, in particular, the community that wound up in Amsterdam in the 17th century, where Kaballa produced controversy (rational vs. mystical Judaism) between two of the leading Rabbis.

  31. 15/15. The Buddhism one was the only one I wasn’t completely sure about but the rest were pretty easy.

  32. 14/15. Atheist. I wavered on the question about salvation through faith alone, couldn’t make up my mind whether it was just protestants or both Catholics and protestants, got bored and checked “both”.

  33. Speaking from my passable score of 14/15, I recommend a tabulation of how different religions view the adage “Shit happens”. The RC version, for example, is: “Shit happens because you deserve it”; Protestantism teaches “Let this shit happen to someone else”; and Zen Buddhism whispers “What is the sound of shit happening?” Full list at:

    1. Entertaining.
      An addition to the table could occur if someone can sufficiently shorten:
      ‘shit happens comes from God-given free will’,
      thereby discovering a direct brain-colon connection while solving the problem of evil.
      This should be attributed to the fundamental beliefs of a tiny tribe, the adherents to god-bothered-biologist-theologian-ism.

    2. “If these characterizations offend anyone, please be informed that they are supposed to offend everyone.”


      Best trigger warning of the week.


    3. Shit eh?

      I always thought that that might be a fatal flaw in the perfect creator proposition.

      What’s with all the shit?

  34. 15/15, but I took courses in eastern and western religion 50 yrs ago in college so it was pretty basic.

        1. blessed are the forgetters …

          … for they shall be condemned to repeat the past.

          Wait, now we’re mashing up the Beatitudes and George Santayana. 🙂

            1. George & Carlos were great pals. Carlos says he was greatly effected by this Harrison track [which sounded great in ’67 I guess, but like When I’m Sixty Four, off the same iffy album, it hasn’t got the legs to resonate today]:


  35. 14/15 — didn’t know about the protestants. I think my father was protestant and I might also have been one officially at school. (Australians are never very good at knowing this stuff.) In any case it never trickled down to me that I didn’t need to do anything to get into heaven apart from just rocking up and saying “Yep, I believe all that crap now lemme in.”

  36. I got 13 correctly – should have gone with first instinct on one.
    Atheist forever, 4 yrs college

    Never paid much attention to the details of religions but they do rub off on one over time if one reads books and is a news junkie. Which goes to show how much space is subsumed by religion talk. You get it without trying – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, knowing stuff is fine but more space in the MSM for other knowledge would be OK.

  37. 15/15. These were very easy questions, the kind of basic things one would expect most reasonably educated people to know.

    1. I mistook it for the sacred chunk of rock in Mecca. (Actually the Kaaba – had to google it).

      Not to be confused with the Kraken… 🙂


  38. I’d be surprised if anyone here got lower than 10/15 – not just because everyone here is so clever(and handsome and charismatic, etc.) but because we’re more interested in religious issues than most religious people are, even if that interest is only tangential.

    I find religion itself INCREDIBLY boring but because so many of the biggest questions in science and metaphysics have been monopolised by religion through the ages, I have had to engage with it, and understand it to a certain extent, and I’ve had to listen to the different religions talk about their different views, and why their religion is the one that makes sense while the others don’t, and on and on.

    You can’t help but hoover up knowledge about the various religion just by being a functioning atheist with an interest in science and philosophy. If you actually pay attention to world news then you’re pretty much bullet-proof.

    I suppose it also helps that I don’t have to store information about the various dogmas and creeds, sects and sub-sects, that make up my atheism, because there aren’t any(unless you count ‘atheism +’ or whatever that was, which I don’t).

    1. I actually find religion interesting and always liked studying world religions in classes when I was in elementary school. I also like the religious stores and I liked Classical mythology so much, I studied Latin in high school, going to a different school than my friends because they taught it (I also liked languages so wanted to go to a school that taught many of them) then got a Classics degree.

      1. I can understand being interested in classical mythology, definitely. And the longer into the past religion gets the less dull I find it.
        But religion as it is today is so airless and stultifying and obsessively concerned with all these mind-numbing little rituals that you have to do. It’s like watching people do their taxes.

        Everything’s so sexless and undramatic and mundane. Going into church should be…a religious experience.

        There should be danger and romance and the awe-inspiring power of the almighty should flood your sense as soon as you cross the threshold.
        There should be laser lights and projectors, Spacemen 3 playing in the background, and the central hall should be so stupidly big that you can’t see the ceiling. There should be lightning and thunder sound and light effects playing day and night to add drama, and Jesus on the cross should be played by a live male model/actor.

