Who is that Dalai Lama guy, anyway?

I’m not at all surprised that Americans don’t know much about religion in general.

But the findings of a new Pew Forum poll are still kind of shocking.

45% of Catholics don’t know that their faith teaches that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ during Holy Communion?

53% of Protestants cannot identity Martin Luther as the father of the Reformation?

47% of respondents know that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist?

43% of Jews don’t know that Maimonides was Jewish? (This might not seem like a big deal to non-Jews, but M. was one of the most significant figures in Jewish history.)

What do people know?

The Pew Forum asked people 32 questions about faith. The highest average scores went to…atheists and agnostics. This isn’t terribly surprising, given that non-believers tend to be very educated, but it’s still pretty embarrassing for all those who call the U.S. a “Christian nation.”

Catholics, on average, got only 14.7 questions right — fewer than Jews, Mormons and Protestants, not to mention atheists and agnostics. On the one hand, this is surprising because Catholics are generally a very educated group.

On the other hand, it’s well know that the quality of Catholic education for those who do not attend Catholic schools has been quite low for decades. And it’s long seemed to me that Catholics, in general, know less about faiths other than their own than other religious groups. Many Catholics, in fact, know little about Protestants — what they believe and why.

What else? I’m kind of surprised that 62% of Americans know that most people in India are Hindus. I would have expected 30% based on the other results.

And 51% know that Joseph Smith was a Mormon? Could have been worse.

Here’s a Pew Forum summary:

*****

Atheists/agnostics, Jews and Mormons still have the highest levels of religious knowledge, followed by evangelical Protestants, then those whose religion is nothing in particular, mainline Protestants and Catholics. Atheists/agnostics and Jews stand out for high levels of knowledge about world religions other than Christianity, though they also score at or above the national average on questions about the Bible and Christianity. Holding demographic factors constant, evangelical Protestants outperform most groups (with the exceptions of Mormons and atheists/agnostics) on questions about the Bible and Christianity, but evangelicals fare less well compared with other groups on questions about world religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism. Mormons are the highest-scoring group on questions about the Bible.

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.