The poor Pew Forum's server was not made to handle the interest garnered after a recent New York Times Article, "Atheists Outdo Some Believers in Survey on Religion". It has collapsed under the pressure. Wait, it's back - here's the more detailed look at responses.
If you are really devout and really religious, you perhaps should not read my post. I am not religious. Like at all. I believe there is a universe and it is WAY bigger than me, and it's made of energy and matter that keeps getting recycled. I do not believe in the big G-man or G-woman or heaven or hell or scripture. You may believe for me, though, and save me from eternal damnation. I believe mockery is the highest form of flattery. Just kidding, I made that up because it sounded cool.
You have been warned. (As an aside, I support your right to believe in whatever makes you feel safer, happier, guiltier, whatever-er in this world...I just encourage people to do it with an understanding of that belief/faith/religion, not blind acceptance based on family, society or culture).
When I was attending Catholic middle school, then high school, every now and then I was forced into sitting through a mass. Participation wasn't mandatory, presence was. I sat in the row with my friends who all happened to be unbelievers or believers of something other than Catholicism. When most of the class got up to receive eucharist, it turns out 45% of them (nearly half!) didn't know that they were literally eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ. I knew, but I wasn't Catholic. But isn't that amazing? One of the core beliefs that differentiates Catholicism from the rest of Christianity is that you're cannibalizing Christ every Sunday...but nearly 1/2 of Catholics don't know it!
Now if we got into our wayback machine to the 1500's and cared about a dude named Martin Luther and his super inflammatory writings, especially that one he nailed to a church door, then we would know he is one of the reasons for this thing called the Protestant Reformation. And if we analyzed that name closely, really closely, we would know that that is how we got Protestantism and a belief that we should just be faithful and follow the Bible verbatim and BAM! heaven is ours! Well, 53% of Protestants don't even know that Martin Luther's crazy antics are one reason they exist (the Protestants, not the antics).
America claims to be a pretty religious country, and religious really means Christian. So it is unsurprising that only 47% knew the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist (a Tibetan one, to boot!) and only 27% of those surveyed knew that the primary religion of Indonesia is Islam, you know, the country with the largest Muslim population in the universe! And even though it seems like much of America hates Islam and some crazy preacher in Florida wanted to burn their holy book, only 54% of Americans knew the Koran IS their holy book.
Overall, most people scored a 50%. Atheists got a rocking 65%, which on this curve, is practically an A! The Jews and Mormons come in second and third, respectively.
To me, these are unsurprising findings. I would be surprised if "religious" people scored better. My impression is people are religious mostly because it's something they are used to, not necessarily something they are knowledgeable about. I mean, people believe Pit Bulls have locking jaws, not because they know anything about the skeletal structure of a dog's skull and jaw, but because they have been told it is so. We believe so many lies, we remain willfully ignorant of so many truths, simply because that is how it has been done. And when we shed that ignorance, it isn't shocking some stop believing, or believe something different, or at the very least, find a sort of comfort that they had it right the first time.
I think it is beautiful and wonderful when a person, through faith and grace and understanding, realize a certain religion or denomination is perfect for them. I think it is beautiful and wonderful when a person, through faith and grace and understanding, realize they believe in not believing or just aren't sure or want proof. I don't think people come to be atheistic or agnostic because they are wearing crisp, white lab coats or think religion is goofy or whatever stereotypes there are of atheists, but because they have faith that there isn't something out there, grace to choose a different path, and understanding of the inner-workings of their own mind and heart. And I don't think people come to be religious, truly so, because of what their parents said or priest said or because it's just part of their culture, but because they have faith in something bigger, grace to commit to that "bigness" and understanding of the inner-working of their own mind and heart.
But I would not bemoan the day religion ceased to exist. Blasphemous, I know.