“If you want to know about God, you might want to talk to an atheist.

“Heresy? Perhaps. But a survey that measured Americans’ knowledge of religion found that atheists and agnostics knew more, on average, than followers of most major faiths. In fact, the gaps in knowledge among some of the faithful may give new meaning to the term ‘blind faith.’…

“American atheists and agnostics tend to be people who grew up in a religious tradition and consciously gave it up, often after a great deal of reflection and study, said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum.

“‘These are people who thought a lot about religion,’ he said. ‘They’re not indifferent. They care about it.”

“To me, it’s no surprise that the highest scorers — after controlling for everything — were religious minorities: atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons. As a matter of simple survival, minorities tend to know more about the dominant group than vice versa. To use a familiar example, blacks — and especially those with middle-class lives — tend to know a lot about whites, by virtue of the fact that they couldn’t succeed otherwise; the professional world is dominated by middle-class whites, and to move upward, African Americans must understand their mores and norms. By contrast, whites don’t need to know much about African Americans, and so they don’t.

“Likewise, religious minorities — while not under much threat of persecution — are well-served by a working knowledge of religion, for similar reasons; the United States is culturally Christian, and for religious minorities, getting along means understanding those reference points. That those religious minorities can also answer questions about other religious traditions is a sign of broader religious education that isn’t necessary when you’re in the majority. Put another way, there’s a strong chance that religious privilege explains the difference in knowledge between Christians and everyone else.”

“That finding might surprise some, but not Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, an advocacy group for nonbelievers that was founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

“‘I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,’ Mr. Silverman said. ‘Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.'”