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Jewish Journal

Hooray for Jews, Mormons and Atheists

by Mark Paredes

September 29, 2010 | 12:54 pm

“And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom. Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand; Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.” – Doctrine and Covenants 88:77-79

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During a meeting that I attended at one of the leading Orthodox synagogues in Los Angeles, a rabbi educator stood up and declared that Orthodox Judaism was the only religion that required its members to become scholars of its own doctrine. According to him, all other religions trained a select group of ministers in their theology, while average members in the pews had no obligation to read their holy books or study their doctrines. Even other Jewish movements were lax in teaching their followers the principles of Jewish theology and practice. I approached him after the meeting and informed him that Mormons had a lay (not professional) clergy and five books of scripture to master, which of necessity required them to become scholars of their own doctrine. He didn’t seem too impressed, and I quickly changed the subject.

I’d love to track that rabbi down today and share with him the results of the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey released this week by the prestigious Pew Forum. More than 3,400 respondents answered 32 questions on the Bible, Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, world religions, religion in public life, and atheism and agnosticism. Atheists and agnostics had the highest average total score (20.9 questions), followed by Jews (20.5) and Mormons (20.3). White Evangelicals (noted Mormon-bashers) were a distant fourth (17.6).

The breakdown of the scores understandably led to a lot of backslapping in the Mormon blogosphere. Mormons knew more about both testaments of the Bible than any other religious group. They also scored highest in knowledge of Christianity, and were second only to Jews in knowledge of Judaism. Mormons knew more about Mormonism than others polled (sigh of relief), followed by atheists/agnostics and Jews. Only Jews and atheists/agnostics scored higher in knowledge about world religions and general knowledge questions. To summarize: Jews, atheists and agnostics have a greater general knowledge about religion, while Mormons are more familiar with the Bible and Christianity than members of other faiths. Mormons also know more about Judaism than members of any non-Jewish faith group. This is very encouraging to those of us who are actively promoting LDS-Jewish ties.

The emphasis that both of our communities place on education and study is evident in the survey’s results. Jews are known worldwide for their academic accomplishments, and have established many first-class institutions of higher learning in the U.S. and Israel. Every week Jews study the Torah portion in their synagogues, and many Jewish communities run Jewish schools for their children. In this country, the LDS Church currently operates three universities (BYU, BYU Hawaii, BYU Idaho) and a business college in Salt Lake City. In addition, Southern Virginia University, while not officially sponsored by the Church, actively promotes an LDS environment on campus. Speaking of campuses, it is rare if not impossible to find a major college or university without both a Hillel chapter and LDS Institute program. Most Mormon teens begin college after having studied the scriptures every weekday before school for four years, in addition to the hour they spent in Sunday School each Sunday.

Given that we have multiple books of scripture to master, I’m very proud of the Mormons’ performance on the Pew survey. That said, there is clearly room for improvement: we need to learn more about non-Jewish/ non-Christian world religions. This may be easier to do in large cities like Los Angeles, where Buddhist and Hindu temples are a short drive away, than in other parts of the country. Nevertheless, followers of a religion that believes “the glory of God is intelligence” and that requires its members to study all things (see scriptural quote above) need to find a way to learn more about their brothers and sisters of all faiths – and none.         

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Mark Paredes is a Mormon Bishop and a member of the Jewish Relations Committee of the LDS Church’s Southern California Public Affairs Council. He has worked for the ZOA, the...

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