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September 28, 2010 12:39 PM   Subscribe

In a survey of Americans' religious knowledge conducted by the Pew Research Center, atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons scored higher than evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions, leading the surveyors to conclude that "large numbers of Americans are uninformed about the tenets, practices, history and leading figures of major faith traditions – including their own."
posted by Houyhnhnm (116 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Obviously, studying religion enough turns you atheist.
posted by signalnine at 12:40 PM on September 28, 2010 [57 favorites]


So what? They don't actually have to KNOW what they believe, so long as they believe. THAT's what gets them into heaven, as opposed to all those educated non-believers.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:41 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, either that or a Jewish Mormon!
posted by [citation needed] at 12:42 PM on September 28, 2010


These fools probably don't even know that Jesus was a Reptoid psy op. Ha! Ha ha! Praise Reptilicus. SSssssssssssssssss
posted by fleetmouse at 12:42 PM on September 28, 2010 [18 favorites]


Jesus was a Reptoid psy op


Its true!
posted by Threeway Handshake at 12:43 PM on September 28, 2010


Mormons learn tons and tons about non-Mormon religions in preparation for going forth on their mandatory mission to spread Mormonism. The Church rightly realized that if you don't know who Mohamed was or what he did or what he said, you will have a much harder time getting his followers to take you seriously in a conversation about their religion, ditto for any other faith.
posted by paisley henosis at 12:44 PM on September 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


Is anyone at all surprised by this? I wasn't. It seems to be making the rounds on the internet driven purely by the power of smug atheists patting themselves on the back.

(I've already shared this elsewhere, so, um, guilty.)
posted by auto-correct at 12:44 PM on September 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


No surprises there. I love being approached by Born Again Christian types on the street.
posted by Biru at 12:45 PM on September 28, 2010


"large numbers of Americans are uninformed about the tenets, practices, history and leading figures of major faith traditions – including their own."

OH. Is that why people seem to keep having problems with that whole mercy, charity, and compassion thing? I guess we could start a few more wars and tell the homeless to work harder. It's what Jesus would do, right?
posted by yeloson at 12:46 PM on September 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


MetaFilter: driven purely by the power of smug atheists patting themselves on the back.
posted by brundlefly at 12:47 PM on September 28, 2010 [48 favorites]


hmm, the quiz broke halfway through. Looks like there is no God!
posted by vorfeed at 12:48 PM on September 28, 2010


Aw, no Scientologists? I'm always curious how much the average member knows.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:48 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


It seems to be making the rounds on the internet driven purely by the power of smug atheists patting themselves on the back.

Is anyone actually looking at the link? It seems like most smug atheists are saying 'LOLLERS I know more about Christianity than Christians!' whereas if you actually look at the damn thing it says that Mormons and white Evangelicals scored the best on questions specifically about the Bible and Christianity. Atheists and agnostics performed better on questions about 'world religions' than anyone else, but I don't really see any reason for triumphalism about that.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:49 PM on September 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


So Americans don't know about:
a) the actual distribution of wealth in the US
b) what their religion actually teaches
c) and little things like science, math and reading

Do they have to bring the survey people in from another country even?
posted by GuyZero at 12:49 PM on September 28, 2010 [12 favorites]


Aw, no Scientologists? I'm always curious how much the average member knows.

What, about religion in general? Or about how many thetans can fit inside the average intergalactic boeing 747?
posted by elizardbits at 12:49 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


They'd know more if they used a religion-specific search engine (prior).
posted by Man with Lantern at 12:50 PM on September 28, 2010


Aw, no Scientologists? I'm always curious how much the average member knows.

It depends on how far he's with his installments.
posted by Skeptic at 12:51 PM on September 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


I've often wondered about the extent to which religions discourage curiosity about other faiths. Are American Christians or Muslims really told that they don't need to know what other religious practices are? I get that our religious landscape has always been filled to some extent with extremists who believe that theirs is the correct religion and all others be damned, but still, it's a little weird. You would think that if the topic interested them they wouldn't be self-censoring.

My own upbringing in Judaism may not have been the norm -- I was encouraged to know as much as possible about other the traditions, stories, practices and histories of other religions. I was also taught that religious faith should never be a stagnant thing -- we learn and develop both spiritually and intellectually by investigating and asking questions. Although I'd like to think it's the prevailing attitude among Jews, perhaps it isn't?
posted by zarq at 12:57 PM on September 28, 2010


To paraphrase J. Bartlett Brebner:

"Theists are benevolently ignorant about atheism, while atheists are malevolently well informed about theism."

Not that there aren't some who are pretty malevolently ignorant about atheism, mind you.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 12:58 PM on September 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Is anyone actually looking at the link? It seems like most smug atheists are saying 'LOLLERS I know more about Christianity than Christians!'

Weeeellll....More detail below:

most Americans are able to correctly answer at least half of the survey’s questions about the Bible. For example, roughly seven-in-ten (71%) know that, according to the Bible, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. More than six-in-ten (63%) correctly name Genesis as the first book of the Bible. And more than half know that the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – is not one of the Ten Commandments. On the full battery of seven questions about the Bible (five Old Testament and two New Testament items) Mormons do best, followed by white evangelical Protestants. Atheists/agnostics, black Protestants and Jews come next, all exhibiting greater knowledge of the Bible than white mainline Protestants and white Catholics, who in turn outscore those who describe their religion as nothing in particular.

But for Protestants/evangelicals not to know this:

About half of Protestants (53%) cannot correctly identify Martin Luther as the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation, which made their religion a separate branch of Christianity.

...is to be pretty ignorant about the foundations of their brand of Christianity.
posted by Miko at 12:59 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


hmm, the quiz broke halfway through. Looks like there is no God!

