Opinion Tobin Grant: Corner of Church and State

UK uses bogus quiz to rule on Christian asylum seekers

Photo by Christian Schnettelker via Flickr Creative Commons. See http://www.manoftaste.de/

(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 would you do with the U.K. test? Here’s the quiz (as listed by Christianity Today). For the answers, see Christianity Today‘s quiz crib sheet at the end of its story.

  1. How many books are in the Bible?
  2. How many books are in the New Testament?
  3. How many chapters are in the book of John?
  4. What are the 10 Commandments?
  5. Which gospel relates the story of Jesus’ birth?
  6. Where was Jesus born?
  7. What were the names of Jesus’ earthly parents?
  8. What was his earthly father’s occupation?
  9. How many disciples did Jesus have? Name them.
  10. Where did Jesus become angry with the money lenders?
  11. Who did Jesus raise from the dead? Which book is this miracle in?
  12. Recite the Lord’s Prayer.
  13. What happened during the Last Supper?
  14. Who betrayed Jesus to the Romans?
  15. Where was Jesus arrested?
  16. What is Ash Wednesday?
  17. Is Easter celebrated on the same date every year?
  18. What is the date of Pentecost?
  19. What is the meaning of Lent?

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About the author

Tobin Grant

@TobinGrant blogs for Religion News Service at Corner of Church and State, a data-driven conversation on religion and politics. He is a political science professor at Southern Illinois University and associate editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.


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  • These questions would be hard to answer by many Christians. The British and French at the end of WW1 created many Arab states with artificial borders that ignored local religious and ethnic differences. Britain and France should open their doors to refugees especially those from minority groups harmed by the artificial borders created by the colonial British and French politicians. These two countries should be working the hardest to bring peace to this part of the world.

  • This is hilarious that anyone thought this was a good test.

    “How many books are in the Bible?
    How many books are in the New Testament?”

    Catholics are SOL. Heaven forbid anyone acknowledging deutorocanonical books get into Britain.

    “How many chapters are in the book of John?”

    Legitimately a hard question.

    “What are the 10 Commandments?”

    Pretty easy question.

    “Which gospel relates the story of Jesus’ birth?”

    So apparently the test writers are not aware that there are two gospelS that relate to this story? I guess whoever wrote the questions probably couldn’t pass an “are you a Christian” test written by different people…

    “Where was Jesus born?”

    The bible literally lists two different places, and any ex-Muslim Christian might answer with a third place listed in the Quran mistakenly thinking the story of the birth is the same cross-religions.

    I have the weird feeling that anyone that answers “In a cave” is going to be found non-Christian despite the bible saying exactly that (in addition to also saying in the manger).

    “What were the names of Jesus’ earthly parents?”

    The answer here is “Mary”. But the test makers thought the answer SHOULD be “Mary AND Joseph” which is… wrong…

    “What was his earthly father’s occupation?”

    Test writers again are idiots. Jesus didn’t HAVE an earthly father. That’s kind of a big deal in the bible, you’d think they’d know that…

    “How many disciples did Jesus have? Name them.”

    Bwahahahahaha!! Considering the Book of John uses different names for some and flat out omits others, how can you expect everyone to get this correct?? If someone writes down “Nathanael” instead of “Bartholomew”, does that count as correct??

    “Where did Jesus become angry with the money lenders?”

    A simple question, nothing overtly wrong there.

    “Who did Jesus raise from the dead? Which book is this miracle in?”

    They’re expecting “Lazarus” and “John”. And apparently if someone gives the equally correct answer “daughter of Jairus” and “Matthew”… they aren’t true Christians I guess. Or if they answer “everyone” and “Revelation”.

    “Recite the Lord’s Prayer.”

    That one’s valid. Seems like something they should know…

    “What happened during the Last Supper?
    Who betrayed Jesus to the Romans?
    Where was Jesus arrested?”

    Relatively simple questions that don’t really prove anything if you don’t know the answer. Though in the last, are they asking for the specific garden, or just the city??

    “What is Ash Wednesday?
    Is Easter celebrated on the same date every year?
    What is the date of Pentecost?”

    In other words, you’re SOL Eastern Orthodox Christians!!

    “What is the meaning of Lent?”

    A period of fasting that Western Christians generally observe by doing something other than fasting. Why expect new converts to understand an observation many Christians do not observe, or observe in made-up ways like “giving up a luxury” instead of doing actual fasting as intended??