The sad news: Americans’ beliefs about Christmas

Sophisticated Theologians™ tell us all the time that only Biblical literalists or fundamentalists believe the stories in the Bible. God is, they say, much more “nuanced,” and most believers are closer to Kierkegaard than to Ken Ham.

Well, I call bullshit on that. Look at a new Pew Poll giving “Five Facts about Christmas in America.” Most of the survey is about whether we see Christmas as a cultural or religious holiday, our views on gift-giving, how we wish people happy holidays, and so on, but there’s one bit of interest to readers. That’s encompassed in this figure:

FT_15.12.23_5factsXmas4

Got that, David Bentley Hart and Karen Armstrong? Got that, Terry Eagleton? Got it, all you atheist atheist-bashers who say we’re attacking a straw man? 65% of US adults believe all four of these Christmas myths.  No, not all Americans are Biblical literalists about everything, but nearly all Americans are literalists about something. Just remember, nearly 3 in four Americans believe that Jesus was born of a virgin. This poll was published today, so it reflects current beliefs.

h/t: Alan G.

147 Comments

  1. Kevin
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Anonymity plays a key role in these poles. If I were to ask any of my Christian neighbors some of these questions they would think it was none of my business or that it is impolite to talk about personal beliefs or they would reluctantly admit their beliefs knowing I have subordinated their beliefs. These are not uneducated people and when forced to tell someone they know they believe in something that requires faith it always makes them uncomfortable.

    Wearing a cross around one’s neck is nebulously symbolic of strength in faith, but answering to one’s peers on matters of faith is an embarrassing reminder that reason is disregarded.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Or wearing a cross could be to keep away vampires like Buffy does.

      • Taz
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

        “Note to self: religion freaky.”
        – Buffy Summers

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

          There is a reason why I have an I heart Buffy mug.

          • rickflick
            Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

            You mean:

            “Between the bright-eyed, empowered energy of Supergirl and the dark, emotionally potent …”

            That Buffy?

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

              I actually use Buffy as an example of being a good leader. She shares her power, she collaborates and she gives people the right amount of managing.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted December 22, 2015 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know about Buffy, but I find that a piece of well-cooked spaghetti is an effective vampire deterrent.
        Look – no vampires. See, it must work!
        I’ll grant Buffy probably has a nicer cleavage for the spaghetti to nestle in than mine. And the hair makes it pretty unpalatable, pretty quickly. Just in case anyone felt the need to carry out the experiment. No replications needed on that front, I think.

  2. Posted December 21, 2015 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    “most believers are closer to Kierkegaard than to Ken Ham.”
    I’ve always found that claim ridiculous. The problem is that the people who say that are living in a liberal intellectual bubble.

    • Posted December 22, 2015 at 1:57 am | Permalink

      … And you would be lucky to find anyone who has actually read Kierkegaard.

      • Posted December 22, 2015 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        Or the bible, for that matter, since there are TWO xmas stories and the common belief outlined above mixes them together. Certainly ministers at the church I went to as a kid never mentioned that to the faithful, and it wasn’t until I read the bible myself that I realized they can’t both be true, and probably neither one is.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted December 22, 2015 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

        That’s probably because Kierkegaard was a relatively sober philosopher (at least according to Monty Python).
        [Tries to think of a rhyme for “Kierkegaard”]

  3. Steven
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    There were actually four wise man, not three.
    The fourth was sent away for bringing a fruit cake, according to a Farside cartoon (I
    think).

    • eric
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      Want to hear something just as amusing? The bible doesn’t say there were three of them. Just uses the plural “they.” People infer one gift per magi, but the book doesn’t say that. It could’ve been two people or four or forty.

      • eric
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        Forgot to cite. The story of the Magi is given in the first part of Matthew 3.

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

          Matthew 2 (gleefully admitting to being a pedant).

      • rickflick
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

        The reason they settled on 3 is for school plays. Its hard to get boys into those dresses and jewelry, or mothers to do the stitching. Imagine talking 40 kids into dressing up? Not going to happen.

      • Posted December 21, 2015 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

        Neither are the names Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior mentioned in the babble. Xians insist the babble is their only scripture. Now that’s funny.

