(RNS) The United Kingdom gives asylum to those who are fleeing religious persecution, including many who are persecuted because they converted to Christianity.
This poses a problem: How should the U.K. weed out those who are genuinely threatened from those who are faking their conversion story?
Unfortunately, the U.K. has chosen the one method scientifically shown to fail.
A report released by the U.K.’s All Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom or Belief and the Asylum Advocacy Group finds that asylum seekers are given a 19-question trivia quiz on Christianity that includes items such as knowing how many chapters are in John or naming all 12 disciples.
You can take the quiz yourself (see the end of this post).
There are the obvious problems with the quiz. The answers could change depending on your tradition:
- How many books in the Bible?
- What is the meaning of Ash Wednesday?
But put aside these issues. There’s a bigger problem: Knowledge is not a measure of religiosity.
This is a finding that we’ve known since the 1960s when Charles Glock, Rodney Stark and other researchers began surveying the public about their religious beliefs and practices.
Psychologists Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi and Michael Argyle put the findings simply:
Religious knowledge, that is, the knowledge of a religion’s scripture and tradition, is not considered a good measure of religiosity, simply because the majority of believers surveyed, in Western countries at least, seem to be quite ignorant of what are considered basic elements of religious tradition.
Being religious can manifest itself in many ways. Going to worship services. Belonging to a congregation. Prayer. Beliefs. Experiences. And while some minimal knowledge may be linked to beliefs and practices, it’s unrelated to how religious a person is.
For example, when Pew polled Americans on their knowledge of religion, they found that atheists and agnostics scored the highest. Hispanic Catholics and black Protestants scored the lowest.
Knowledge about religion is really a measure of education. People who know about other things tend to also know about religion. In Pew’s 32-question quiz, college graduates answered 20.6 correctly. Those with just some college answered only 17.5 correctly. People with no college experience had only 12.8 right. That’s a failing grade by any standard, but many of those with just a high school diploma are religious by any other standard.
The U.K.’s quiz is designed to keep the investigator from judging a person’s religion; the goal is to have a set of objective right-or-wrong questions about basic facts about Christianity. The policy seemed reasonable. Interviewers couldn’t discern whether many beliefs were sincere or fabricated, but
…statements of belief or answers to specific questions which are so clearly wrong that no reasonably well-informed person could be expected to take them seriously will call into question the credibility of the conversion.
But it’s a fool’s errand. Religion isn’t about facts. Many practice their religion in faithful ignorance while many who know about a religion aren’t committed. Even the most basic questions of knowledge cannot identify true believers. A devout Muslim or an atheist with a university education should be able to answer such basic questions about Christianity.
In practice, such a quiz is not only invalid. It’s biased to let in those with higher education and discriminate against those without formal education.
The U.K. should abandon any use of knowledge quizzes. Instead, focus on what it recognizes as the core of religion:
What is being assessed is primarily whether the claimant has genuinely moved towards a firm decision to leave the faith of their upbringing and become a Christian. To be credible, something so potentially life-changing should not be perfunctory, vague, or ill-thought out. It is likely to include being baptised (a fundamental rite of initiation common to most Christian traditions), or being instructed and prepared for baptism. It should also include attending worship, being known to the church’s leadership (normally the ordained ministers) and association with fellow-believers.
This won’t be easy. But it’s much better than an approach that we know will fail.
- How many books are in the Bible?
- How many books are in the New Testament?
- How many chapters are in the book of John?
- What are the 10 Commandments?
- Which gospel relates the story of Jesus’ birth?
- Where was Jesus born?
- What were the names of Jesus’ earthly parents?
- What was his earthly father’s occupation?
- How many disciples did Jesus have? Name them.
- Where did Jesus become angry with the money lenders?
- Who did Jesus raise from the dead? Which book is this miracle in?
- Recite the Lord’s Prayer.
- What happened during the Last Supper?
- Who betrayed Jesus to the Romans?
- Where was Jesus arrested?
- What is Ash Wednesday?
- Is Easter celebrated on the same date every year?
- What is the date of Pentecost?
- What is the meaning of Lent?