        I imagine that’s how church felt for people in the middle-ages, when the buildings were all ornate and huge and the words were all in latin, back when being part of the church was like being a rock star, and when, crucially, people actually believed in god – properly believed in him, like they believed in water and fire.

        Once the mystique goes you’re left with a husk. I can appreciate it in an anthropological sense, kind of, but modern religion is a baffling thing to me.

  39. 13/15 for me, raised jewish, now atheist like jerry. Wife got 12/15 as a lapsed catholic and now sometimes unitarian church goer.

  40. Allow me to pick nits with the religion quiz. It said I missed one (the 14th, about which religions teach that salvation is faith alone); I said neither and would argue that their answer is incorrect. James 2:19 states (paraphrasing) that it’s nice to believe in God (have faith), but that’s not enough since “the demons also believe, and tremble.” In essence then all Christian faiths say that faith is necessary but not sufficient; grace is also required.

    And it’s not at all surprising to me how few people who profess faith actually know much about what they claim to believe.

    1. “few people who profess faith actually know much about what they claim to believe”

      That’s because they take it on faith. 😎

    2. Your nit-pick is correct, but it was kind of obvious which answer was intended to be “correct”.

  41. Reporting, only because you asked. Did the 15 Question one, Got around a 7.4

    I am so totally disinterested in all things religious, I just went as fast as I could, had zero interest in trying to remember which fairy tales were correct.

    But try me on Bulfinche’s Mythology. Think I’d still do well on that.

  42. I got 15 out of 15. I am a “progressive” Protestant Christian who has spent a lifetime learning more about my faith and the faiths of others. I also have a background in science, and I think there is a difference between scientific, provable fact, and religious belief, which cannot be proven.

    1. Same here. I must confess that I was never interested in Buddhism. I’m totally uneducasted in sikhism too, but their turbans are well known, so it was easy.

  43. 14. I buggered up the adultery one by overthinking it. I recalled that the rules were unequal between the sexes & got confused. I decided wrongly that it was covered under one of the chattel rules & not a stand alone commandment.

  44. 15/15, thought it was pretty easy. Atheist, no religion classes, just based on general knowledge.

  45. If you think science and faith are incompatible, you have only a superficial knowledge of both. You may be able to answer rudimentary questions (BTW, you beat me. I got 14, not knowing about Kabbalah), but you haven’t given enough thought to the issues. I recommend Robert Kuhn’s series Closer to Truth.

    1. I’m sorry, but I wrote a whole book on this that explains my argument. Did you read it? If not, then too bad for you. If so, then you should attack my argument.
      As for a superficial knowledge of science, that’s ridiculous: I was a professional scientist my whole career. And I spent several years reading about theology and futile attempts to reconcile science and religion.

      I’ve seen Kuhn’s series and it’s simply soft on faith, and comes nowhere near making a case that religious arguments are TRUE.

      Anyway, go away and read my book.

      1. Closer to truth is very soft on faith. It’s a shame, because some of the people interviewed are fascinating people, but it’s all refracted through the interviewer’s tendentious rhetoric and his habit of aggressively questioning atheists and letting theists drone on for minutes at a time.

    1. Medina is the funky cold one.

      15/15. I’m… proud? I almost hosed the Buddhist Truth question, but my 1980’s public school Comparative Religions education saved the day!

  46. I messed up on the wine and bread question.
    I was a catholic in my decadent youth but clearly was not paying attention in catechism classes.
    Jeez…literally the body and blood of christ? I thought it was symbolic.

    1. Actually I thought the same during my Catholic days. It was only after watching Dara O’Briain or debating with Catholics who were in too deep that I learned it wasn’t symbolic and that I’ve been a cannibal.


  47. 15/15 here. That is what I get for being a lapsed Catholic, now an atheist. Having sat through interminable religion lessons, until being kicked out for asking awkward questions about dinosaurs, at least some of the indoctrination got through.

    The facts about other faiths seem to be very basic general knowledge level questions.

  48. 13/15 Attributed faith alone to both Protestants and Catholics, and I forget which other one I missed because I did this a few days ago.

    1. Since you clearly got a decent education in “other” religions, I’m curious how your (I’m assuming, Catholic) HS treated the other religions? Look at those silly people who haven’t heard the good news?

  49. I am surprised I got 14/15 correct. I have zero interest in religion. I’m an atheist but not a militant one because I really have no interest except I feel all religions are dangerous superstitions that people use to excuse being assholes.

