Know Your Religion: Apparently Mormons Do

By: hawkgrrrl
October 5, 2010

A recent survey was launched to gauge how well people understand religion.  Interestingly, atheists & agnostics scored highest (65.3% correct).  They were followed closely by Jews (64.1%) and Mormons (63.5%).  After that there is a big drop to White Evangelical Christians (55%).  The lowest scorers were Hispanic Catholics (36.3% – ouch!).  The average respondent scored a 50%. 

Given my own experiences as a missionary in Spain, I’m not too surprised about the low results for Hispanic Catholics.  Most Catholics I taught had no trouble accepting everything we taught.  Nearly all of them, for example, immediately accepted the story of Joseph Smith’s first vision as true.  When you think about it from their perspective, it’s a familiar story if you accept the stories of Fatima and Lourdes as real events.  Yet when I would point out the differences between their personal beliefs and those of their own religion, many of them were unaware of actual Catholic doctrine.  Clearly Catholicism has relaxed its stranglehold on orthodoxy since the Inquisition.

So, I took the quiz.  I admit I only got 80% correct.  That makes me 93rd percentile, though, only being bested by 7% of Americans who took the quiz (doubtless many of our readers will do better than I did).  The current quiz is only 15 questions and takes about 3 minutes.  Here are some top level findings:

  • Mormons (65.8% correct) and Evangelicals (60.8% correct) know the most about Christianity.  Mormons are the highest scoring group on questions about the Bible.  Which seems a little ironic on some level.
  • Atheists/Agnostics (68.2%) and Jews (71.8%) know the most about world religions.
  • When normalized for education, the ranking remains the same.

The results also indicate the contributing factors to high scoring results (as a Mormon, everything on this list jumps out as typical of us):

  • Educational attainment.  Other surveys indicate higher educational averages for Mormons.
  • Weekly scripture study.  Try daily, suckas.
  • Talking about religion with friends & family regularly.  FHE anyone?  Home and visiting teaching?
  • Attending church weekly.  And having to answer for it every other year in a TR interview.  Plus, when you have a calling and people are depending on you, it’s harder to just blow it off.
  • Feeling that religion is important in one’s life.  Community testimony sharing once a month certainly reinforces this one.
  • Participating in religious education in one’s youth.  Seminary is obvious, but also the fact that our youth lead in the youth organizations as well, holding callings in their quorums or class groups.

How did you do on the quiz?  Are the findings surprising to you?  What are your theories about them?  Are these findings confirmed by or contradicted by your experiences at church?  Discuss.

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28 Responses to Know Your Religion: Apparently Mormons Do

  1. Aaron R. on October 5, 2010 at 4:01 AM

    I did poorly. I got 13/15. Kevin Barney has an excellent post on this topic:

    http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/religion_theseeker/2010/09/like-atheists-minority-mormons-scored-high-in-religious-literacy.html

    I think he raises some excellent points.

    Missions seem to be one primary way, IMO, that religious literacy is improved.

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  2. Justin on October 5, 2010 at 7:11 AM

    I scored 14/15. The ease of the questions surprised me considering how poor I heard the results were.

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  3. Brian Johnston on October 5, 2010 at 7:53 AM

    Mormons are those people in PA that drive buggies and don’t use electricity, right? :-)

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  4. Mike S on October 5, 2010 at 8:10 AM

    I took the quiz, and because I guessed correctly on the last question, ended up with 15/15. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

    2 comments on the quiz and its results:

    1) I think it is fairly obvious why Mormons and Jews rank high. For Mormons, we have Primary and YM/YW where there are weekly lessons, marching through the various stories in the Bible. Many Mormons (particularly males) have spent time on a mission, etc. It’s hard to go through all this without picking up at least something through osmosis.

    For Jews, they also have a history of religious education. When I was a child, I went to a synagogue and learned Hebrew, prayers, etc. (even though I was very LDS – my parents just thought it would be a good idea to be exposed to other cultures, etc.) To convert to Judiasm today also requires A LOT of study and is actually a fairly rigorous process – much difference than how we do things.

    2) I think the study shows that most atheists and agnostics don’t simply “rebel” against commandments and reject religion just so they can live how they want to live. In general, I think the genuinely want to find the “truth” and are willing to investigate different sources of truth. At the end of it all, they may not find what they are looking for or may not have had a conversion experience. Their investigative path taught them much, however, as evidenced by the study.

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  5. Andrew S on October 5, 2010 at 8:11 AM

    I did perfectly on the quiz (but then, I’m not as far removed from high school quiz bowl; that was only a half a dozen short years back for me), but I am inclined to agree with Kuri on this poll. These results don’t really show Mormons or atheists know religion particularly well (well, all of us internet people who get 12+ right probably know religion), but rather that most people are abysmally ignorant of religion.

    Of course, we internet bloggers are obviously superior. :D

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  6. Andrew S on October 5, 2010 at 8:12 AM

    actually, I have edit permissions, so I can edit myself~

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  7. Madame Curie on October 5, 2010 at 8:33 AM

    Re: Atheists and agnostics don’t simply “rebel” – FTW

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  8. Madame Curie on October 5, 2010 at 8:37 AM

    I scored a 15/15. I wasn’t raised Mormon. I joined the LDS Church as a college senior, so none of the youth lessons, seminary classes, etc., actually pertain to me. I probably would have gotten the same score as a Catholic, because I was actively engaged in a personal search for eternal truth. These days I consider myself more “spiritual but not religious” than anything else.