Depends. Are you a smug atheist? Because it's not like He needs your triumphalizing over a good score.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:59 PM on September 28, 2010


What's to know? 1. Gays, abortions, sex, science and all other religions = bad. 2. Guns, white people, tax cuts for the top 2% of income earners = good. How hard was that?
posted by ND¢ at 1:00 PM on September 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


About half of Protestants (53%) cannot correctly identify Martin Luther as the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation

Whatever, he died in like 1960 and all he cared about was black people anyway so why should I care about him?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:02 PM on September 28, 2010 [24 favorites]


Color me shocked.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:03 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


On the question-by-question, atheists tended to know more about their own religions than atheists; they just didn't know more about other people's religions. Telling, though, that Christians were significantly in the dark about this question: "According to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, is a public school teacher permitted to read from the Bible as an example of literature, or not?"
posted by outlandishmarxist at 1:04 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


"atheists tended to know" should be "religious people tended to know"
posted by outlandishmarxist at 1:04 PM on September 28, 2010


I was getting 100% til the damned quiz broke.
posted by contessa at 1:05 PM on September 28, 2010


What's to know? 1. Gays, abortions, sex, science and all other religions = bad. 2. Guns, white people, tax cuts for the top 2% of income earners = good. How hard was that?

Uh huh. That must be why 70% of African Americans in California backed Proposition 8, the gay marriage ban. And why the NRA blacklist includes so many diverse national organizations.
posted by zarq at 1:08 PM on September 28, 2010


Tell you guys a story here....

I was a very promising lad up through the 6th grade. I was reading before I was 4, I entered kindergarten early, I picked up on multiplication a couple years before I should have, I was on the honor roll frequently.

Then I hit junior high and for whatever reason everything went to hell.

I was bullied, I was awkward, my grades bottomed out, I was lonely, I got in trouble for things like shoplifting, etc.

So the summer before 10th grade (at the time, the summer between junior high and high school) I decided it was time to reinvent myself and change...for the better.

So, being a midwestern boy, I decided that the answer was to join the ROTC and become a better christian. Surely this was what my life needed to turn it all around. I would read the Bible! Cover to cover.

Whew lemme tell ya. If I hadn't read that ridiculous thing, I might still be some flavor of Christian now. I couldnt believe the nonsense I was reading. No way could people really buy this, I remember thinking.

This isnt to say that atheism was an easy choice or an overnight transformation. I was a hard, arduous process from that point. But it was still that one point, reading the Bible, that set it all in to motion.

I suspect there are lots of similar stories out there.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 1:08 PM on September 28, 2010 [24 favorites]


...is to be pretty ignorant about the foundations of their brand of Christianity.

I agree; I'm more responding to the fact that a lot of people seem to have glanced at the wording of the FPP and assumed it meant that atheists/agnostics know more about Christianity than do Christians, and thus concluded things like 'studying religion enough turns you atheist' and 'Americans don't know about [...] what their religion actually teaches'; it also seems that the snark is directed at conservative & vocal Christians who 'start [...] wars and tell the homeless to work harder,' about whom, yes please, the more snark the better, but these are the people who also tend to fit into the groups that performed the best on the questions specifically about Christianity and the Bible.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:09 PM on September 28, 2010


From the article:

This survey and previous Pew Forum studies have shown that Jews and atheists/agnostics have high levels of educational attainment on average, which partially explains their performance on the religious knowledge survey. However, even after controlling for levels of education and other key demographic traits (race, age, gender and region), significant differences in religious knowledge persist among adherents of various faith traditions.

I was about to say something about this, but if they really did successfully control for that, then this is more interesting to me. But the fact that "world religions" is presented as a single category is kind of strange. Looking at the questions, I get the impression that the kind of things they expect you to know about "world religion" are specifically kinds of knowledge often categorized (in the US at least) as general knowledge or knowledge of current affairs, rather than things that would be included under the category of religious knowledge (i.e., who is Dalai Lama, rather than What are the four noble truths).
posted by goodglovin77 at 1:09 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nobody knows a whole lot - a 62% average should not ensmuggen you, fellow atheists. The results also corrolate with education level. Ever spend time with a Seminary graduate? My small sampling finds these people to be utterly knowledgeable and compassionate and open-minded.
posted by rainbaby at 1:11 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I managed to take it before the entire interweb fell upon it at once. I'd say about 3 of the questions are sort of esoteric (one of them is about the Great Awakening, which, okay, but I'm not sure I'd expect your average Baptist to know the answer to that question, or even an above-average one). The other ones, I'm sort of shocked that people don't know this stuff.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:13 PM on September 28, 2010


zarq: "I've often wondered about the extent to which religions discourage curiosity about other faiths. Are American Christians or Muslims really told that they don't need to know what other religious practices are? I get that our religious landscape has always been filled to some extent with extremists who believe that theirs is the correct religion and all others be damned, but still, it's a little weird."

There doesn't have to be any extremism involved. If you live in a community where you aren't likely to encounter someone different than yourself, there isn't a great deal of impetus to learn much about people who are different. That may seem like an incurious attitude, but that's just how tends to be no matter what part of the world you live in.
posted by charred husk at 1:15 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Telling, though, that Christians were significantly in the dark about this question: "According to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, is a public school teacher permitted to read from the Bible as an example of literature, or not?"

I'm not Christian and had to think about that question hard before answering. School prayer was a no-brainer. A public school teacher certainly can't lead a class in prayer. But I wasn't so sure that same teacher could teach the Bible as literature without that also being thought of as promoting a religion.
posted by zarq at 1:15 PM on September 28, 2010


My first thought was: Minorities are always forced to know more about the majority culture in order to just get by in the majority culture than those who are actually part of the majority, so this makes total sense.

