I had lunch today with a lifelong friend, who happens to be an atheist. He alerted me to the new Pew Forum survey on religious knowledge, with its finding that atheists/agnostics, Jews and Mormons scored the highest. He thought that was a predictable outcome based on the relatively high education levels of those groups. I agreed.
But when I actually read the study, I found that, while education is definitely an important factor in predicting religious knowledge, those results held even after controlling for levels of education. So what else would explain the strong performance of Mormons on this survey?
People who self-identify as LDS (Latter-day Saint or Mormon) generally have a fair amount of commitment to the religion. And committed Mormons undergo a significant amount of religious education. For instance, high school students typically attend “seminary,” which is an early morning religion class. And many young Mormons opt to do two years of missionary service at age 19, which involves a nearly constant stream of religious discussion with a wide diversity of people from different traditions.
Mormons discuss religion openly, both among themselves and with others. Religious discussion is not the taboo among Mormons that it might be for some.
Another possible consideration is that any time you are a minority (or other underdog type group) you are forced to be more aware of things than if you are in the majority. You just run across more resistance, more sticking points, little things it is easy to breeze by if you are in the majority. See also: race, being a woman, having grown up poor, etc. So the dynamic of being a somewhat exotic religious minority group may have something to do with the results.
Mormons did the best overall on questions regarding the Bible, but did not do as well when it came to world religions. Indeed, I tried the test myself, and scored 31/32, (embarrassingly) whiffing on the nirvana being a Buddhist concept question. So I would say we Mormons still have work to do.
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