The Pew Religious Knowledge Survey: How Did Mormons Do?

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A Religious Knowledge Survey was recently conducted by the Pew Research Center of 3,412 Americans. The full report can be read here (all of the survey questions are in the Appendix of that report). Out of 32 questions, the average number correct by all people was 16, so 50%. You might view that as positive or negative, depending on your expectations. What subgroups performed the best? Athiests/agnostics (mean = 20.9), Jews (mean = 20.5), and Mormons (mean = 20.3). Rounding out the bottom of the groups are Hispanic Catholics (mean = 11.6).

Here’s a general overview (not just Mormons):

Now on to how Mormons did. I thought this section of the report was interesting:

“27% of Jews, 22% of atheists and agnostics, and 20% of Mormons score in the top 10% of all respondents in overall number of correct answers to religious knowledge questions, getting at least 26 questions right. As will be discussed in detail later in this report, these groups display greater religious knowledge even when education and other factors are held constant. Mormons outperform Jews as well as atheists and agnostics on questions about the Bible but do not perform as well as the other two groups on questions having to do with world religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.”

So, 20% of Mormons in the survey scored at or above the 90th %ile, which is an encouraging result.

Who knew their Bible the best out of all groups? It was…Mormons. I bet that might surprise a lot of other Christians.

Mormons also had the highest knowledge of general Christianity (Catholicism & Protestantism plus other religious figures), getting nearly 8/12 questions correct on average.

About Judaism, Jews had the highest average (5/7) with Mormons a close second (4.8/7). However, it should be noted that the distribution was skewed: “Mormons also do well on these questions (4.8 correct on average), though many more Jews than Mormons get all seven questions right (29% among Jews, 6% among Mormons).”

Mormons also knew their own religion the best with and average of 2.7/3 correct answers. Atheists and agnostics came in second with 2.1/3 on average correct.

Outside of Christianity, Mormons came in 3rd for knowledge of world religions with 5.6/11 correct on average. For knowledge of religion’s role in public life, Atheists/agnostics had an average of 2.8/4 correct and Mormons were tied for third (with Evangelicals) with 2.3/4.

It goes on; the report is quite fascinating (although light on the statistics, which some people find comforting, others of us, not so much).

Those who were more educated tended to do better on the quiz but even controlling for education and other demographic factors, atheists/agnostics, Jews, and Mormons still did the best on the survey.

One issue I saw with the interview questions was what was asked it the respondent said he or she was Mormon: “Which of the following Mormon churches, if any, do you identify with most closely? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Community of Christ, or some other church?”

Ignoring the incorrect usage of referring to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Mormon Church, it is even more incorrect to refer to any of the splintered groups as Mormon. That’s sort of like lumping Methodists and Catholics together because after all, Methodists (and all other Protestant religions) are an offshoot of Catholicism. So no, those other “Mormon churches” are not “Mormon churches.” That’s not just being pedantic, it’s being accurate.

In any case, after looking over the 32 questions, there was one I might have missed (although it was multiple choice so even a completely random guess would result in a 20% chance of getting it right). The question was about what religion Maimonides was. I am familiar with the name but frankly have never studied about him. Two of the five choices are obvious rule-outs (for me), which leaves three choices. Who was he? Here’s the answer.

How did I do on the shortened 15 question quiz online? I bet you are dying to know.

You can take the quiz here.

Overall, those who identified themselves as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did very well on the survey. They did better than any other religious group. Being Jewish is not necessarily a religious thing; for many Jewish Americans (and elsewhere) it is a cultural thing. It’s almost like being Catholic in a Latin American country or in Italy, it’s cultural more than religious for most people. Mormons did well but there certainly is room for improvement.

On Christianity

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Update: Here is the link to a discussion of this same topic on the LDS Newsroom blog.

One discussion I really do not understand is whether or not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are Christian. Let’s ignore the name of the LDS Church for a minute – after all, any church can claim that they are the Lord’s (however, only one church is claimed by the Lord as His: “And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually” {D&C; 1:30}). Again, if we ignore the name of the LDS Church, we can move on to a discussion of the Christianity of the LDS Church and if that Christianity or lack thereof really matter. My view is that the discussion is silly.

Be that as it may, why does it matter to some people whether or not the LDS Church is Christian? I have read many blog posts and articles and statements about how members of the LDS Church are not Christian. I had the discussion with a number of people while I was a missionary. In essence my question is “What is a Christian?”

