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Atheists Know More About Religion?

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According to the Los Angeles Times, The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has just released the results of a recent survey on general religious knowledge, and apparently atheists and agnostics outperformed religious adherents.

For example, most Protestants were unable to identify Martin Luther as the leader of the Reformation, whereas those who identified atheist or agnostic were more likely to answer this and other questions correctly.  Just below them were Jews and Mormons.  In fact, according to the article, Mormons fared better than Evangelical Protestants in their knowledge of the Bible.

This matches up nicely with the work of Kenda Creasy Dean, project researcher for the National Study of Youth and Religion.  In her new book Almost Christian, Kenda argues that Mormons are more intentional about passing on the faith than any other religious body in the U.S., and her chapter devoted to this phenomena is titled, "Mormon Envy."  Michael Horton recently interviewed her for a White Horse Inn broadcast, and that will be available at whitehorseinn.org beginning Sunday, October 3rd.

The survey results also confirm our own White Horse Inn polling data.  In a survey we conducted of approximately 70 Christian adults at a recent Evangelical convention we found that less than half agreed with the statement, "There is no one who does good, no not even one. There is no one who seeks God."  The quotation is from Psalm 14, Psalm 53 and Romans 3, and is one of the principle proof texts for the doctrine of original sin.  Most of the Christians we interviewed were not only unfamiliar with these Bible verses, but were in active disagreement with the theology promoted in these texts (Program note:  the White Horse Inn episode featuring the results to this recent poll will air in late November).

We also conducted a poll in 2009 of approximately 100 individuals at a Christian Music event (70% of whom were young Christians between 13 and 25) and the results were even more troubling.  When we asked about the same verse from Romans 3, we found that only 1 out of 3 recognized it as a Bible text and agreed with its content (31% to be exact).  You can find the complete results to this 2009 survey here.
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  • Guest - Chris

    To be fair, in regards to Romans 3:10-12, the truth of that statement depends on how you understand "no one". Obviously if no one means "no natural man" or "no man of his own accord", then it is true. However, if someone on the street hears that statement it is easy to interpret it as "No one, including Christians who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, seeks God", in which case it is false. Many not recognizing it as a quotation of the Scriptures certainly is concerning, but I wouldn't necessarily interpret their disagreement with the statement as denying the doctrine of original sin (though doubtless, some do).

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  • [...] evangelical stereotype works because there’s enough truth in it. Judging by the recent Pew study (see Shane Rosenthal’s post), meeting non-Christians “in the gauzy common ground of vaguely spiritual friendship” is pretty [...]

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  • Guest - Julie

    In regards to Shane's 2009 survey questions I thought questions 2, 3 and 4 were somewhat misleading. People were asked to completely agree or disagree with these statements and yet these statements were partially true. I'm not sure if the goal here was to see if Christians could discern Biblical truth from today's image of what church should be like. Regarding question 2, obviously God is not our helpful coach cheering us to make right decisions, etc but he does want us to be happy...finding ultimate joy in enjoying God and glorifying him as he deserves. Regarding question 3, sermons should be inspiring, practical and enjoyable but not fun (it's not like a party), it's truth from God that encourages us, convicts us and reminds us of the gospel - how Christ fulfilled all the law for us and saved us from the wrath of God by taking our place. Finally in regards to question 4, churches should be relevant and by that I mean the pastor should know his congregation and help us to grow in faith, our fellow brothers and sisters should seek to know each other, help each other and grow as a family in Christ (being relevant to one another, helping where help is needed), obviously not relevant in the sense that our band rocks harder than the local punk band and our pastor wears the trendiest sneakers and speaks in slang when he preaches. I thought the rest of the questions were fair and were surprised by the results for some of them.

    I love the White Horse Inn and became a huge fan during the Romans Revolution. The interviews Shane had and the shocking answers were always the best part for me because it caused me to question what I believed and make sure I would have answered correctly and if not...the show taught me what I needed to know. So thank you WHI!

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  • Guest - Shane Rosenthal

    Some of the questions in the 2009 WHI Survey were indeed partially true. This is one of the problems of contemporary Christianity. It's confusing because truth is mixed with error. But the point of our survey was to take popular ideas in the church today (some of which we would agree with, others we would disagree with, and still others we would qualify) and see where contemporary Christians stand on these issues. To see where the hosts land on those poll questions, you'll want to order a copy of the Nov. 8th 2009 broadcast titled, A Survey of Christian Faith & Practice.

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