    1. That’s how we approached it with our son. There’s an excellent kid’s book that treats the phenomenon that way: The Kid’s Book of World Religions by Jennifer Glossop (Author), John Mantha (Illustrator)

      This was very helpful in teaching our son about all this silliness.

  50. Meh. I got 12. I thought the Kabbalah was Islamic (though I had an idea in the back of my mind it might have been Jewish – I knew it was one of those Middle East religions anyway); I got the Buddhism wrong – I put ‘immortal soul’ though I doubted it, but ‘suffering’ didn’t seem likely to me either; and I put Protestants and Catholics down for ‘salvation through faith alone’.

    I usually do better. Ah well.

    I’ve just realised I was confusing the Kabbalah (whatever that is) with the Kaaba – the sacred black stone in Mecca.


        1. “Not sure” also isn’t one of the Ten Commandments.

          There were originally supposed to be 11 Commandments, but God mumbled the last one and Moses just wrote “Not sure”, hoping he’d get an update later. We’re still waiting.

  51. I got two wrong too.

    Jewish Sabbath.

    And faith.

    I thought baptism was a necessary condition.

  52. 15/15, though I do admit I answered the Buddhism question by elimination, and was a bit wobbly (though gave the correct answer) on sola fide.

  53. This time I want to brag – 15/15 – since I had to guess on the start of the Jewish Sabbath. At a guess the weak memory was dragged up from something read on this site!

    “You answered 15 questions correctly.”

      1. 😁

        I had to attend a “disciplinary council” with 15 men (local church leadership), many who were peers. At the end they gave me their decision. Several days later, two of them hand delivered an official letter containing the decision.

  54. 14/15. What’s this “Protestants get in on faith alone….”??? Don’t they gotta Baptism…? Doesn’t Predestination screw the unlucky, faithless & -full alike…?

    …learned my Catechism, though!

  55. 14/15. I assumed that both Catholics and Protestants believe they get in on faith alone.

    I’m British by the way in case you want to compare Brits to USA-ians.

  56. 15/15. But I was raised very religiously. My parents raised seven kids and not one attends church! And we managed to have only six grandkids (no believers there either). I’m rather proud of us.

  57. 15/15 although the questions weren’t particularly difficult.

    I think atheists are in general more curious than believers and consequently know more about other religions. Same goes for the more educated demographic.

    I’ve personally never met a Christian who knows much at all about their own religion let alone other religions.

  58. 15 correct. Easy questions. I was expecting something along the lines of homoousios/homoiousios.

  59. Hmm, I got the faith alone question wrong because I know that catholicism lets you confess on your death bed no matter how you you have behaved and voila! paradise! All that is necessary is that you believe your confession; i.e. faith.
    But 14/15 leaves me feeling ok 🙂

  60. 15/15. Breezed through it; way too easy.

    Atheist here, of Protestant heritage (my father was a United Church of Canada minister).

    It’s possible I (and other long-time commenters) did well because these Pew surveys and their online quizzes have come up before, several times. This wasn’t the first quiz I’ve taken.


  61. I got 14/15: I guess I don’t know enough about Catholicism (Q: Faith alone?). Will I rectify this? No. 🙂

    The rest were totally easy: No hesitation.

    As I think Russell Blackford noted above, therse should be general knowledge, though I might differ on the “faith alone” questions. That seems rather an obscure question of doctrine. But that view may just be because I was raised in a 100% protestant milleu.

  62. I got 15, but honestly was lucky. Didn’t want to choose “not sure”, but that would have been the accurate answer for me on one question.

    1. >And forgot to add that I am an atheist.

      It does not make a difference. If you get 15/15 you will go to heaven anyway.

  63. I did a very quick zoom through the numbers, some errors for sure, presumably some cancelling with each other of my errors, hopefully close enough to say:
    So far, slightly more than 120 gave their scores, and marks lost slightly less than 120 when added up,
    So the average mark is very close to 14/15, just a touch better if my errors via quick perusal didn’t include serious mistakes.
    This might show something about atheists knowing far more about what they reject than religiosos know about the superstitions they supposedly accept.
    But a very unscientific survey of course.

  64. Did the 32 question test and got 32, although the question on the US ‘great awakening’ was a 50% guess after rejecting the two obvious wrong answers. I think the ‘great awakening’ was a purely local phenomenon that didn’t get much publicity outside the US.

  65. I’m very late to this, but feel compelled to report my dismal 9/15, just to skew the average a little.

    As a life-long atheist (not raised that way; my parents were agnostic at most), I’ve never been inculcated in the specifics of any religion.

    Ironically, as a resident of a country where Christianity is the “official” religion, most of the questions I got wrong were related to Christianity.

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