My second thought was: these results don't say what people think they are saying, even if what they are saying is the truth.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:16 PM on September 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


The part that surprised me was that only 55% of Catholics knew the church's teaching on transubstantiation, which doesn't sound that bad until you realize it was a multiple-choice question with two possible answer choices. Also confusing is the 7% of Mormons who don't know what religion Joseph Smith was (???).
posted by phoenixy at 1:16 PM on September 28, 2010


MetaFilter: driven purely by the power of smug atheists patting themselves on the back.

Is this true, though? If anything, glib atheism seems to be smacked down pretty hard on MetaFilter. (Yes, I realize that the first comment is getting a lot of favorites, but yours is also heading into the same territory.)
posted by Dumsnill at 1:17 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


phoenixy: "The part that surprised me was that only 55% of Catholics knew the church's teaching on transubstantiation"

A lot of Catholics don't know jack about their own religion. I've had to remind my mother a number of times that evolution is A-OK with the Vatican.
posted by charred husk at 1:19 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


There doesn't have to be any extremism involved. If you live in a community where you aren't likely to encounter someone different than yourself, there isn't a great deal of impetus to learn much about people who are different. That may seem like an incurious attitude, but that's just how tends to be no matter what part of the world you live in.

I guess. I may just have a great deal of difficulty relating to that attitude.
posted by zarq at 1:21 PM on September 28, 2010


Obviously, studying religion enough turns you atheist.

I know that when people ask me what made me give up on religion, my answer is "Reading the bible and going to a Catholic grade school". I had questions and nothing in the book or the words of the clergy provided sustainable answers, so I looked elsewhere.

Only science seemed to scratch the itch; for me "We don't know yet, but we're still looking" is vastly preferable to "Because god did it and we're satisfied with that."

But I had to learn and reject a lot of different religious dogma before I got to where I did, and that meant reading and exposing myself to many more ideas than I might have had I just stayed within the Catholic church.
posted by quin at 1:22 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


"But I wasn't so sure that same teacher could teach the Bible as literature without that also being thought of as promoting a religion."
I learned about the Bible, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and different kinds of Animism in public school and even in nursery school. I wouldn't expect them to teach this at religion class at my Catholic church but what about school? Is it that they don't teach it or people don't retain the knowledge? Actually one time I worked with a guy who didn't know what a dreidel was and I was blown away.

Speaking of what I expect to be taught at religion class at church:
More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45%) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ. I had to understand this in order to get confirmed but I haven't been to a church or even discussed it since that day. Did I just go to a really special church or something? It's worrying that people are either learning and forgetting everything or not being taught at all.
posted by amethysts at 1:27 PM on September 28, 2010


The US is a predominantly Christian country. Those who are raised Christian have very little exposure to other religions. Those who are raised in another religion have exposure to their own religion and to Christianity, because it is the religion of a majority of the people who live in their country. The idea that non-Christians would know more about various religions than Christians do makes complete sense in that context. Any other result, quite frankly, would make no sense at all.

It would be like saying that people who speak Spanish and live in the US are more likely to be bi-lingual (have knowledge of more than one language) than people in the US who speak English. That is not much of a surprise.

Minorities tend to know more about majorities than majorities tend to know about minorities. This study seems to back up that rather obvious fact.
posted by flarbuse at 1:29 PM on September 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


A lot of Catholics don't know jack about their own religion.

The number of people, Catholic or not, who don't know who was conceived by the Immaculate Conception is pretty astounding. (Hint: Not Jesus.)
posted by kmz at 1:30 PM on September 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


I learned about the Bible, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and different kinds of Animism in public school and even in nursery school.

Me too. Well, in public school from Kindergarten onward. I went to a yeshiva nursery school. Somehow I doubt they taught us a great deal of non-Jewish theology. :)

I wouldn't expect them to teach this at religion class at my Catholic church but what about school? Is it that they don't teach it or people don't retain the knowledge? Actually one time I worked with a guy who didn't know what a dreidel was and I was blown away.

I suspect people just don't remember? I also learned about the Great Awakening in junior high school. I didn't remember the details, but the name Jonathan Edwards certainly jumped out at me. Plus, the time frame didn't work for at least one of the other answers.
posted by zarq at 1:32 PM on September 28, 2010


kmz, wow, I did not know that. Now on to winning religious trivia contests.
posted by GuyZero at 1:32 PM on September 28, 2010


zarq,

The 70% black folks voting for prop 8 myth has been repeatedly debunked by
many, including the Gay and Lesbian Taskforce. (feel free to google more examples, if you'd like)

Ironically, "white people = good" is actually part of the problem of how that 59% black vote happened, though, because several of the Anti-8 groups failed to talk to, include, or work with POC communities while the religious groups were out in force.

Several of my friends who work in QPOC organizations explained how their requests to assist were turned down, including when it came to ads requesting "diverse queer couples" - couples who were POC + POC were turned away because they were busy looking for white + POC couples. (and it's not like California's gay communities didn't have serious racism issues before that- try asking folks about "double carding" to keep people out of gay clubs... it still happens).

Intersectional oppressions are some fucked up shit, and it really didn't help when after 8 passed the folks who ran out in the streets screaming "Niggers!"...

Current institutions hold power in communities unless outreach is made. And turning away outreaching coming from the other side doesn't help either.

This isn't saying that there isn't choice and complicity in those communities, but this is saying that acting as if it exists in a vacuum, or that especially in this case, racism didn't add to helping heterosupremacy AND perpetuating the easy-blame myth minus all that context - is a problem.
posted by yeloson at 1:40 PM on September 28, 2010 [14 favorites]


I suspect there are lots of similar stories out there.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:08 PM on September 28


I'm not one to criticize your personal story, but while its true there is a lot of zany magic in the Bible, there is also a lot of zany magic in the Iliad and the Odyssey, and they are also still read today.