        • Jonas Berntzen
          Posted December 22, 2015 at 3:48 am | Permalink

          Balthasar is a name made up out of the following; Bal: An Assyrian God that Joshua recognized as the devil, and burned down the temple of Bal with all its followers inside.

          Sar: From Julius Ceacar, turned in to Tsar, that means King

          So you could “translate” Balthasar to be Devil is king or King for the devil or something like that. A very strange name for a wise guy….

        • Sean
          Posted December 23, 2015 at 6:30 am | Permalink

          Caspar the friendly goat was one of the many farm animals in attendance at this first nativity.

          During many centuries of imperfect retelling of the story he somehow got promoted.

  4. Steven Obrebski
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    There were actually four wise men, but the
    fourth was sent away for bringing a
    fruit cake according to a Farside cartoon (if
    I remember correctly.

  5. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    With Armstrong, the most problematic claim was that this is true of most Christians of ancient and medieval times. Sure, they were non-literalists on some things, but not so universally.

    David Bentley Hart is Greek Orthodox, and as such more in his camp believe some sort of “apophatic” and/or allegorizing theology, but they’re fairly literalistic on the birth of Jesus and other stuff in the Nicene creed.
    (Does Hart say most believers are like Kierkegaard or most theologians??)

    At least some modernist Christians recognize they are in a minority, most notably John Shelby Spong.

    • Daniel bertini
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      And why not!? This week we have had posts on what Jesus looked like and his apparent abode!! Strong evidence for a literal Christ!! Geesh!!

      • DiscoveredJoys
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

        …and he spoke in English too!

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted December 22, 2015 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

        I actually read the news story on that “House of Jeebus”, and haven’t worked back through the old WEITs to get that far.
        The reason that the archaeologists give for thinking that this particular house may have been of some significance is that there had been several generations of church built on top of it, rather than having excavated down to bedrock or fresh sub-soil for the foundations of the churches. Which is decent (if not “run to the minaret and commandeer the PA system”) quality evidence that back in the 7th or so Century when the Churches were built, someone thought this particular building had importance.
        Of course, the meedja ran away with the clickbait interpretation. But they’d run away with the clickbait version of “Dog Bites Man.”

        • tfkreference
          Posted December 22, 2015 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

          Bishop arrives in Nazareth: “I want to build a church on the site of Jesus’ house. Money is no object.”

          Nazarene homeowner: “You’re in luck, he grew up in my house – there are even his height markings on the broom closet door – stop by in 15 minutes and I’ll show you. Bring your gold.”

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted December 22, 2015 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

            Cynic. Here?

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

      65% of US adults believe all four of these Christmas myths.

      Maybe more accurate to say that 65% of US adults think that they should believe all four of these Christmas myths. A pernicious effect of American Christianity is that people feel compelled to lie if they wish to be recognized as good people.

      • Posted December 22, 2015 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        I agree. When I was young and a question about communism was asked, we dutifully answered that it would come soon and we were very happy about this. As for our true views on these matters, a good indicator is the fact that leaving the country for any duration of time and any reason required a special permit (exit visa).

  6. Geoff Toscano
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    The Christmas story doesn’t stand much scrutiny really, so little in fact that if people believe it then they haven’t been concentrating.

    I’d just ask a couple of questions if I was truly feeling mischievous

    1. Why was he called Jesus of ‘Nazareth’ if he was born in Bethlehem?
    2. If Joseph wasn’t the biological father of Jesus, then Jesus wasn’t descended from Adam, or Abraham (according to which gospel you read), and certainly couldn’t claim to be of David’s line.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      Hey, I got to play the angel in the nativity play in Kindergarten (in my public school which was supposed to be Jesus free).

      • Ken Phelps
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

        I got to play Dinker the elf in “Santa Gets the Measles”.

        My co-elf Tinker was played by the girl with the second worst girl-cooties in the whole school.

        Right there on stage, in front of everyone, I had to touch Tinker’s forehead to see if she had a fever.

