UK Poll Reveals Religious Ignorance

This is all we could find this morning. It’s in the Telegraph, published in London: Father Christmas granted a walk-on part in the Bible.

The story is about a ComRes survey, conducted on behalf of the Christian Institute. ComRes is a leading British polling company. They gave people a list of items and asked whether each was included in the Biblical accounts of Christ’s birth. According to the Telegraph:

More than 2,000 people of all ages were polled on their knowledge of the Christmas story to test whether younger generations are becoming increasingly ignorant of religion.

Our humble blog has been mostly about ignorance of science, so the results of this poll will be a welcome change. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

[A]ccording to polling, one in 10 young adults in Britain now believe that Father Christmas also makes an appearance in the Biblical account of the nativity.

Significant numbers also think that Mary and Joseph might have brightened up the stable with a Christmas tree.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! But that’s not all. How about this:

Over a third of the public think that the Bible records December 25 as the date of the Jesus’s birth.

We wish they had tossed in a couple of questions about evolution. Our suspicion is that when an individual has crazy opinions about one topic, he’s likely to be an ignoramus about everything else too. It would be an interesting project for someone to explore. Anyway, let’s read on:

Perhaps more surprisingly one in 20 Britons think that Father Christmas makes an appearance in the Bible – a proportion which rises to 10 per cent among the 25 to 35 age group.

The population is becoming increasingly ignorant — how wonderful! We continue:

People who work in the public sector – a category which includes teachers – are almost twice as likely as private sector employees to think that Father Christmas features in Scripture.

Government employees are dumber than the general population? Wow — we never suspected such a thing. [That was a bit of Curmudgeonly sarcasm.] Here’s one more excerpt:

Colin Hart, head of the Christian Institute, said: “This poll shows a worrying lack of knowledge about our country’s Christian heritage that has shaped our history, institutions and laws, even who we are and our values.

“When one in 10 public sector workers, including social workers and teachers think that Santa Claus is part of the Bible’s account of the nativity, what hope is there for our children?”

Although we have no data on this, our guess is that if such a poll were limited to the science-literate segment of the population, particularly those who accept the theory of evolution, it would show that they know far more about religion than the general population. They certainly couldn’t know any less.

So there you are, dear reader. This is all we can find to blog about during the holidays. But be of good cheer — the lack of our kind of news is a good thing. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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27 responses to “UK Poll Reveals Religious Ignorance

  1. The next poll should be about the Easter Bunny’s appearances in Scripture.

  2. A small quibble: the article’s in the right wing Torygraph, not the rational Guardian.

  3. What I find more shocking is that most of the people polled have no clue about the pagan winter solstice rituals that were appropriated by Christian for Christmas. It’s about time we gave the pagans their props as well! In any case Happy Saturnalia!

  4. Keep Saturn in Saturnalia!

  5. realthog says: “A small quibble: the article’s in the right wing Torygraph, not the rational Guardian.

    Egad — a major blunder! It’s fixed now. Thanks.

  6. I wonder what the poll stats would be on this side of the pond ?

  7. You may remember, a US poll found that atheists knew much more about what’s in the Bible than Christians, and Jews were next most Biblically-literate group. Ignorance knows no national boundaries.

    Now this Christian organization and Richard Dawkins have something in common: Dawkins has always advocated that schoolchildren should read the Bible so that they know something about Western culture.

  8. I wonder what the poll stats would be on this side of the pond ?

    By one of those weird coincidences, about two minutes after reading your comment I came across and article reporting in part on exactly such a poll:

    More than 95 percent of U.S. households own at least one copy of the Bible. So how much do Americans know of the book that one-third of the country believes to be literally true? Apparently, very little, according to data from the Barna Research group. Surveys show that 60 percent can’t name more than five of the Ten Commandments; 12 percent of adults think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife; and nearly 50 percent of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple. A Gallup poll shows 50 percent of Americans can’t name the first book of the Bible, while roughly 82 percent believe “God helps those who help themselves” is a biblical verse.

    The article’s at http://admin.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/right-wing-filled-biblical-illiterates?akid=11309.80475.Lqlcca&rd=1&src=newsletter940206&t=3&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark . If I have time later today I’ll go googling for the poll itself and report back.

  9. Garnetstar reminds us of Dawkins’ advocacy

    that schoolchildren should read the Bible so that they know something about Western culture

    I fully concur, not only to illuminate Western culture but, a fortiori, to fathom Western history–of which an inordinate amount has been chronicles of “My god can beat your god up” conflicts…

  10. We do celebrate, in the UK, Ground God Day to commemorate when Jesus arises from the dead and checks the length of his shadow to see whether or not it is The End Times….

  11. I was talking to a preacher and a lay xtian who both swear they read the buyBull at least twice and neither one knew who Yahweh is!!!!

  12. realthog reports that in the US: “12 percent of adults think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.”

    I really like that!