Furthermore, I would submit that the reason many people reject the Bible is not because of the zany magic, but because of instructions like "Love thy neighbor", "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you", and "Turn the other cheek."

Loving thy neighbor. To do that, to be a real Christian, requires philosophically exiting modern capitalist society.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:42 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: driven purely by the power of smug atheists patting themselves on the back.

Fuck, you were just quoting someone. *Blushes*
posted by Dumsnill at 1:43 PM on September 28, 2010


Look, those crackers don't taste anything like meat, so why wouldn't you think they are just symbolic of flesh? Besides, I'm a vegetarian, I can't eat flesh or blood.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:44 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Winston Churchill's son Randolph somehow contrived to remain ignorant of scripture until Evelyn Waugh and a brother officer, in a vain attempt to keep Churchill quiet when they were posted together during the war, bet him he couldn't read the entire Bible in a fortnight: 'Unhappily it has not had the result we hoped. He has never read any of it before and is hideously excited; keeps reading quotations aloud "I say I bet you didn't know this came in the Bible ..." or merely slapping his side & chortling "God, isn't God a shit!"


Reading the bible is fun.
posted by Biru at 1:45 PM on September 28, 2010 [15 favorites]


Those who are raised in another religion have exposure to their own religion and to Christianity, because it is the religion of a majority of the people who live in their country.

The Old and New Testament are holy books in Islam. I would venture to guess that any reasonably educated muslim anywhere knows the stories of the Bible, the story of Jesus as presented in Christianity, etc. But they also believe that Jesus wasn't crucified.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:49 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


as a Practicing Catholic I'm now sure I am was not taught, but brain washed by that religion.
posted by tustinrick at 1:49 PM on September 28, 2010


I thought the Great Awakening was when I finally got my Viagra.
posted by Postroad at 1:51 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Religion is just one part of a person's culture. That's why the biggest predictor of one's religion has nothing to do with it's core belief system and everything to do with what their parents believe.

I don't care of people are or are not religious. To quote Ben Franklin, "it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." What I care about is when they pretend that their personal religious beliefs trump my rights. What I absolutely will not tolerate is the idea that their personal religious beliefs should be codified into Law. Where I live, I can't buy beer on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has paid nothing but money for covering up child rape. While this is an extreme example, I think it's fairly self evident that the religious orders are no better at determining morality than anyone else.

So when that same group literally does not know what they believe, I understand why atheists and agnostics get a little smug. When you bet your soul on a contract you haven't even read, that in itself says more than a little bit about your credulity.

(I read the survey. If that's Biblical literacy, which a good number of people failed at anyway, then I can train a pigeon to become the Pope.)
posted by notion at 1:52 PM on September 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


(I read the survey. If that's Biblical literacy, which a good number of people failed at anyway, then I can train a pigeon to become the Pope.)

I look forward to when the musical version of this hits Broadway.
posted by not that girl at 1:55 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


This isn't saying that there isn't choice and complicity in those communities, but this is saying that acting as if it exists in a vacuum, or that especially in this case, racism didn't add to helping heterosupremacy AND perpetuating the easy-blame myth minus all that context - is a problem.

OK, I'll read up on it.
posted by zarq at 2:02 PM on September 28, 2010


If I wasn't Mormon I most certainly would be agnostic.

The Mormon faith places a lot of emphasis on education and knowing your heritage. Also, a major component of Mormon teaching centers around the origins of the church's organization, including all kinds of Biblical and post-Biblical history leading up to its founding. Not only do Mormon missionaries have to know this, but it gets taught every week in some form or another at Sunday School, and when you're in high school you go to "seminary" every day (about an hour-long gospel study class before public schools start except in Utah where they allow "release time" during the middle of the day for Mormon seminary). And the church even publishes a study guide called "Religions of the World" which is a survey of major religions from East to West (including Jainism, Buddhism, Sikh, Islam, and many others).
posted by jnrussell at 2:05 PM on September 28, 2010


(one of them is about the Great Awakening, which, okay, but I'm not sure I'd expect your average Baptist to know the answer to that question, or even an above-average one).

I didn't see a question about the Great Awakening - did I miss a question, or did you mean the Reformation?

I would have a hard time thinking of the Reformation as esoteric. It's the sine qua non of all Protestant religions, the Protestant creation story, and until not that long ago, it was part of religious education in mainline Protestant Churches. If that is what's referred to, I think it's interesting to reflect that perhaps it isn't taught in evangelical Churches. I started reading around about it but don't have time to go too deeply - interestingly, it looks as though there's a trend for evangelical churches to portray themselves as deriving directly from the early followers of Christ, rather than acknowledging their actual path through the Catholic Church, the Reformation, and the Great Awakenings.
posted by Miko at 2:26 PM on September 28, 2010


As far as teaching religion in school, I personally inform students about, say,the Fall of Man and the fact that Catholics believe (well, except for 45% of the less well-informed Catholics, as it appears) that the wine and wafers become the blood and body of Christ in Communion...in short, I teach a lot of religion in public school.

I teach English, and people used to write a lot about Christian topics. Most of my students are either non-religious or, as this survey indicates, not too cognizant of Christian beliefs. By the way, my school district, and many other public schools, have a class called The Bible as/in Literature. So teachers can quote from the Bible all they want. They just can't preach or lead the class in prayer.
Even leaving a Bible on your desk can be problematic.
posted by kozad at 2:28 PM on September 28, 2010


I didn't see a question about the Great Awakening - did I miss a question, or did you mean the Reformation?