        I’ve never gotten over it.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

          Oh dear. The religion was annoying but at least there was no touching. All the girls wanted to be Mary and the most popular girl was selected to play that part. I still say angel trumps Mary because the angel had nice pretty wings (which I flapped because I was a method actor) and those things are immortal.

          • Grania Spingies
            Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

            I always wanted to be an angel because: wings!

            But I was always something along the lines of 4th hedgerow on the left.

            • Posted December 21, 2015 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

              You must’ve at least got a bustle, right?

              • Mark Joseph
                Posted December 21, 2015 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

                It’s just a spring clean for the May queen!

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted December 22, 2015 at 12:52 am | Permalink

              The problem with angel wings is, they’re always either anatomically or aerodynamically wrong (or both).

              If attached to the shoulderblades they’re way too far forward of the center of gravity. If attached further down the back there’s nothing structurally adequate to attach them to.

              Probably what would make most sense structurally would be to attach them to the hips, but I’ve never seen an angel with low-rise wings 😉

              cr

              • Posted December 22, 2015 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

                Has anyone expert knowledge about the size and mass of angels? If they resemble humans, I suspect that only reactive “wings” would do the job.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted December 22, 2015 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

                I was assuming angels that look exactly like humans (with added wings), as that is invariably how they are portrayed in art.

                Not sure what ‘reactive wings’ means?

                I suspect humans are just too big and heavy to fly successfully even if extensively redesigned (when one compares birds and notes that all the human-sized ones e.g. ostriches are flightless).

                cr

              • Posted December 23, 2015 at 9:46 am | Permalink

                Many images of angels show them tiny, like pigeons. However, Renaissance paintings portray them human-sized. The myth of the Satan also points to a human size.
                By “reactive wings” I meant – like the ones Yves Rossy used. I don’t know much physics, but I strongly suspect that an engine powerful enough to make a human fly and yet compact enough to be carried by him can be only reactive.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted December 23, 2015 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

                Yes I like Rossy’s jet pack too.

                I wouldn’t have said ‘reactive’, I would have said ‘external power source’, but I think we’re both talking about the same thing.

                cr

        • Posted December 21, 2015 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

          An anti-vax propoganda piece?

      • DrBrydon
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

        In 4th Grade I got to play an Irish cop in a play about Santa, the name of which I can’t remember.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

          That sounds like cultural appropriation or a micro aggression or something.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

        Boy, were they ever mistaken!

        cr

        🙂

      • Robert bray
        Posted December 22, 2015 at 8:10 am | Permalink

        I got to play the Anxious Existentialist Seeker in Kierkegaarden.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 22, 2015 at 8:21 am | Permalink

          Lucky you, it could have been much worse if you had gone to kafkagarten.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted December 22, 2015 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

            Oh FSM! The very concept of a kafkagarten! Even worse – being sent to the headmaster’s office for the cane and the punishment book.

    • eric
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      The NT authors anticipated complaint #2. I can’t remember which book but one of them traces his lineage to David through both lines.

      • Geoff Toscano
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

        That’s still not going to help if you’re Roman Catholic, as Mary herself, they claim, was immaculately conceived.

        What’s the saying..”oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive”. Applies even, or perhaps especially, when it is only yourself you are deceiving.

        • tfkreference
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

          As I understand it, immaculately conceived means only without sin, not without sex, and refers to Mary, not Jesus. The reason is that a sinful woman couldn’t give birth to Jeaus.

          • Geoff Toscano
            Posted December 21, 2015 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

            You’re right. I actually hadn’t properly appreciated the ‘true’ meaning of the immaculate conception (silly old me!).

            I was tempted to go on but it is rather pointless, don’t you think…..?

          • Posted December 21, 2015 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

            Oh. So you’re telling me it wasn’t Mary who was laid in the manger?

            • Posted December 21, 2015 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

              No. She as laid 9 months earlier. Don’t know where.

              • Robert bray
                Posted December 22, 2015 at 8:13 am | Permalink

                It was in a Florentine garden, ca. 1400. See Fra Angelico’s two beautiful ‘Annunciations’.

