The news that the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life conducted a survey and found that Americans are woefully uninformed about religion is not really news. Not to me, anyway. Whenever I want to find out what Americans know about anything, I conduct my survey of one, quizzing the only American who can’t ignore or refuse my demand for answers – Me.
And when I ask myself what I know, I never fail to be amazed at how clueless American are.
I took a short version of the survey and had just one wrong answer, but that was after I had read 2 full articles about the results that recounted in breathless detail the remarkably wrong choices other people had made. Yes, most of the questions are multiple choice.
But the survey is flawed anyway.
In the first place, it is only a survey of people who –
Will answer the phone even though caller ID says “Pew Forum”
Will agree to participate in a survey
When told, “it’s about religion,” will stay on the line.
This is a very small and distinguished group of Americans.
Plus, the questions are clearly lacking the one thing Americans need to enjoy a good survey – joke answers that can be chosen to distract from the disturbing truth that I don’t know the right answer.
Here are a few from the survey that I’ve taken the liberty to improve.
Which Bible figure is most closely associated with leading the Exodus from Egypt?
Which of the following is NOT one of the Ten Commandments?
Do not commit adultery
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
Do not steal
Keep the Sabbath holy
Thou Shalt Not Ask Trick Questions.
When does the Jewish Sabbath begin?
Exactly seven days after the last one.
The Hindu festival of lights
A Jewish day of atonement
The Islamic holy month
A Rama Lama Ding Dong.
Which of the following best describes the Catholic teaching about the bread and wine used for Communion?
The bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
The bread and wine are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
It’s not the bread or wine, it’s the cheese that will really turn on you.
In which religion are Vishnu and Shiva central figures?
According to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, is a public school teacher permitted to lead a class in prayer, or not?
No, not permitted
Yes, but only if she has a megaphone so they can hear her in the back row of the auditorium.
And the one essay question was a stumper.
What was Mother Teresa’s religion?
All I know about Mother Teresa is that she did everything she could to help desperately poor people. A person like that probably doesn’t have a lot of time for religion.
Even the New York Times struggled with this one. In their first online report, they spelled Mother T.’s name wrong.
Every so often there is a new survey that reveals how surprisingly little we the people know about (fill in the topic). In case you didn’t glean it from everything I’ve said so far, my self-esteem is a little damaged by this latest one. What I really want is a survey that we can all succeed at, so I can start to feel better about ourself.
But what topic would allow us to hit one out of the park?
How can we begin to feel smart again?