Who knows what about the Christmas story?
A survey carried out by the public theology think tank, Theos, has been getting quite a bit of publicity with reports in the Telegraph, the Times, and on the BBC website which has an extensive discussion about the results.
The survey presented 4 multiple choice questions to a sample of 1015 people:
(1) According to the story in the Christian Bible, where was Jesus born?
Choice of: Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Jericho, None of these
(2) According to the story in the Christian Bible,who told Mary that she would give birth to a son?
Choice of: wise men, an angel, shepherds, Joseph, None of these
(3) According to the story in the Christian Bible, who was Jesus’ cousin?
Choice of: Peter, Luke, James, John the Baptist, None of these
(4) According to the story in the Christian Bible, where did Joseph, Mary and Jesus go to escape from King Herod when Jesus was a young child?
Choice of: Nazareth, Babylon, Egypt, Rome, None of these
While most of the press coverage has, understandably, focussed on the general ignorance of the British population, the break-down of the figures shows a fascinating and in many ways disturbing result in terms of the church’s teaching of its own members and the level of basic literacy among those who profess to be Christians and regular church attenders.
In addition to offering a break-down of the figures by age, class, gender and region, the full data includes a breakdown on the basis of how the respondent would describe their own beliefs.
The categories are:
- I am a Christian who regularly attends church
- I am a Christian who does not regularly attend church
- I am a Muslim
- I am a member of another religion
- I am a doubter - I’m not sure whether I believe in God or not
- I am an atheist - I don’t believe in the existence of God at all
- None of these
- Don’t know
The first category only comprised 161 respondents in the weighted base and their answers were as follows (the correct answer is now listed first, in case you’re unsure!)
Q1 - Bethlehem (83%), Nazareth (11%), Jerusalem (3%), Jericho (1%), Don’t know (2%)
Q2 - An angel (83%), wise men (2%), shepherds (4%), Joseph (8%), Don’t know (2%), Refused (1%)
Q3 - John the Baptist (75%), Peter (9%), Luke (2%), James (3%), Don’t know (10%), Refused (1%), None (1%)
Q4 - Egypt (44%), Nazareth (46%), Babylon (3%), Rome (1%), Don’t know (6%), Refused (1%), None (1%)
How did they do over all?
Well 2% of the Christians who regularly attend church didn’t get any right.
10% got 1 right
25% got 2 right
27% got 3 right
36% got all 4 right (the next highest grouping for all right was those who said they were Christian but did not regularly attend church where only 11% managed to get all 4 correct).
In other words, under 2/3 (63%) got more than 50% in this basic test.
Interestingly, agnostics and atheists consistently did better than Muslims (29% of whom got none right and 22% only one right ie more than half could not answer more than one correctly) and those of other faiths (where 39% got 3 right) although both samples are small.