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted December 22, 2015 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

                Startlingly open minded girl Mary. Both getting knocked up AND golden showers on her first shag. You don’t meet many girls with that wide a range of tastes.
                Outside EL James books, that is.

            • Diane G.
              Posted December 22, 2015 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

              You know perfectly well that was Baby Jesus!

              He was more precocious than I thought.

    • Michael
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      Replying to Geoff Toscano’s point #2: Many of these biblical literalists still accept the Genesis account of creation. This is mind, I don’t think it matters whether Jesus was the son of Joseph or not. If he was biologically related to Mary in any way, he would have been intrinsically related to Adam and everyone else. By believers admission, EVERYONE is sons and daughters descended from Adam and Eve, the first two humans. So just curious, why would you suspect that Joseph would had have to be Jesus’s father for him to be descended from Adam? Doesn’t Mary cover that? According to their logic (or lack there of) everyone is in some sense brothers and sisters as children of the first ever human parents.

      • rickflick
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

        Via Wikipedia, Mary was conceived by Jack and Anne in a normal way. Except that a sin filter was in place so that..

        “Mary was conceived by normal biological means, but God acted upon her soul (keeping her “immaculate”) at the time of her conception.”

        “…was preserved free from all stain of original sin.”

        This was decided by the pope in 1854. Before that there was only wild speculation. Now we know the truth.

        • Geoff Toscano
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

          Ah right, now it all makes sense.

    • pastormeansshepherd
      Posted December 22, 2015 at 12:11 am | Permalink

      1. Jesus was called Jesus of Nazareth because that was the city He was raised in. Joseph was born in Bethlehem, so as head of the household, he was compelled to bring his family to Bethlehem for the Roman census. After the census, and a few other events, the family returned to Nazareth, the place where Joseph and Mary had lived prior to the census. His birth being in one place and His dwelling in another was His unique way of satisfying two seemingly contradictory prophecies about His birth.

      2. As the adopted son of Joseph, Jesus was legally entitled to his inheritance as a descendant of David. Since his mother was also from the line of David, He was also a descendant of David in the flesh. There were prophecies promising that Messiah would come from the line of David, which would necessitate a father who could legally give Him that inheritance. But the fact that Joseph descended from the cursed king Jechoniah negated his ability to sire a child who could biologically qualify. Therefore no earthly descendant from sons of David could have been Messiah. Therefore, only Jesus having the parentage He had satisfied two prophecies that normally would have cancelled each other out. Further, the fact that Jesus was not from the “seed of Adam”, because He had no earthly father, actually gave Him the sole ability to offer Himself as a substitutionary atonement, because the curse of sin is passed through the seed of man. That is why God prophesied in the book of Genesis to Eve that *her* seed would have victory over the serpent (Satan).

      I’m not surprised that there are those who don’t believe the Bible, but I think it is, at best, unfair to say that those of us who believe it, do so because we aren’t concentrating. We have plenty of information, we consider it very thoughtfully, we just come to a different conclusion about it than you have.

      • RolandG
        Posted December 22, 2015 at 6:26 am | Permalink

        “Joseph was born in Bethlehem, so as head of the household, he was compelled to bring his family to Bethlehem for the Roman census. After the census, and a few other events, the family returned to Nazareth, the place where Joseph and Mary had lived prior to the census.”

        Isn’t it true

        – that this census probably didn’t happen in the first place?

        – that it would have been complete madness for a Roman census to have everyone travel from their place of residence to their place of birth, just to be counted?

        – that therefore a bureaucracy as efficient as the Roman one counted everyone in their place of residence?

        – that Joseph, as a resident of Galilee, not Judaea, would not have been subject to the census, anyway?

        So, all this census nonsense seems to be just a lie, concocted to somehow link this Jesus character to Bethlehem, because Book of Micah.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 22, 2015 at 8:08 am | Permalink

        That census thing drives me crazy. Why would he have to go to his home town for a census? Romans wanted to know where you are not where you were born! They weren’t an Ancient version of Facebook!

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted December 22, 2015 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

          Why would he have to go to his home town for a census?

          And how would someone know if you were lying? Or to be more accurate, how could someone show that a particular person was lying?
          Again, the Romans were neither fools, nor new at this “bureaucracy” game.

