Religious Literacy 101

While this isn’t really new news, the Kansas City Star has recently published an excerpt from Stephen Prothero’s new book on religious literacy, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — and Doesn’t (HarperSanFrancisco, 2007; Buy from or

The book rightly laments the lack of religious literacy of most Americans. I don’t think that Canadians would fare much better.

Here’s the test; take it and see how you do!

  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 religion 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. Hint: Some characters may be matched with more than one story or vice versa:
Adam and Eve
Binding of Isaac
Garden of Eden
Parting of the Red Sea
Road to Damascus
Garden of Gethsemane
Olive branch

Here are answers in amazing selecto-vision (select the text with your cursor and you will be able to see the answers)

  1. 1. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (1 point each)
  2. 2. They include the Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads, Puranas, Mahabharata, Bhagavad-Gita, Ramayana, Yoga Sutras, Laws of Manu and the Kama Sutra. (1 point)
  3. 3. Qur’an (1 point)
  4. 4. Bethlehem (1 point)
  5. 5. The Good Samaritan (1 point)
  6. 6. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (1 point each)
  7. 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. 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. 9. Yes, in the Beatitudes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3). (2 points)
  10. 10. The Protestant, Catholic and Jewish versions of the Ten Commandments differ. Give yourself credit for any 10 of the following 12 — each of which appears in at least one of those three versions. (10 points)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 your 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. 11. Life is suffering. Suffering has an origin. Suffering can be overcome (nirvana). The path to overcoming suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path. (4 points)
  12. 12. Baptism; Eucharist/Mass/Holy Communion; Reconciliation/Confessionenance; Confirmation; Marriage; Holy Orders; Anointing of the Sick/Last Rites (7 points)
  13. 13. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.â€? The words before the comma are referred to as the establishment clause; the words that follow constitute the free exercise clause. (1 point each)
  14. 14. Ramadan is a Muslim holiday characterized by a month of fasting. (2 points)
  15. 15. 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 and Garden of Gethsemane); Abraham (Binding of Isaac); Serpent (Garden of Eden) (7 points)

So, how did you do? To figure out your score, add your total points, then multiply by 2 to get your score on a standard 100-point scale.

  • 90 points or higher – Hallelujah. You know your 4 R’s!
  • 80-89 – Brush up on your 4 R’s, you’re ready for cocktail conversation.
  • 70-79 -You’re in intellectual purgatory.
  • 60-70 – Make flashcards of the dictionary at the back of Prothero’s book.
  • Below 60 points – Don’t do anything before reading this book.

While I wouldn’t be surprised about people’s lack of knowledge of some of the eastern religions, the sad reality is that many/most people who identify themselves as Christians don’t actually know much about the Bible or the differences between denominations, among other things.

This entry was posted in Bible, Popular Culture, Religious Literacy. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Religious Literacy 101

  1. David Lang says:


    There’s one flaw in this test. Question 9 reads:

    “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.� Does this appear in the Bible? If so, where?

    The answer says that this sentence is in the Bible, but it’s not. Matthew 5:3 actually reads “kingdom of heaven.”

    Do I score extra for knowing that?

  2. tim bulkeley says:

    I was struck by/stuck on unlucky 13. I couldn’t think of any religion that recognised “amendments” to it’s Holy Book.

  3. OK, David you should get a bonus point for recognizing the problem with question #9.

    And, Tim, everyone who isn’t a citizen of the United States should get at least two bonus points!

  4. tim bulkeley says:

    Ah, of course, the religion of the Dark Side!

  5. Matt Barker says:

    I enjoyed the quiz… although I may only be ready for cocktail conversation. I hope that doesn’t say anything bad about Taylor… I should have taken that class on the American Constitution. It would have come in handy.

    Our society could really benefit from some religious literacy methinks. I had friends in high school who were practicing Muslims and participated fully in Ramadan. They played football with me, but wouldn’t drink any water or put anything in their mouths from sunup until sundown (and some people think giving up chocolate for Lent is something special). Knowing the background and practices of other religions allows you to engage others in conversations and should give you a respect of different views. I think a move from “tolerance” to respect would be a good thing.

Comments are closed.