  1. Are Christians people who believe the Bible to be God’s word? If that is part of it then we Mormons pass that criterion.
  2. Are Christians people who believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world? We believe that as well.
  3. Are Christians people who believe that Jesus Christ is divine, even God? We believe that as well. I recognize that LDS conceptions of Jesus Christ as God might differ slightly from the official doctrines of many other churches but Mormon doctrine of the nature of God is supported completely by the Bible (and clarified and expanded by latter-day revelation).
  4. Are Christians people who believe that the Bible is all of God’s word? Well, we Mormons do not meet that criterion. However, that is a belief that is not supported by the Bible. How could the Bible rule out “modern” (i.e., concurrent) revelation when that is exactly what it is?! I know many people would quibble with me on this point because they have before but nowhere in the Bible are we taught that the Bible contains all of God’s words and that there is no more need for revelation or prophets.
  5. Are Christians people who try to live as Christ intended – doing good to those who hate you, helping those in need, lifting burdens, teaching His gospel, and so forth? Mormons meet all these criteria.
  6. Are Christians people who accept Jesus as their Savior and recognize that salvation comes only through Him? Mormons fit that criterion as well (I can’t speak individually for all LDS Church members but it is the doctrine of our church).
  7. Are Christians people who are either Catholic or Protestant, at least in theology? I’ve heard and read serious arguments that boiled down essentially to this. The problem is that that position is anything but Biblical. It’s based on the acceptance of the Creeds of Christendom – which is ironic because the people who accept the Creeds generally do not accept continuing revelation from God (i.e., the Bible is a closed canon); in short, many people accept the teachings and interpretation of theologians but will not accept what many claim to be direct revelation from God in our day. I might be a little cynical in this example but I’ve heard a lot of people imply that they have the Bible and that was (more than) enough of God’s words for them: “We already have a Bible, we don’t need another one.”

I could go on but those points should suffice for now. My other main question besides what are the criteria for being Christian, is why is it so important to some people to demonstrate that Mormons are not Christian? What are their motives for this position? I can put forth some guesses but I won’t because I try not to ascribe motives to others, especially when I have no idea.

For me, and I think most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and most other Christians, being Christian means as a start “one who believes in Jesus Christ.” That’s it. However, truly being Christian means more than a profession of belief in Jesus Christ, it requires a life of striving to be like the Savior in deeds, words, and thoughts. On one level, being Christian is completely personal. On another level, being Christian is evident in how one lives one’s life. Trying to give or deny Christianity using other criteria is, I believe, misguided.

Puritanism Parallels with Mormonism: Preparation for the Restoration – Part 4

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We read in the Doctrine and Covenants, “Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness” (D&C; 121:34-36). Fore-ordination does not have anything to do with who will be able to return to live with Heavenly Father again, unlike the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. Fore-ordination and predestination are similar but they do differ by degrees.

The LDS doctrine of salvation is quite liberal, especially compared to the Calvinism of the Puritans – however, it’s not our doctrine, it’s God’s. That is, Mormons did not create the doctrine, God did. We believe that all who have ever lived upon the earth will have the opportunity to receive and accept the ordinances required to return to live again with our Father in Heaven. All people will eventually have the necessary ordinances performed for them but not all will accept (or possibly even be able to accept based on their lives here) the ordinances. We believe that all children who died before the age of accountability (age eight) will return to live with God again – this is because little children are whole and incapable of committing sin (see Moroni 8:8; Mosiah 15:25) because the Savior’s Atonement freed them from sin; they are declared blameless by God through the power and grace and mercy of the Atonement.

That is radically different from Puritan beliefs about children; they thought children were full of sin and mischief and evil. Children, to the Puritans, had to be “broken.” LDS doctrine holds children to be inherently good. Christ also taught we should become as little children (see Matt. 18:3). While LDS doctrine about salvation is liberal – we believe that most will receive some degree of glory (they at least kept their first estate and chose in the pre-mortal realm to follow our Father’s plan of salvation by coming to earth) but not all will live with God forever more – LDS doctrine is not as liberal as some other Christian faiths, such as Universalists who believe that all will be saved; God’s power is so great that He will bring all humankind back to Him. On a continuum, LDS doctrine is between the Calvinists and the Universalists.

Calvinism in New England espoused “Five Points” of doctrine, similar conceptually to our thirteen Articles of Faith (i.e., these Five Points are some of the basic and distinctive Puritan doctrines just like the LDS Articles of Faith cover the basic doctrines of Mormonism). These Five Points were: “[1] the natural condition of humanity was total depravity,…[2] salvation was beyond mortal striving,…[3] grace was predestined only for a few,…[4] most mortals were condemned to suffer eternal damnation, and [5] no earthy effort could save them” (p.112). That seems to be quite a depressing set of dogma! However, the Puritans did not live depressing lives – although they were austere in many ways – but they were never sure of their salvation. Their glasses of salvation were never more than half empty. They constantly sought and desired the mercy and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, as we all should. Another quote will further establish the Puritan views of salvation. About one Puritan it is written, “Always before, when [Thomas] wept for his sins, he had kept some feeling of human merit. Now he knows he has none, that the natural man, even when seemingly a good man, is only a beautiful abomination, for the natural man has had no merit since Adam’s disobedience, and Hell is his just destination” (Simpson as cited by Fischer, p.116).

