A news report that challenges conventional wisdom, especially one about a personal/cultural topic like religion, is often rich fodder for online conversation. This was the case last week as a survey showing that atheists and agnostics were more knowledgeable about religion than followers of major faiths drew significant attention.
For the week of September 27 to October 1, almost a quarter (23%) of the news links on blogs were to a Los Angeles Times story about the survey, making it the No. 1 subject, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
The survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that non-believers were able to answer more questions about religion correctly than believers, even when one controlled for educational background. It also showed that people were also ill-informed on some of the questions related to their own religion. A majority of Protestants, for example, were unable to identify Martin Luther as the primary figure behind the Protestant Reformation. (The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Project for Excellence in Journalism are both are part of the Pew Research Center.)
While news stories about the survey were popular online, part of the appeal of the subject was a series of interactive surveys on the Web. On the Pew Forum website, visitors could take a shortened version of the quiz to compare their own knowledge to that of the general public. In the first week it was posted, the quiz was taken more than a million times. In addition, both CNN.com and NYTimes.com also offered versions of the quiz.
Bloggers who discussed the results generally fell into two camps. One group, constituting a majority of bloggers, considered themselves atheists or agnostics and welcomed the results. The other, much smaller, group consisted of people of faith who either saw the results as a wake-up call, or had problems with the notion of faith being tied to knowledge rather than beliefs. In both cases, many bloggers made personal connections to the news as they described their own religious journeys.
Read the full report, Bloggers React to a Religion Quiz on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.