    It should be noted that the 15-question quiz is not the same one as was taken by the participants in the initial survey, which had > 30 questions.

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  9. jmb275 on October 5, 2010 at 9:34 AM

    I got 15/15 too, but like Mike S. had to take an educated guess on the last one. But then again, I take life way too seriously. I could be out flying helicopters or something instead of reading a blog about Mormonism!!

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  10. Justin Tungate on October 5, 2010 at 9:57 AM

    I missed one question, but I think that I genuinely got it right. The question about the teachers leading prayer was misleading because I’m pretty sure that teachers CAN lead prayer on school grounds with students. At least, there was a prayer club at my school that prayed (I think) every morning. I’m sure that it’s word ‘class’ that screwed me up.

    Other than that I thought that the quiz was pretty easy. Although my recent study abroad in India had something to do with getting some of the questions correct (knowing the main Gods of Hinduism and the recent history of India helped). I probably still would have gotten the questions right, but I certainly wouldn’t have burned through it so quickly.

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  11. hawkgrrrl on October 5, 2010 at 12:19 PM

    Justin T – yeah, my lower score was just overthinking on that one and another question. C’est la vie.

    I tend to think the results are more of an indictment of other sects than anything. And Mme Curie is correct; the original test was 32 questions. The current version is just for funsies.

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  12. John Hamer on October 5, 2010 at 3:13 PM

    Yeah, I wish they’d have posted the whole quiz. Were they afraid that 32 questions was too long for the online audience?

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  13. AndrewJDavis on October 5, 2010 at 4:39 PM

    You can find the other questions from the PEW website. My wife and I looked at them, and most of them are questions to set up the controls (e.g. How much education do you have, income level, etc). There were only one or two more questions that directly related to religion.

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  14. CS Eric on October 5, 2010 at 5:34 PM

    I just took it-15/15. Some of the questions seemed embarrasingly easy.

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  15. CS Eric on October 5, 2010 at 5:40 PM

    Looking over the results of the scores, I can thank Jeff Holland for my being one of the few who actually knew the answer to the correct question (11% total!). When he was President of BYU, he taught an Honors English seminar. One of Jonathan Edwards’ sermons was one of the first readings of the class.

    As an aside, one of my teachers said the biggest differnce between him and Pres Oaks was how they signed their letters to the staff. Dallin H. Oaks signed his full name. Jeffrey R. Holland signd his as “Jeff.”

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  16. Stephen Marsh on October 5, 2010 at 6:22 PM

    Got 15/15 — I’m amazed that only 39% got Job correct.

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  17. BLI on October 5, 2010 at 9:56 PM

    15/15 but I admit that I wasn’t 100% sure about three of my answers…luck was on my side :).

    While I do think most LDS would score well on biblical questions and christianity in general, I wonder how well we would do as a group on a world religion test. I really don’t think I would do that well beyond the more obvious questions like the ones on this quiz. We just recently started a short world religion FHE (each person picking a world religion to study and then present during a FHE) that has been fun and quite enlightening for all. So maybe after we’re done I’ll be a bit more “world religion” savvy!

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  18. DKL on October 5, 2010 at 10:38 PM

    In fairness to most religions, the Bible is a book written by ancient pastoral and agricultural tribes that has very little relevance to 21st century life. Frankly, I find it a bit disturbing that Mormons know so much about it.

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  19. Stephen Marsh on October 6, 2010 at 6:17 AM

    DKL, read the test, the knowledge level is really superficial. I’m not disturbed that LDS can identify Moses and Job. It isn’t like the quiz wanted an understanding of Zipporah (how come women in the Bible discussions leave her out?) or anything beyond superficial knowledge.

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  20. Ren on October 6, 2010 at 8:09 AM

    What surprised me was the demographics when you drill down to questions, only 93% of Mormons got the Joseph Smith question right.

    The articles about the Pew survey indicate the biggest factor was education. I suspect, at least in the US, Jews and Mormons have a higher number of college grads per capita. I think there’s a correlation between income and education. Good Magazine has an infograph of income by religion. link

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  21. DKL on October 6, 2010 at 11:19 AM

    Stephen, I took the 15 question test and aced it. I’m at a loss to explain exactly what use any of the information on the test was. It is, for example, much more useful to know that Mexico is south of Texas, which is another survey question that people perennially flunk.

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  22. hawkgrrrl on October 6, 2010 at 12:25 PM

    DKL – yes, even some senators seem to flunk that one.

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  23. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 6, 2010 at 12:29 PM

    DKL, just don’t see it as disturbing that LDS did as well as they did on this test, it wasn’t much of a test.

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  24. Douglas on October 8, 2010 at 10:48 AM

    The test, save for the last one (due to lack of familiarity with Protestant history) was a bunch of softballs.
    If agnostics/atheists, jews, and mormons score higher than average, it’s likely more due to the interest in education among them versus the overall population.

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  25. hawkgrrrl on October 8, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    The education is definitely a factor, although the study did then normalize for that, and the results were still the same – in terms of who came out on top.

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  26. Thomas on October 11, 2010 at 5:38 PM

    14/15. I’m appalled.

    Although technically, *both* Hinduism (my too-quick choice) and Buddhism incorporate the concept of nirvana.

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  27. [...] DKL, commenting on hawkgrrrl’s post “Know Your Religion: Apparently Mormons Do” at Wheat and Tares: In fairness to most religions, the Bible is a book written by ancient pastoral and agricultural tribes that has very little relevance to 21st century life. Frankly, I find it a bit disturbing that Mormons know so much about it. [...]

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