But does not that passage sound a bit like King Benjamin? “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19). There are similarities between Puritanism and the first part of King Benjamin’s statement but there is a key difference. King Benjamin stated that we need to become as a child in order to overcome the natural man!

Children are naturally good; the natural man is a learned and developed state, not an inherent state. We learn to be natural men and women! We all give in to the natural man at some point but we all start out good and clean and pure. I do have to point out that it is only through the atonement of Christ the Lord that we become saintly, or saved and sanctified. Again, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we believe that people are inherently good – the Puritans did not. The Savior’s Atonement freed us from the transgression of Adam. Joseph Smith wrote, “We believe that man will be punished for his own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression” (Second Article of Faith). I believe Joseph wrote that in part because it was different from the prevailing beliefs of many of the religions of his day.

Reference

Fischer, D. H. (1989). Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Puritanism Parallels with Mormonism: Preparation for the Restoration – Part 3

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The Puritans also often referred to themselves as “saints.” Members of the LDS Church call themselves saints, not because we believe our behavior is particularly saintly (although it should be!) but saints was a term used Biblically to refer to members of the church Christ established. We also use the term in reference to the name of Christ’s church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Puritans came over to the New World almost exclusively in order to have religious freedom, just as Mormons fled westward seeking religious freedom; it was ironic that Mormons eventually had to leave the United States in order to find the religious freedoms promised in the Bill of Rights. The Puritans settled in the cold Massachusetts area (it was going through a mini Ice Age at the time), which helped them develop into hearty people and protected them from many of the contagious diseases so prevalent in the south. The men and women were strong and did physical labor. Utah, with its altitude and dry air, similarly provided protections against many transmittable diseases. Diseases still ravaged but they were relatively mild compared to pandemics further south.

While Puritan society was patriarchal, there was no tolerance for abuse of women (or men, for that matter). Their patriarchal society was founded on Biblical principles. Women and men were punished equally for adultery or other sins or crimes. Women, while principally domestic in their roles, were often encouraged to be intellectual, courageous, have strong characters, and have integrity. Puritan women in New England were not “just mothers” – they were fulfilling important roles as the “head of the family” (Fischer, p.85). The LDS church has a patriarchal priesthood. The extent of our patriarchal organization outside the priesthood organization is explained in The Family: A Proclamation to the World: “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.”

While the Puritans differed significantly in their religious doctrine from the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which would not be restored to the earth for 200 years), there were some similarities. Puritans were Calvinists; they believed that some were predestined by God to go to Heaven. One sign of God’s grace was old age; the aged were venerated and respected. The elderly often were in political and religious positions of power. Many of the general LDS Church leaders (especially the Apostles) today are older – in their 60s through their 90s. However, as members of the LDS Church we do not believe that old age is a sign of God’s grace and mercy but we often do respect the wisdom of our elders. While we do not believe in predestination like Calvinists do, we believe in fore-ordination. We believe that many people were pre-ordained to certain responsibilities or missions or callings; this fore-ordination does not, however, determine those responsibilities or missions or callings.

Link to Part 2 of this essay.

Reference

Fischer, D. H. (1989). Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Puritanism Parallels with Mormonism: Preparation for the Restoration – Part 1

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I’d like to preface my essay by stating that although I am drawing parallels between Puritanism and Mormonism, my point is not to argue that Mormonism came from Puritanism. There were many differences between the two religions and societies; there were many things about Puritan society and religion that were greatly at odds with Mormonism (including the severity of some their punishments of crime, for example). However, Puritanism helped pave the way for the Restoration.

Much of the information about Puritanism comes from the following source:

Fischer, D. H. (1989). Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

In the 1600s a wave of emigrants crossed the rough Atlantic Ocean, huddled together in their sailing ships headed to a new land and new opportunity. Some of the ships were comfortable and safe; others were cramped and unsound. Sometimes illness and death swept through the ships, breaking the health and hearts of the travelers. Those who came to Massachusetts, particularly the Bay Colony, were generally the middle-class in England. They were some of the cream of the crop of England. Charles Dickens made a similar comment about one group of Mormon emigrants he visited as they prepared to depart for America: “They were in their degree, the pick and flower of England” (The Uncommercial Traveller, Chapter 22, Bound for the Great Salt Lake, Charles Dickens). The journey for the Puritan families was pricey – up to four times the gross yearly income of many middle-class workers. They sacrificed much to cross the ocean in order to have religious liberty. Why did they give up so much?

