Most Britons do not believe the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus, a study has found.
By Ben Leach
Last Updated: 10:20PM GMT 20 Dec 2008
Young people were particularly doubtful about the nativity, with 78 per cent of 16-24-year-olds saying they were not convinced of its historical reliability.
Overall, 70 per cent were sceptical of the baby’s birth in a manger to a virgin mother, according to the poll of 1,000 people by the British Marketing Research Bureau.
Almost a quarter of those questioned who described themselves as Christians admitted they did not believe certain aspects of the Bible’s teaching about Jesus.
The survey was commissioned by St Helen’s Church in Bishopsgate, London, which has produced a film of “sound evidence” supporting the Bible’s account. The Rev Charlie Skrine, curate of the church, said the survey showed that “most of the UK believes that the accounts of Jesus’s birth aren’t good history“.
He added: “Combined with a general lack of understanding about the real meaning of Christmas, this leaves people without the hope that Jesus offers.”
Simon Gathercole, a new testament scholar at Cambridge University, said people were sceptical because they were not aware the origins of Christianity were anchored in real history.
He added: “Jesus was born while Augustus was emperor of Rome just before Herod died. We’re talking about events that are anchored in real history not in ancient Greek myths.”
A separate study by Mothers’ Union, a Christian charity, showed that more parents encourage their children to believe in Father Christmas than in the nativity.
A spokeswoman for the charity said the survey “raised concerns that the church needs to do more to support families in the spiritual nurture of their children”.
She added: “The church needs to get across the fact that in times of both adversity and prosperity, it has a universal message which enables people to connect with something outside themselves.”
The study of 1,000 parents found that one in five do not encourage their children to associate Christmas with the nativity. Five per cent do not encourage their children to believe in Father Christmas.
It also found only four per cent plan to attend church services more with their children in 2009.
It comes as the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Saturday that he believed the basic premise of story of the three wise men was true.
Last year, Dr Rowan Williams appeared to cast doubt on it, but speaking on BBC Radio 4, he argued that the idea of astrologers following a bright star to Bethlehem made sense in the historical context.
Asked if he believed the men – who according to the gospel of Matthew, took gold, frankincense and myrrh to baby Jesus – existed, Dr Williams said: “Yes I do. I think I trust the beginning of Matthew’s gospel in broad outline, because the notion that there are astrologers, perhaps of partly Jewish background, just outside the boundaries of the Roman Empire who might be on the watch for this, getting involved in the politics of Herod’s last days in Jerusalem.”