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O Little Town of … where?

The Guardian, UK
Dec. 15, 2004
Stephen Bates • Wednesday December 15, 2004

It may be Christmas but ’tis the season to be silly if the findings of an internet poll are anything to go by. It has found that more than a quarter of those it polled do not know that Bethlehem was the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

The finding was recorded earlier this month by the internet polling company YouGov, commissioned by the Sky Box Office channel to promote its festive showing of Mel Gibson’s version of the crucifixion, The Passion of the Christ.

It found that nearly 20% of churchgoers claimed not to know the answer either.

Fewer than two-thirds claimed to know that the altar is the name of the table normally found at the east end of a church and only three-quarters realised that Jesus was Jewish.

But nearly 90% realised that the resurrection was what is supposed to have happened on Easter Day.

Asked about the 10 Commandments, about half held that “Thou Shall Not Kill” was the most relevant to current circumstances.

Those surveyed said the least relevant was “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me.”

Older people had a higher degree of Christian knowledge than the young. Fewer than two-thirds of 18- to 29-year-olds knew Jesus’s race and only just over half could name the altar.

The Very Rev John Drury, chaplain of All Souls College, Oxford, who formulated the quiz, said: “It shows that asking people about God is not a reliable test of how religious they are, even that a religion of human values not necessarily deriving from belief in one God is common and widespread.

“This looks like bad news for orthodox theologians, pretty good news about people at large and good news for the radical thinkers who favour atheistic spirituality.

“The questions were designed to be very basic but it is remarkable that 70% gave correct answers … Christianity nowadays seems to be better than I expected.”

The poll was conducted among a representative sample of 2,015 adults.

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