Is Religious Ignorance Rational?

The latest Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life poll finds that:

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. 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. Roughly four-in-ten Jews (43%) do not recognize that Maimonides, one of the most venerated rabbis in history, was Jewish.

By contrast, atheists and agnostics are among Pew’s most knowledgeable groups!

Bryan Caplan at Econlog calls this “rational ignorance,” meaning that the cost of learning about other people’s religions and maybe even learning more about your own religion is greater than the expected benefits.  Do you agree?

Comments (7)

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  1. Bruce says:

    Is it possible that the atheists and the agnostics are just smarter. Of course as Bryan notes, these results should have been adjusted for education differences.

  2. Devon Herrick says:

    Religion has become more associated with culture than a personal faith. Moreover, many people who attend church regularly probably do so for social reasons.

  3. Tom says:

    Knowledgable agnostics. What a world.

  4. Ken says:

    A rationally ignorant person who is also religious would want to find out the minimum information necessary to achieve his religous goal (e.g., getting into Heaven), and beyond that point additional knowledge would seem to be superfluous, unless it satisfies idle curiosity.

  5. Vicki says:

    The most interesting part of all this is that people are so uninformed. You would think that schooling and curiosity alone would produce a more informed public.

  6. Aaron says:

    People are just generally not informed. To be a atheist is very similar at being a Calvinist. It requires study and looking into the subject. I would not say atheists are smarter because you are isolating your only criteria of intelligence just to religion.A lot of the members of AMA are religious and committed to their faith… I would consider those members rather intelligent. I have seen studies that the more educated you get the more committed you are to your religious practice. In Academia, it is opposite trend. The longer you are in academia, the less religious you are…. I dont consider academia a standard the US should live by….

  7. Domenic says:

    Not surprised. I don’t think one would find much difference between Catholics and members of society at large in dealing with their own problems and issues.
    Saint Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises begins focusing on serious sin. No matter how how we follow Christ, we all have deep levels of serious sins (or call them psychological problems etc) within us. We are all human.