There was a Great Awakening question at the very end. If you know about the Great Awakening it wasn't very hard but it's probably the most difficult question of the bunch.
posted by kmz at 2:42 PM on September 28, 2010


IIRC it was the one with the lowest percentage of correct answers, when I saw it.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:47 PM on September 28, 2010


Calling yourself a Catholic and not knowing about transubstantiation is like saying you're a Yankees fan and not knowing who Derek Jeter is.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:47 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


93%. Got the last one wrong. Meh.
posted by Splunge at 2:48 PM on September 28, 2010


I'm not one to criticize your personal story, but while its true there is a lot of zany magic in the Bible, there is also a lot of zany magic in the Iliad and the Odyssey, and they are also still read today.

False equivalence. The Iliad and Odyssey aren't used as the putative basis for mass political and social movements, they are not held to be literally true by large swathes of the populace, and you won't get funny looks at most social gatherings if you mention you don't believe in one of the Pantheon.

Furthermore, I would submit that the reason many people reject the Bible is not because of the zany magic, but because of instructions like "Love thy neighbor", "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you", and "Turn the other cheek."

"Reject the Bible?" I've met many atheists and agnostics who profess admiration for the compassionate parts of what Jesus said in that book, but were turned off enough by the rest of it to "reject the Bible." I have never met a single nonreligious person who came to that life stance because they thought the basic and transcultural messages of compassion and forbearance were shit. And pointing out all the people who proclaim their Jesusosity 24/7 while not behaving according to what the Nazz said is a trivial exercise due to its everyday occurrence.

On the other hand, "zany magic" is a toothsome phrase and I'm gonna steal it :p
posted by jtron at 2:50 PM on September 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Can't remember the context, but my "Assembly of God" neighbor was talking to me about something and mentioned Catholics ... then said "Do they even believe in Jesus?"

I was tempted to give her a short, 3-sentence history of Christianity, but then thought "Why bother?"
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:58 PM on September 28, 2010


The Old and New Testament are holy books in Islam.

No, not from the Muslims I've talked to. They both are considered to have truth in them, but they're imperfect, written by Man books while the Koran is the divine reflection of the Heavenly Koran in Paradise. Yes, many Muslims know about both scriptures of Judaism and Christianity, but not many have read them unless they came from that religion or rather curious/scholarly people. They would know what's wrong with the Bible (Jesus wasn't crucified, Jesus never said he was the Son of God, the term "Christian" wasn't self-imposed, Paul modified Jesus's message greatly), but that's where more Muslim's knowledge would stop on the matter.

Of course Muslims in America would have a totally different experience due to living in a dominant Christian country.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 3:00 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mormons learn tons and tons about non-Mormon religions in preparation for going forth on their mandatory mission to spread Mormonism.

Not so much, in my experience. I suspect the process of being a Mormon missionary is what's rather educational -- regularly ending up in conversations about religious beliefs with people means your exposure to other religions is at least as wide as what's represented in the population where you're working. But unless things have changed since I last checked in (and I know that things do indeed change over the years, so I suppose this is possible), the actual prep is pretty thin on world religion, and instead focuses on foreign language skills, scripture, outlines of Mormon history/theology, and interpersonal skills.

And while I don't have any exact figures at hand, I don't think the percentage of Mormons who actually go on missions isn't particularly high (around 1/3 of the men, probably closer to 5-10% of women).

So I'd guess there are larger factors in Mormon religious education and culture. To some extent (and not unlike many Christian sects), Mormonism defines itself in contrast to a Christian world it sees as historically apostate and inherently incomplete (if perhaps somewhat more enlightened post-reformation). Believing this means knowing at least something about the history of Christianity if for no other reason than the sake of the contrast. Then there's the conventional sunday school and "seminary" (supplementary religious education usually done during high school), and a general emphasis on education. Finally, as exclusivist as Mormonism can be in some regards, there's broad streak of universalism that manifests itself in a number of ways, one of which is the idea that religious leaders in all kinds of people and places have been inspired with some degree of truth (in fact, though it's been a while, I've encountered some Mormons and even a bit of Mormon scholarship exploring the idea that Mohammed was a genuine prophet). It's all this stuff which I suspect adds up to any above-average level of general religious literacy.
posted by weston at 3:05 PM on September 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Seconding jtron, here.

I was brought up surrounded by a few different variations on Christianity. End the end I rejected them all for the words of Christ without the dogmatic attachment of pagan supernaturalism.

The triumph of peace through love and willful suffering is the most radical philosophical idea ever presented. The few people who have lived it have changed the world for the better. It's too bad it's been perverted beyond recognition, because if America were a Christian nation, it would certainly be a much better one.
posted by notion at 3:15 PM on September 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


The religious right isn't and compassionate conservatives aren't.
posted by real_paris at 3:18 PM on September 28, 2010


I prefer the mangled French gospel of David:

"He call his self Jesus and then he be die one day on two...morsels of...lumber."

"He die one day and then he go above of my head to live with your father."

"He weared of himself the long hair and after he die, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples."

"He nice, the Jesus."

"He make the good things, and on the Easter we be sad because somebody makes him dead today."
posted by everichon at 3:20 PM on September 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


hahaha, "He nice, the Jesus." That should be on the cover of all bibles.
posted by real_paris at 3:21 PM on September 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Sadly I'm not too surprised by the results. However in order to go thru confirmation in my Methodist Church we were required to learn about other sects and religions including attending services and speaking to leaders in them.
Yes it was rather limited; Catholicism, Baptist, Judaism and Islam. That said however I was head of my confirmation class, and I really don't think many of the others who were confirmed along side me took nearly as much from this.
posted by MrBobaFett at 3:26 PM on September 28, 2010


It's back up and I scored 100% but the last one was a complete guess. Great Awakening? That was new to me.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:26 PM on September 28, 2010


Since we're here: The Wyclif version of the Bible is fun.

