Religious Literacy

Americans are both deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion.
~Stephen Prothero
Religious Literacy

Prothero---Religious Literacy

Noah of Arc and his wife, Joan, build a boat to survive a great flood. Moses climbs Mount Cyanide and receives 10 enumerated commandments; for all the differences among religious denominations, the Ten Commandments are a common bedrock that Jews, Catholics and Protestants agree on.
Sodom and his wild girlfriend, Gomorrah, soon set the standard for what not to do. They are turned to pillars of salt.
The Virgin Mary, a young Christian woman, conceives Jesus immaculately and gives birth to him in a Jerusalem manger. Jesus, backed by the Twelve Apostles and their wives, the Epistles, proclaims what we call the Golden Rule: “Do one to others before they do one to you.” The Romans repeatedly crucify Jesus — at Cavalry, Golgotha and other sites — but he resurrects himself each time.
Christianity spreads through the gospels, which differ on details but all provide eyewitness accounts of Jesus’s life from birth to death. Finally, Rome tires of throwing Christians to lions and becomes the first country to adopt Christianity as its religion. The Bible is translated from the original English into countless languages.

Errors in the Bible story above: Joan wasn’t Noah’s wife (and Arc wasn’t his name); Moses climbed Mount Sinai, not Cyanide; there were 12 (unnumbered) commandments, and Jews, Protestants and Catholics have different versions depending in part on how they compress them into 10; Sodom wasn’t a person; same for Gomorrah; they weren’t the ones turned into salt; the Virgin Mary was Jewish; the immaculate conception is a Catholic doctrine referring to the conception of Mary; Jesus was said to be born in Bethlehem; epistles are letters; the Golden Rule governs what you do “unto others”; Jesus was crucified once; it’s Calvary, not Cavalry, and it’s the same place as Golgotha; Jesus is said to have been resurrected once; although we don’t know much about the gospel writers, they presumably weren’t eyewitnesses but incorporated eyewitness sources; the Gospels of Mark and John do not refer to the birth of Jesus; Armenia was first to adopt Christianity as state religion; the Bible is translated from Hebrew and Greek, not English.
Stephen Prothero’s religious literacy quiz
  1. Name the four Gospels. List as many as you can.
  2. Name a sacred text of Hinduism.
  3. What is the name of the holy book of Islam?
  4. Where according to the Bible was Jesus born?
  5. President George W. Bush spoke in his first inaugural address of the Jericho road. What Bible story was he invoking?
  6. What are the first five books of the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Old Testament?
  7. What is the Golden Rule?
  8. “God helps those who help themselves”: Is this in the Bible? If so, where?
  9. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God”: Does this appear in the Bible? If so, where?
  10. Name the Ten Commandments. List as many as you can.
  11. Name the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.
  12. What are the seven sacraments of Catholicism? List as many as you can.
  13. The First Amendment says two things about religion, each in its own “clause.” What are the two religious clauses of the First Amendment?
  14. What is Ramadan? In what religion is it celebrated?
  15. Match the Bible characters with the stories in which they appear. Draw a line from the one to the other. Hint: Some characters may be matched with more than one story or vice versa.
Adam and Eve Exodus
Paul Binding of Isaac
Moses Olive Branch
Noah Garden of Eden
Jesus Parting of the Red Sea
Abraham Road to Damascus
Serpent Garden of Gethsemane

· · · · ·Answers

  1. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John (1 point each)
  2. Can include the Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads, Puranas, Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, Yoga Sutras, Laws of Manu, Kama Sutra (1 point)
  3. Quran (1 point)
  4. Bethlehem (1 point)
  5. The Good Samaritan (1 point)
  6. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (1 point each)
  7. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12) or a similar sentiment from Rabbi Hillel or Confucius. (“Love your neighbor as yourself” is not the Golden Rule.) (1 point)
  8. No, this is not in the Bible. In fact, it is contradicted in Proverbs 28:26: “He who trusts in himself is a fool.” The words are Ben Franklin’s. (2 points)
  9. Yes, in the Beatitudes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3) (2 points)
  10. The Protestant, Catholic and Jewish versions of the Ten Commandments differ. Give yourself credit for any ten of the following 12 commandments, each of which appears in at least one of those three versions:
    • I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage.
    • You shall have no other gods before me.
    • You shall not make yourself a graven image.
    • You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
    • Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
    • Honor your father and mother.
    • You shall not kill/murder.
    • You shall not commit adultery.
    • You shall not steal.
    • You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
    • You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
    • You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.
  11. (4 points)
    • Life is suffering.
    • Suffering has an origin.
    • Suffering can be overcome (nirvana)
    • >The path to overcoming suffering is the Noble Eightfold Plan.
  12. (7 points)
    • Baptism
    • Eucharist/Mass/Holy Communion
    • Reconciliation/Confession/Penance
    • Confirmation
    • Marriage
    • Holy Orders
    • Anointing of the Sick/Last Rites
  13. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” (1 point each)
  14. Muslim holiday characterized by a month of fasting (2 points)
  15. (7 points)
  • Adam and Eve: Garden of Eden
  • Paul: Road to Damascus
  • Moses: Exodus and Parting of the Red Sea
  • Noah: Olive Branch
  • Jesus: Road to Damascus, Garden of Gethsemane
  • Abraham: Binding of Isaac
  • Serpent: Garden of Eden

Scoring: Add up total points, multiply by two. A is 90 points or higher; B is 80-89; C is 70-79. A passing grade is 60 points or more.


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