Discover more from Friendly Atheist
Stop overreacting about Jeopardy! players missing a clue about the Lord's Prayer
It was a fair question that just managed to hit every contestant's blind spot
This newsletter is free, but it’s only able to sustain itself due to the support I receive from a small percentage of regular readers. Would you please consider becoming one of those supporters? You can use the button below to subscribe to Substack or use my usual Patreon page!
Last Tuesday, during an episode of Jeopardy!, all three players were stumped by a seemingly easy question about the Lord’s Prayer.
The category was “Dadjectives,” in which all clues involved descriptions of fathers, and the $200 clue (typically the easiest in the category) was as follows:
Matthew 6:9 says, “Our Father which art in Heaven”, this “be Thy name.”
If you’ve ever said (or had to say) the Lord’s Prayer, the answer was simple: “Hallowed.”
None of the players knew it, including the champion who was riding a five-game winning streak. The round continued. Two other clues in the same category also stumped all three players. This clue was, in terms of the episode, a non-event.
That is, until everyone on the internet decided it was absurd for three supposedly smart people to miss a clue they collectively knew. (And by everyone, I’m referring to a handful of people on Twitter.) News outlets ran with the non-story, all about how fans of the show were “aghast” and “stunned” by the outcome:
In some ways, it’s understandable that people would be surprised by this. The Lord’s Prayer is arguably the most famous Christian prayer, and there’s a reason it was the lowest-valued clue in the category: Even the show’s writers expected the contestants would know it.
Plus, as a viewer, there’s nothing better than realizing you know something the three contestants—all of whom are theoretically very smart, very well-read, and very nerdy—don’t. Even if they weren’t raised as Christians, there was an expectation they would know the answer.
But what all these articles (and Twitter haters) seem to ignore is that everyone has their blind spots. What’s common knowledge to you may be useless trivia to someone else. In the Giant List of Things to Study before appearing on Jeopardy!, the specifics of Christianity usually isn’t at the top of the list.
The best example of this phenomenon may have taken place several years ago, when all three players missed every single clue in a category about football. (By the time the last clue was revealed, even host Alex Trebek was needling the players: “If you guys ring in and get this one, I will die.”)
In the case of the clue involving the Lord’s Prayer, I think a lot of the backlash stems from the mistaken assumption that Christianity is the default religion and everyone (including non-Christians) should know the basics.
I don’t have any interest in making excuses for the players, but it’s worth mentioning that the returning champion, Suresh Krishnan, is Indian, and it’s possible he wasn’t raised in the faith. Another contestant was a “graduate student in physics” and it’s possible religion didn’t play a role in his life growing up either.
That said, I believe the question was fair. So are other clues that touch on the beliefs of major faiths. They don’t give an edge to religious believers any more than questions about Greek mythology. Christianity is the most popular religion in America; that makes it fair game for clues on a show that deals with cultural significance. (I have some personal experience on this front, appearing on an episode where an entire category involved “Books of the Bible.”)
It’s not just about the Bible either. The LA Times’ Emily St. Martin rightly noted that the Lord’s Prayer has plenty of cultural significance, too, so even if you never said the prayer in church, it’s fair to argue that well-rounded people would have come across it in other ways:
… Kristen Stewart’s Snow White recited it in 2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” and Will Ferrell played a politician who butchers it in the 2012 comedy “The Campaign,” memorably praying: “Our father, Art, who is up in Heaven, Aloe Vera be thy name.”
Australian nun Sister Janet Mead turned it into a 1970s psychedelic rock song that charted on Billboard’s Hot 100 for 13 weeks. And recovering addicts and alcoholics recite it to conclude 12-step meetings in tens of thousands of rooms across the country.
There are plenty of other examples where those came from. That’s why the clue was neither too Christian nor too religious.
Interesting side note: A few years back, the Pew Research Center published a survey about what Americans knew about religion. They had asked people to answer basic factual questions about Christianity and other faiths. The bottom line was that most people knew very little, with the average respondent correctly answering only 14.2 questions out of 32. But Jews and atheists knew more, on average, than every other group.
Does that mean most people don’t know anything about their religion or other ones? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just an indication that even intelligent people may not know basic facts about certain topics, especially when they have no need to think about them.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation called the Lord’s Prayer triple stumper a “welcome sign of the (secularizing) times.” I don’t buy that. It’s just a question (or rather answer) that managed to be in every player’s blind spot at the same time. I have no doubt other questions about Christianity would’ve been answered correctly by any one of them; that wouldn’t be an indication of de-secularization either.
If you’re looking for people who don’t know anything about what Jesus said, don’t point to these contestants. Point to the white evangelicals who support a cruel con artist as president, or the Catholics who defend a Vatican-based crime syndicate, or the Southern Baptists who insist only men deserve to be heard from the pulpit.
If you appreciated this article, please subscribe to my newsletter for free (!) or share this post on Reddit, Facebook, or the godawful Bird app.