And Jhesus seide to hem, Come ye aftir me; Y schal make you to be maad fisscheris of men.
posted by everichon at 3:30 PM on September 28, 2010


Question 8 is really interesting to me. "Which Bible figure is most closely associated with remaining obedient to God despite suffering? Job; Elijah; Moses; Abraham".

There's a fairly conventional literary answer, of course, but it wouldn't be hard to interpret any of those four figures as being closely aligned with obedience despite suffering. I would be very interested to see the breakdown of answers by group, not just percentage of correct answers by group. For example, for only 19% of Hispanic Catholics to answer "correctly" suggests that in that community, one of the other figures is emphasized more as a suffering obedient. If that's the case, this question doesn't really expose basic education so much as interpretive emphasis, and I'm not sure it falls within the bounds of the other questions, which do have mostly unambiguous correct and incorrect answers.

I'm also interested to see that atheist/agnostic scored by far the best on the Buddhism/Hinduism questions, generally unsurprised to see that surveyed Jews are more familiar with Ramadan than any other group, and assume the last question was just designed to throw off 100%s. (I Monty Hall-ed it and won, thanks game show math.)
posted by Errant at 3:46 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The number of people, Catholic or not, who don't know who was conceived by the Immaculate Conception is pretty astounding. (Hint: Not Jesus.)

Just a note: not all Christian churches believe in Immaculate Conception. Similarly, the Eucharist is not the literal consumption of Christ's blood and body for all Christian churches.

My own upbringing in Judaism may not have been the norm -- I was encouraged to know as much as possible about other the traditions, stories, practices and histories of other religions. I was also taught that religious faith should never be a stagnant thing -- we learn and develop both spiritually and intellectually by investigating and asking questions. Although I'd like to think it's the prevailing attitude among Jews, perhaps it isn't?

A Jewish friend of mine mentioned this, that the Jewish faith was something that almost demanded inquiry, at least as I remember. Raised as a Protestant of various shades, there was no questioning of the lessons, only embracing that God was good, which was fine by me (life was easy for the little light thief). I wasn't inquisitive until I looked at at the Bible, contradictions make for a messy story that requires additional verbage added to make sense of the whole thing. See, Judas hung himself, then, get this, the rope broke. Wait, or maybe his body began to decay, and um, his corpse fell and split open. If you don't understand, God isn't talking to you now, it's not that the stories were written after the fact by people who weren't there. Or, the Bible doesn't withstand much scrutiny. Take it for the broader lessons, and don't get hung up on the details.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:02 PM on September 28, 2010


large numbers of Americans are uninformed about the tenets, practices, history and leading figures of EVERYTHING.

and yes, as a matter of fact, Jesus was a security officer.
posted by philip-random at 4:28 PM on September 28, 2010


A Jewish friend of mine mentioned this, that the Jewish faith was something that almost demanded inquiry, at least as I remember.

I should probably mention that an openness to inquiry doesn't necessarily translate being open to change or new ideas. Judaism also isn't free of the "because G-d said so" mindset. So it's okay to question why certain acts are demanded of you as a Jew, but going against those injunctions may not be acceptable.

Conservative and Reform Judaism are far more open to change than Orthodox. The former movements have female rabbis, for example. The Orthodox don't.
posted by zarq at 4:34 PM on September 28, 2010


Question 14 of 15: Which of these religions aims at nirvana, the state of being free from suffering?

If you pick "Hinduism", it counts as an incorrect answer. Jesus Christ, Pew, fact-check the answers to your survey, would you?
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 4:36 PM on September 28, 2010


"Question 14 of 15: Which of these religions aims at nirvana, the state of being free from suffering?"

If you pick "Hinduism", it counts as an incorrect answer. Jesus Christ, Pew, fact-check the answers to your survey, would you?


The concept in Hinduism is moksha. The question is accurate, though, yes, a little fiddly.
posted by jedicus at 4:42 PM on September 28, 2010


Show me the 150-question test, that'll separate out us atheists from all the pretenders.
posted by Twang at 5:05 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Show me the elaborate letter code with which I can demonstrate my atheist special-snowflake-ness.
posted by box at 5:08 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


jedicus> The concept in Hinduism is moksha.

The concept of Nirvana (and the use of the word) also exists in Hinduism. Sorry, it's simply incorrect to state that "Hinduism" is an incorrect answer to Pew's question. "Buddhism" might be a correct answer to "Which of these religions would be most likely to use the specific word nirvana to define the state of being free from suffering?". For that question, "Buddhism" might win by a nose over "Hinduism" as the correct answer.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 5:08 PM on September 28, 2010


As a Hindu, the question didn't really bother me. In a generalist 15-question survey, with a single answer from multiple choices which include "Hinduism" and "Buddhism", "Buddhism" is usually going to be the "right" answer, although I agree that there's room for interpretation there. The term "nirvana" is much more commonly associated with Buddhism though, and there's some reason to believe that its use as a term arises with the introduction of Buddhist thought.

I'd be much more inclined to criticize the question on its use of the word "aim", as both Hinduism and Buddhism identify the release of goals and desires as essential to moksa/nirvana, so to "aim" for it is to miss it. But it's a 15-question survey, not a religious primer, so whatever.
posted by Errant at 5:26 PM on September 28, 2010


I didn't remember the details, but the name Jonathan Edwards certainly jumped out at me.

zarq, how can you forget
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes as the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince: and yet 'tis nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment; 'tis to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep: and there is no other reason to be given why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up; there is no other reason to be given why you han't gone to hell since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship: yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you don't this very moment drop down into hell.
posted by orthogonality at 5:34 PM on September 28, 2010


