A survey done on the phone.
By a religious think tank.
The Scotsman has a very brief story on this, giving it what it’s worth, I suppose (it gets more coverage here). The survey, by Theos, says 57 per cent of people plan to celebrate Christmas as a religious festival.
Given the diminishing understanding of religion, its significance, its texts and so forth, just how meaningful a survey is this? Do people always think what they think they think?
People have a vague idea that something happened a couple of thousand years ago, and a baby was born to a virgin. They have not, in most cases, I dare gamble, really thought about how unlikely that is, and whether a similar scenario appears in other traditions, as it does.
The report on the survey as it appears on Theos’s website is headed “1 in 3 Britons believe [sic] in virgin birth”.
Tellingly, this finding is described thus:
In the poll of over a thousand adults, undertaken for Theos by ComRes, 34% of people agreed that the statement “Jesus was born to a virgin called Mary” was historically accurate. Only 32% considered it fictional [my emphasis].
Why is it that a mere 34 per cent just that, while a figure only two percentage points below it gets qualified by only?
As for the 57 per cent who will celebrate Christmas as a religious festival, just what does that mean in practice? That they’ll go to midnight mass (as they do once a year, say) and treat the rest of the season as the usual excuse for a piss-up? You might argue that going to see your kids’ Nativity play is treating Christmas as a religious festival.
To me, treating it truly as a religious festival would mean observing from Advent to Epiphany, attending the appropriate services and doing the mumbo-jumbo, and really striving to do your bit to bring about that state the Christian tradition tells us this season is all about: peace on Earth and good will to all.
Most people are more taken in by advertising than by the supernatural, and are happy to spend, spend, spend on stuff that will be in landfill within weeks. They boost the coffers of big business while screwing the environment, and their money (or some of it) could have gone to do things that Christianity is (but not exclusively) assocated with: giving of yourself and your possessions to make others happier.
The questions are worded thus: “Thinking about how Jesus is described in the Bible, do you think each of the following are [sic] historically accurate, fictional, or are you unsure if they are [sic] historically accurate or not?” This precedes each question.
I’m not a pollster, but I’d have thought that the first phrase would be likely to colour a person’s response. Why not just ask first whether they know of the figure called Jesus, and then, on the basis of that, ask other questions?
However, you can make up your own mind. The research in full is to be found here (PDF).