Knowledge of Christmas story is ‘shaky’

by
13 December 2007

by Pat Ashworth

Real message: part of the Bible Society's animated Christmas story

Real message: part of the Bible Society's animated Christmas story


ONLY 12 per cent of adults and seven per cent of those aged between 18 and 24 really know the story of Jesus’s birth, a survey from the theological think tank Theos suggested this week.

Some parts of the story were better known than others to the 1015 who responded to the poll. Although 73 per cent knew that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, nine per cent thought it was Nazareth, and ten per cent, Jerusalem.

The percentage correctly identifying an angel as the one who told Mary she would give birth to a son was also 73, but six per cent thought the Wise Men told her, and five per cent thought it was the shepherds.

Correctly identifying Jesus’s cousin proved tricky for more than half the respondents. While 48 per cent said it was John the Baptist, 12 per cent suggested Peter, and six per cent, Luke and James. Asked where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus went to escape from King Herod when Jesus was a young child, just 22 per cent of respondents gave the correct answer — Egypt.

The director of Theos, Paul Woolley, said: “The findings . . . show that the Christmas story in its classic formulation is still very much in our cultural bloodstream, as indeed is the Christian story as a whole.

“However, when you probe in any depth, you discover that our knowledge and understanding is rather more shaky. The fact that younger people are the least knowledgeable about the Christmas story may reflect a decline in the telling of Bible stories in schools and the popularity of nativity plays.”

The Bible Society, which supports Theos, has launched an animated version of the “real and dramatic” story of Christmas on its website, and has issued six million stamp-sized advertisement stickers to be used on Christmas post.

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The chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips, said on Monday that all schools, regardless of the religion of their pupils, should be staging nativity plays.

“Christmas as it has developed in this country is a Christian festival, yes, but one which is dedicated really to wider values than simply worshipping in church. To be honest, there is no immigrant or minority community which does not recognise the experience of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus being shut out at the inn.”

He described as “plain wrong” those schools that were “deliberately shying away from the true story of Christmas. . . They’re robbing their children of really being part of what it is to be British.”

Mark Pritchard, MP for The Wrekin in Shropshire, initiated a debate in Westminster Hall last week about “Christianaphobia”. Mr Pritchard subsequently told Richard Dawkins on the BBC’s programme Have Your Say that there was “an increasing feeling that many of the Christian festivals are being sidelined and marginalised — sometimes by stealth, sometimes openly”.

Professor Dawkins responded: “I’m not one of those who wants to stop Christian traditions. This is historically a Christian country. I’m a cultural Christian, in the same way many of my friends call themselves cultural Jews or cultural Muslims.”

A new poll in Northern Ireland has shown decreasing levels of religious knowledge. The survey, a follow-up to a poll conducted by the Iona Institute and the Evangelical Alliance Ireland earlier in the year, suggested that only 42 per cent of respondents knew that there were four Gospels. Sixty-eight per cent of Protestants and 54 per cent of Roman Catholics knew that the first book of the Bible was Genesis.

www.therealstory.org.uk

Do the children at your church know who Jesus’s cousin was?

A new poll in Northern Ireland has shown decreasing levels of religious knowledge. The survey, a follow-up to a poll conducted by the Iona Institute and the Evangelical Alliance Ireland earlier in the year, suggested that only 42 per cent of respondents knew that there were four Gospels. Sixty-eight per cent of Protestants and 54 per cent of Roman Catholics knew that the first book of the Bible was Genesis.

www.therealstory.org.uk

Do the children at your church know who Jesus’s cousin was?

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