To quote Ben Franklin, "it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

Thomas Jefferson, not Franklin, in Query XVII of Notes on the State of Virginia.
posted by orthogonality at 5:37 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Even taken in the very long view, these results don't look particularly shocking. Philip Benedict found members of the Reformed Churches griping about how nobody understood their religion's basic principles...in the seventeenth century. Heck, I've just spent the past few years reading a metric ton of Victorian Protestants (CofE and otherwise) with the identical complaint (we've all forgotten the Reformation! WE'RE DOOMED!). For many believers, most of these questions have nothing to do with day-to-day religious practice.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:38 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


People know little about the basis of their own beliefs, and even less about those of others. The less committed they are to an exclusivist ideology, the better people are informed about what other people believe. Shocked!
posted by bartleby at 5:42 PM on September 28, 2010


Errant> As a Hindu, the question didn't really bother me. In a generalist 15-question survey, with a single answer from multiple choices which include "Hinduism" and "Buddhism", "Buddhism" is usually going to be the "right" answer, although I agree that there's room for interpretation there. The term "nirvana" is much more commonly associated with Buddhism though, and there's some reason to believe that its use as a term arises with the introduction of Buddhist thought.

I'd be much more inclined to criticize the question on its use of the word "aim", as both Hinduism and Buddhism identify the release of goals and desires as essential to moksa/nirvana, so to "aim" for it is to miss it. But it's a 15-question survey, not a religious primer, so whatever.


Look, I don't mean to be a pedant here ... wait, yes I do. Okay, I do agree that: 1) nirvana is more strongly associated with Buddhism and 2) use of the word in Hinduism is a case of back-borrowing from Buddhism. But if you're going to have a 30-question multiple-choice quiz, and the differences in scores between different religious adherents is on the order of 4 or 5 correct answers (unless you break it down by race, which is kind of weird), you want to have religious authorities and experts check the answers to avoid confusion. And if you're going to highlight the lack of knowledge of the average American when it comes to basic doctrinal questions, you should avoid embarrassment by making sure that you've phrased the questions carefully.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 5:43 PM on September 28, 2010


Actually, I wonder if the 7% of Mormons who didn't correctly identify Joseph Smith as Mormon were similarly being stickers. I am not a Mormon, but I can imagine some of them viewing the question in the same light as "Was Jesus Christ a Christian?" or "Was Muhammed a Muslim?" For believers, these might be considered almost a paradox of sorts, and I can believe that 7% of Mormons would choose "Other" or "Refused".

Or maybe they were just dumb. It's a big country, with plenty of ignorant people in it.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 5:57 PM on September 28, 2010


Oh, that should be "sticklers" up there.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 5:58 PM on September 28, 2010


Yeah, I'm pretty sure that the 11% of us who got the Jonathan Edwards question right were English majors (practicing, recovering, or closeted).
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:59 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm neither Christian nor Atheist and I got all but the Great Awakening correct! What do I win? Nirvana?
posted by sonika at 6:07 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, the highest scorers on the test were Jews, not atheists. If anyone should be ensmuggened, it's our Hebrew bretheren and sisteren.

(Buddhists weren't even rated. But whatever, it's all the same to us.)
posted by sonika at 6:10 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't mean to be a pedant here

Hey, no worries, pedantry makes the blue go round.

But if you're going to have a 30-question multiple-choice quiz, and the differences in scores between different religious adherents is on the order of 4 or 5 correct answers (unless you break it down by race, which is kind of weird), you want to have religious authorities and experts check the answers to avoid confusion.

That was my point with regard to question 8 in the online quiz. I have studied the Bible primarily as a literary document and so I have the received conventional wisdom that the Book of Job is a metaphor for obedience despite suffering, as the question puts it. It doesn't seem altogether unlikely, though, that different faiths and faith variants view other Biblical stories through that lens with greater emphasis. Certainly Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac ought to count as an example of obedience despite suffering; if I then answer "Abraham" to that question, am I wrong? The question is "which figure is more closely associated"; more closely according to whom, through what lens?

So, while I didn't have as much of a problem with the nirvana question, I agree that placing Hinduism and Buddhism side-by-side in the multiple choice is not a great idea clarity-wise, and saying that you're "wrong" for answering Hinduism is kind of stupid. Myself, I saw that and chuckled, because it is unnecessarily unclear. If they'd asked between Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shintoism, there wouldn't be a problem.
posted by Errant at 6:33 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


15/15, but I guessed on the last question.

Also, major loophole: the only people tested were either atheist/agnostic, Jewish or some form of Christian. What about all those other religions they asked about? Couldn't they survey Hindus, Muslims, etc?
posted by alona at 6:41 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I find the transubstantiation thing kind of funny in a dark way. In terms of beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, it's pretty important; you could even say it's a defining belief. People were killed over this shit. If you aren't aware of transubstantiation, leaving aside whether you believe in it or not, and you take communion at a Catholic church, then... Well I honestly don't know what to say here. I should ask a few priests what their reaction generally is when they run into this. If ignorance of the doctrine is this widespread priests probably encounter it fairly regularly. I don't imagine they'd kick you out anymore, though, numbers being what they are.

Disappointed you mentioned the Immaculate Conception, kmz. I'm trying to keep that information suppressed. It's often my go-to question when I want to stump a Catholic.
posted by ODiV at 6:42 PM on September 28, 2010


That was my point with regard to question 8 in the online quiz.

The thing about Job, though, is that God saw his unwavering devotion and tried to break it by bringing unto him great suffering, and Job's devotion did not flicker, it actually grew.
With Abraham, he "remained obedient", but not "despite suffering" because he did not suffer, he was asked to sacrifice his son but then let off the hook. In fact, Abraham had it pretty good as far as God was concerned.
posted by alona at 6:46 PM on September 28, 2010


So, while I didn't have as much of a problem with the nirvana question, I agree that placing Hinduism and Buddhism side-by-side in the multiple choice is not a great idea clarity-wise, and saying that you're "wrong" for answering Hinduism is kind of stupid. Myself, I saw that and chuckled, because it is unnecessarily unclear. If they'd asked between Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shintoism, there wouldn't be a problem.

