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Kristof: Does our knowledge match our faith?

With Easter and Passover freshly behind us, let's test your knowledge of the Bible. How many mistakes can you find:

<i>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 12 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.</i>

So how many errors did you spot? There are about 20 mistakes, which I've listed at the end of this column, and they reflect the general muddling in our society about religious knowledge.

Secular Americans are largely ignorant about religion, but, in surveys, religious Americans turn out to be scarcely more knowledgeable.

"Americans are both deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion," Stephen Prothero noted in his book, "Religious Literacy." "Atheists may be as rare in America as Jesus-loving politicians are in Europe, but here faith is almost entirely devoid of content. One of the most religious countries on earth is also a nation of religious illiterates."

Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they believe that the Bible holds the answer to all or most of life's basic questions. Yet only one-third know that Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and 10 percent think that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife.

Many Americans know even less about other faiths, from Islam to Hinduism. Several days after 9/11, a vigilante shot and killed an Indian-American Sikh because of the assumption that a turban must mean a Muslim: Ignorance and murderous bigotry joined in one.


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