Political pollsters often ask respondents how important they consider religion because the pollsters know the degree of a person’s religiosity usually correlates with certain political beliefs.

I’m not sure how I’d answer the question. I don’t attend religious services or follow religious practices, and I’m agnostic about whether a higher power exists, which suggest my answer should be “not important at all.” But I’m fascinated by religion. Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning convinced me that context and meaning are essential to human existence — and most people express their need for context and meaning through religion. So I could just as plausibly answer “very important.”

In February, the Pew Research Center conducted a poll of nearly 11,000 Americans to determine how much they know about religion. Pew asked 32 factual questions. You can take a 15-question version of the poll yourself (just click on “Next” after going to the link).

Some questions are meant to be easy, some moderately difficult, and some hard. Pew found the average respondent got less than half the questions right.

I got 14 out of 15. Bam! I really am fascinated by religion.

The question I missed was, “Which traditionally teaches that salvation comes through faith alone?” The possible answers were Protestantism, Catholicism, both, or neither. I couldn’t recall for certain, but was pretty sure the answer was both, so I went with that.

The correct answer is Protestantism only.

Apparently, Catholic doctrine holds that faith plays a primary role in salvation, but not an exclusive one; good works matter too. The disparity seems to stem from differing translations of Romans 3:28. The Catholic version is, “A man is justified [i.e. saved] by faith without the deeds of the law.” But Martin Luther translated the verse as, “A man is justified by faith alone without the deeds of the law,” and all of Protestantdom followed.

To me the question is super-important, because it gets to the heart of Christianity’s credibility. If at the end of their lives Hitler or Stalin or Mao sincerely accepted Jesus Christ as their lord and savior, did that mean they went to heaven, whereas good human beings — including millions of those tyrants’ victims — who didn’t accept Jesus as their lord and savior went to eternal damnation? If so, that doesn’t work for me. It means living a moral life doesn’t matter. And though the Catholics have a better answer because it allows for considerations beyond faith, it’s still not a satisfying one.

Plus that one passage in Romans seems like a ridiculous basis for such a crucial principle, given that the context (the “law” in question) is Jewish circumcision! But I guess bigger doctrinal disputes have turned on even flimsier scriptural authorities.

On the lighter side, it is a hoot to learn that the reason I got the answer wrong stems from the (understandable) reluctance of a few dozen Italian men to let someone slice their privates.

If you take the quiz, let me know how you did! And if you read Frankl’s book and have thoughts on it, I’d appreciate hearing about that too.

Viktor Frankl twenty years after the end of World War II. (Source: Wiki Commons.)

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.

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