Fair enough.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 7:01 PM on September 28, 2010


I couldn't take the quiz because the site is bogged down, but now that I've read this thread I can't take the quiz because I've gleaned enough that it would feel like cheating. And they say atheists have no morals..
posted by ambulocetus at 7:26 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gawd, I ended up in a debate with some fucking Catholic middle schooler today (and went out of my way not to be a dick), but the sort of horseshit that kids get taught in Catholic school just boggles my mind. The fucking chauvinism and incuriosity toward the idea of faith! And he just could not get his head around the fact that other people have other beliefs than he does. It was all, "Well, the Catholics were created by Jesus." Yeah, and they've played telephone ever since!

Had his nose right up Ratzinger's ass too, and right before I was going to start riffing on the Nazi thing (or God forbid, the pedophelia), I thought, I just don't want to make a middle-schooler cry today. I kind of hope that this is his first step towards a more enlightened faith (or no faith at all), but he probably went home and told his mother about how he beat the godless homo today by using his catechisms.
posted by klangklangston at 8:16 PM on September 28, 2010


Metafilter: God in the hands of angry sinners
posted by jtron at 8:27 PM on September 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


zarq, how can you forget

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes as the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.


Sorry, I should have said, "the name Jonathan Edwards jumped out at me, smelling of sulfur and brimstone, while wielding a scythe in one hand and a flaming pitchfork in the other."

Whoa. I'll give him this, he certainly knew how to provoke horror and fear in an audience.
posted by zarq at 9:12 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whew lemme tell ya. If I hadn't read that ridiculous thing, I might still be some flavor of Christian now. I couldn't believe the nonsense I was reading. No way could people really buy this, I remember thinking.

This isnt to say that atheism was an easy choice or an overnight transformation. I was a hard, arduous process from that point. But it was still that one point, reading the Bible, that set it all in to motion.

I suspect there are lots of similar stories out there.


Every time I go to a hotel, I plant a copy of the King James Version Bible in the drawer of the nightstand as a deliberate conciousness-raising exercise. Not every seed falls on fertile ground, but still, we atheists build our ranks, one by one.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:12 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


ensmuggened atheist reporting for duty :)
posted by liza at 9:38 PM on September 28, 2010


Show me the 150-question test, that'll separate out us atheists from all the pretenders.

No.
No.
No.
No.
Plate of beans.
No.
No.
No.
posted by ryoshu at 11:37 PM on September 28, 2010


As the story is told, Jonathan Edwards would give sermons as long as Castro's speeches, and, although they were full of hellfire and brimstone - with just a bit of mercy thrown in at the end - he read them in a mild, almost monotonous tone of voice. Nothing like today's Pentacostal ministers! Yet, still, he had people moaning and sobbing in the congregation.

Suffering is part of the woof and warp of all religions.
posted by kozad at 5:11 AM on September 29, 2010


Suffering is part of the woof and warp of all religions.

But I thought life as we know it ultimately leads to suffering...
posted by atbash at 10:42 AM on September 29, 2010


With Abraham, he "remained obedient", but not "despite suffering" because he did not suffer, he was asked to sacrifice his son but then let off the hook.

I have to admit to you that the notion that holding a knife over your infant son because your God commanded it does not imply suffering is a little strange to me, but I take your point that as a symbol of Abraham's devotion it's possible he didn't suffer. I would have, though, and I guess that's my point: it seems much more intuitive that 81% of Hispanic Catholics identify some other figure as an obedient sufferer than that they're simply unaware of Job. Now, I don't know whether my intuition is correct, but that's why I'd like to have the breakdown by answers, because we don't currently know if that 81% mostly went one single other way or not.

In fact, Abraham had it pretty good as far as God was concerned.

You ain't kidding.
posted by Errant at 11:23 AM on September 29, 2010


I would have, though, and I guess that's my point: it seems much more intuitive that 81% of Hispanic Catholics identify some other figure as an obedient sufferer than that they're simply unaware of Job.

I guess the idiom "patience of Job" doesn't show up in Spanish, then?
posted by zarq at 12:01 PM on September 29, 2010


Also, the highest scorers on the test were Jews, not atheists.

How so? From the link: "Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively."

Granted, among my Hebraic homies, "Jewish" and "Atheist/Agnostic" are as good as interchangeable, but I think the "unaffiliated" are still ahead of everyone else, unless I'm missing something.
posted by Amanojaku at 2:40 PM on September 29, 2010


I do have to wonder (as, I think, The Panda's Thumb pointed out) what would happen to the atheist/agnostic average if the 'Nothing in particular' category was properly allocated.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:45 PM on September 29, 2010


Amanojaku: When I did the breakdown after taking the quiz, Jews showed higher overall scores than any other group - atheists came in second place. I'm not sure where you're seeing those particular stats as the quiz I saw didn't even have 20 questions to get correct in the first place.
posted by sonika at 2:55 PM on September 29, 2010


Ah, I think I've got it -- I quoted the breakdown of the data from the survey (which was 32 questions long), while you were looking at the accumulated data displayed after you take the quiz, which is 16 questions long (and not actually part of the study). Confusing.
posted by Amanojaku at 6:46 PM on September 29, 2010


These things are always depressing to me. For some reason you could interview people coming out of church and some astonishing amount probably wouldn't be able to recite basic tenets of their faith (3 person of the trinity, 5 pillars, etc) and it baffles me. I hope in my heart that some day I could be polled on these things in order to raise the mean score, but I'll likely blow it on some sport trivia that makes someone else depressed.
posted by dgran at 1:08 PM on October 4, 2010


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