  13. Curmy pithily surmises—

    “[W]hen an individual has crazy opinions about one topic, he’s likely to be an ignoramus about everything else too.”

    Yup, confirmation bias notwithstanding, that correlation appears to be an especially strong one.

    Curmy speculates—

    “Although we have no data on this, our guess is that if such a poll were limited to the science-literate segment of the population, particularly those who accept the theory of evolution, it would show that they know far more about religion than the general population.”

    Here’s something that may help shed some light on the matter.

  14. “When one in 10 public sector workers, including social workers and teachers think that Santa Claus is part of the Bible’s account of the nativity, what hope is there for our children?”

    Replace the myth, as the Christian myth has done over the centuries. Perhaps some rationality creeping in to replace or update their myth? If so, then there’s a lot of hope for the children. Or are people just continually being dumbed down about everything?

  15. realthog: “A small quibble: the article’s in the right wing Torygraph, not the rational Guardian.”

    That would explain the unwarranted swipe at teachers:

    “People who work in the public sector – a category which includes teachers – are almost twice as likely as private sector employees to think that Father Christmas features in Scripture.”

    Not to mention police officers, soldiers, sailors, (and in UK) doctors, nurses, prime ministers, etc.

    The point is — just because teachers are employed in the public sector doesn’t necessarily mean they hold the same beliefs as other public employees.

  16. realthog: “A small quibble: the article’s in the right wing Torygraph, not the rational Guardian.”
    That would explain the unwarranted swipe at teachers

    I’d say you’re almost certainly spot-on with that hypothesis. The odd thing is that, if it were indeed true that significant numbers of teachers were guilty of these errors, the Guardian would have been far more horrified than the Torygraph, home of James Delingpole, Christopher Booker, Richard North and others of that ilk.

    Not to mention police officers, soldiers, sailors, (and in UK) doctors, nurses, prime ministers, etc.

    Street cleaners, janitors, garbage collectors, postal workers . . . In other words, the term “public sector employees” encompasses a hell of a lot of people who, while in my own experience often admirable, are likely to have had no more than a basic education.

  17. In the UK, wouldn’t Church of England clergy also be “public sector employees”?

  18. Somewhat related (but really more of a “Free Fire Zone” type of thing) –
    elf advocates in Iceland have blocked construction of a highway through “elf habitat”:
    http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/12/23/icelands-elves-delay-massive-road-project-hidden-folk-advocates-say-construction-disturbs-elf-church/

    It’s an AP post, so I’m not going to copy from it, except to cite a 2007 poll that found that 63% of Icelanders believe that “it’s at least possible” that elves exist.

    It could be noted that “Icelanders” is a group that includes teachers, and almost certainly retired science teachers. However, I doubt if they make up much (if any) of that 63%. At least, I’d like to think.

  19. This ignorance has been around a long time. More than 60 years ago, a teacher in the small Bible-belt town where I attended sixth through eighth grades objected loudly when somebody put up a pine Christmas tree. She declared, “The Bible says the Christmas tree has to be a cedar!”

    I don’t think even she believed Santa made an appearance in the birth account, though.

  20. @Retired Prof: Isn’t there something in the Bible about not having sacred poles?

  21. A significant percentage of British believe crop circles were made by aliens and that videos of actual perpetrators creating crop circles with wooden planks and ropes were faked!

    A significant percentage of Americans will point to Australia, if it is labeled “France,” when asked to point to France on a map.

  22. @ TomS: Well, yes, in Jeremiah 10 we read:

    3 For the practices of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.
    4 They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter.

    Today we read these lines and visualize the Christmas trees on sale lots every December. However, the original audience more likely envisioned an idol. As an anonymous poster on a religious discussion forum points out, “The passage appears to be describing the common wood-gilded-with-gold statues that were popular in the Levant at the time. We have multiple examples of these from Tutankhamen’s tomb.”

    In ancient times it was not Middle Easterners but northern Europeans, especially Celtic and Germanic tribes, who used evergreens in winter solstice observances. You can see how a few bits of persistent greenery would reassure them. The sun would not carry out its threat to go away for good, and plants would spring forth again next spring after all. Though not often explicitly mentioned, this idea melded well into the resurrection part of the Jesus story.

  23. I correctly answered 14 out of 15 questions in that religion poll. I credit that primarily to a good education and parents who encouraged me to read, think, ask questions, etc. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!) I’m an atheist who was raised Roman Catholic and attended Catholic schools for 11 years. They “taught” me right out of religion.

  24. @TomS — No sacred poles??? What about Pope John Paul II??? What about Mother Theresa???

  25. I suspect that one reason unbelievers (on average) know more about religion than believers do is that the more we learn about religious dogma, the less we can believe it.

  26. @retiredsciguy I hate to be the pedestrian literalist who steps on the joke by pointing out that Mother Teresa was Albanian.

  27. @TomS: Oh. Never mind.

    I should have mentioned Carl Yastrzemski and Ted Kluszewski instead.