The Puritans sought religious freedom and new lives. Many of these emigrants came from the eastern shores of their native country England. They came from an area in which the Protestant Reformation movement was strong. This part of England was populated by many people who rejected the rules and doctrines of the prevailing church and who protested its power. Some of these Protestants met together sometimes at the peril of their lives to hold Bible study groups. Many were viewed as heretics and were often persecuted. They suffered much at the hands of the ruling theocracy. In fact, during the 1500s, most of the Protestants who were burned as heretics were from this eastern region of England. One prominent English minister called this eastern portion of England the “throbbing heart of heresy in England” (Fischer, p.47).

A particular sect of Calvinists called the Puritans, who based many of their doctrines on the teachings of John Calvin, flourished in this region. They were among those persecuted by the prevailing church. However, they persevered through persecution; they longed for a day when they could worship how and when they wanted. They wanted freedom of religion.

A Response to a Website Critical of Mormonism

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Edit: I removed a portion of this post in order to simply it and focus on just one topic. I’ll rewrite the first part of the post (that I removed) at a later date. I also removed the comments because they no longer applied to this post; they weren’t removed because of content, they just weren’t relevant any more. The author(s) of them should feel free to re-comment, if they desire, when I post the first part of my article again.

Here is my review of a website I stumbled across.

This site is full of so-called intellectual criticisms of Mormonism that often consist of random quotes taken out of context to make a narrow and often unrelated point. Sometimes quotes are cleverly juxtaposed to make it easier for someone to make a faulty intuitive leap. Many of the quotes can be true independently but they sometimes are put together in a specific way to make a point that is not true. This is a common anti-Mormon tactic. This is a common tactic in political campaigns. It is also a common general rhetorical tactic.
There are numerous posts that seemingly point out inconsistencies and shifts in church doctrine over time, as if this somehow hurts the church. The LDS Church is founded on modern-day revelation – on the belief that we have a living prophet who is the only one authorized to receive revelation for the entire church and to authoritatively interpret the scriptures and speak for the Lord. If some doctrines did not have to change over time in response to the times, why would there be a need for a living prophet?
Because the authors who contribute to this site come across as providing intellectual criticisms of the LDS Church, church doctrine, and church leaders, I’ll write about the Church and intellectualism.
The LDS Church is sometimes criticized for being anti-intellectual. What is true about that is that the Church does not approve of intellectuals who place their own personal beliefs and egos above that of revealed doctrine; people who think that they know better than the prophet just because they might think they are smarter than him or a particular church leader. Some of these intellectuals want to sell their messes of pottage for what they think is truth. So some criticize the Church for occasionally excommunicating these “free-thinkers” for “doing nothing” but questioning authority or telling the “truth.” This brand of intellectualism consists of religious anarchists, people who believe that they should have complete immunity and impunity for their words and actions.
They criticize the Church for encouraging blind faith while at the same time disregarding LDS doctrine that teaches that God values moral (free) agency so much that a war was fought in heaven over it. Church leaders always let people have their agency, even if that means the people lose their membership in the Church. Church leaders do not call for us to have blind faith, although there are instances when we need to take a step or two into the dark or to take a leap of faith, they want us to have simple faith (that’s not simple-minded faith, it’s pure and holy faith – the faith of a child in a parent). The LDS Church is certainly not opposed to intellectuals. Does not God have the greatest intellect of all? Do we not believe that we are His children and can become like Him?
I am not encouraging people to think less or to stop asking questions. Think hard, ask the tough questions but make sure you ask God to know the truth; you can know all truth through the power of the Holy Ghost. The gospel of Jesus Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accept and encompass all truth, regardless of topic. Science and doctrine go hand in hand when science is true (and when the doctrine is true).
My personal belief and philosophy is that I may believe many theories and “truths” of science and philosophy but I’m not willing to bet my eternal salvation on those. For example, I could spend my whole life doing neuropsychology and neuroscience research and discover, in the next life, that everything I thought I knew was true was in fact false. I would not be upset because I leave myself open to that possibility, even if it is not likely. The only sure thing that I really know is my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that He lives, that He has a plan for me and all of us, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is His church restored to the earth and that the keys, authority, and ordinances necessary for salvation are held therein. Everything that I know to be true is related to that knowledge. All worldly, scientific, or other knowledge is secondary. The more I study science, the more sure I am that Truth is only revealed by God through His prophets and through the Holy Ghost.