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In Theory: Scoring on the Religion Quiz

October 07, 2010

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public life this week published a short, 15-question religion quiz. The quiz is a shorter version of the "3,412 sampled adults who were asked these and other questions in the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey." The poll was conducted on landlines and cell phones, in English and Spanish, from May 19 to June 6, 2010.

This week, the In Theory writers were asked to take the quiz, the results of which would not be known to the group until publication. The writers were also asked: Was it fair? Did it ask a broad set of questions? What advantages or disadvantages do you think a quiz like this will have on readers who did poorly? Who did well?

One does not like to brag. OK, one shouldn't like to brag! But I got all 15 questions right.

I gave the same quiz to my wife, who got 11 right, and to a parishioner, who got 12 right. In general, I thought the quiz was not particularly difficult and also not particularly helpful. Just because someone does well on such a quiz doesn't make that person a better person; in fact, if he does well, he might lose all humility, and that's not good. By the same token, someone who didn't do so well on the quiz is not necessarily an evil person. Knowledge about God or religion is not the same as knowing God.


I once taught Bible at a private school in Colorado. The smartest kid in my class was probably the least religious and the most cynical about God or the idea of God. So simply testing well on the subject of religion does not mean that person is any closer to God than someone whose test score was not nearly as high. This bumper sticker sort of speaks to what I mean: "No Jesus, No Peace. Know Jesus, Know Peace."

The Rev. Clifford L "Skip" Lindeman

La Cañada Congregational Church,

La Cañada

Already a news-of-the-culture fanatic, I recently volunteered and was accepted as an In Theory respondent, so I was very interested in the results of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.

The surprise was the fact that atheists scored higher than believers in religious knowledge, which is not mentioned in our question this week.

As an atheist, I was very tense taking the quiz, a shortened 15-question version of the full survey. With both my atheist credentials and Lutheran heritage of good education to uphold, I looked for tricks in the easy questions. Whew, I scored 100%.

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