Quick, name the Ten Commandments (the Golden Rule isn’t one of them). The four Gospel writers? The first book of the Bible….?

What is our religious aptitude?

Apparently, it is embarrassing. I’m seeing this poll and news stories about it all over the place. Here’s how the New York Times led their piece

Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant about religion.

The focus of this flap is the latest poll from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life which revealed many things, but the one of most interest to big media is that atheists and agnostics scored highest on religion aptitude. It can strike one as shocking at first blush, that people of faith can’t answer some basic questions about it.

Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics who participated in the study didn’t know that, according to church teaching, the bread and wine used in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ.

More than half of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation. And about four in 10 Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the greatest rabbis and intellectuals in history, was Jewish.

Joe Carter has a good take on this at First Things.

I have to confess that while I know who he is, I can’t for the life of me correctly pronounce “Maimonides.” David Goldman told me that he was called Rambam (short for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon) so that is what I’ll be saying from now on.

It’s good to put this in perspective.

According to the researchers, a person’s education was the single best predictor of how she or he would score. I do not doubt that. However, when I have a chance to dig further into this data, I will be looking for evidence of a pew gap in this Pew effort.

In other words, did anyone try to find out if the intensity of a person’s religious practice has anything to do with knowledge. In other words, do daily Mass Catholics know more about Catholicism and other religions than inactive Catholics? Do Jews who regularly attend worship services know more about, well, Maimonides than Jews who are completely secular? Do Evangelicals who take part in foreign missions projects know more about Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., than people who say they are vaguely “Protestant” and that’s that?

Terry Mattingly asks good questions here. And says…these poll results really aren’t all that surprising.

I know very few people who are as obsessed with the fine details of religion as highly motivated unbelievers. As the old saying goes, the opposite of love is not hate, it’s apathy.

It would be nice if ‘people of faith’ were better catechized, versed or grounded in its fundamentals. But theological depth starts with faith…seeking understanding.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....