      • RolandG
        Posted December 22, 2015 at 10:24 am | Permalink

        “2. As the adopted son of Joseph, Jesus was legally entitled to his inheritance as a descendant of David. Since his mother was also from the line of David, He was also a descendant of David in the flesh. There were prophecies promising that Messiah would come from the line of David, which would necessitate a father who could legally give Him that inheritance. But the fact that Joseph descended from the cursed king Jechoniah negated his ability to sire a child who could biologically qualify. Therefore no earthly descendant from sons of David could have been Messiah. Therefore, only Jesus having the parentage He had satisfied two prophecies that normally would have cancelled each other out. Further, the fact that Jesus was not from the “seed of Adam”, because He had no earthly father, actually gave Him the sole ability to offer Himself as a substitutionary atonement, because the curse of sin is passed through the seed of man. That is why God prophesied in the book of Genesis to Eve that *her* seed would have victory over the serpent (Satan).”

        None of this makes any sense at all. Especially the “substitutionary atonement” bit.

    • Posted December 22, 2015 at 1:47 am | Permalink

      The first is easy: because lived in Nazareth later. I was also born in a different town than my home-town (because nearest maternity ward was there) but I would be identified by my actual home-town not my birthplace. So there is actually a logical answer to that question.

      The real answer though that Jesus had to born in Bethlehem because of Old Testament stuff and all, so the authors of his fairytale bibliography made him born in Bethlehem.

  7. Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    It’s possible that Jesus was laid in a manger, but certainly not as a baby!

    • Billy Bl
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      I was going to add a comment about Jesus not being a bird, but I like yours better.

    • mordacious1
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know. That holy ghost dude is a pretty creepy fellow…

    • reginaldselkirk
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      I suspect it was the “virgin” Mary who got laid in a manger.

    • Publilius
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      Remember that a “manger” is not a building. A manger is a feeding trough for farm animals. Jesus’ parents used a manger as a crib.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted December 22, 2015 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, I’ve never particularly fancied getting laid in a manger. All rusty bars and sheep slobber.
        And the straw gets EVERYWHERE. As does sand. Sex al fresco is much romanticised because it needs romanticisation.

        • Diane G.
          Posted December 22, 2015 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

          But I’ll bet you at least used your male privilege to be the one on top…

          And you also have one less orifice to get sandy…

          (Have I gone too far?)

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted December 22, 2015 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

            Hahahaha! One less office to get sandy. Hilarious, especially if you’ve been dragged out from the shore by the tide & then spat back out. Sand gets everywhere!

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted December 23, 2015 at 1:14 am | Permalink

              This is why cavemen always used to drag their women around by their hair. Because if they dragged them around by their feet….

              (I finally managed to tell the appalling caveman joke!)

              cr

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted December 23, 2015 at 8:37 am | Permalink

                You look appalling and I look innocent because autocorrect changed “orfice” to “office” on me.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted December 23, 2015 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

                I read it as ‘orifice’ anyway. Didn’t even notice the auto-miscorrect anyway… 😉

                cr

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted December 24, 2015 at 9:35 am | Permalink

              Trying to get out into the Indian Ocean on the reef front, against a 2-3m swell. Educational. Coral fragments get everywhere too!
              After the several-th session in the washing machine, I decided to give it best as I didn’t particularly fancy the 2km walk back with a broken limb. Or significant bleeding cuts. There were sharks. And the tide was turning.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted December 24, 2015 at 9:36 am | Permalink

            Who says being on top is the best position?

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted December 24, 2015 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

              Depends how much surplus energy you have to work off… (or how lazy you’re feeling…)

              cr

              (Isn’t it great how every topic eventually ends up being about sex? 😉

            • Diane G.
              Posted December 25, 2015 at 12:49 am | Permalink

              Special case, Aidan, special case. You yourself set the scenario: “…And the straw gets EVERYWHERE. As does sand.”

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted December 25, 2015 at 5:12 am | Permalink

                “Everywhere” includes tops, bottoms, mouths, noses. And as for rotating like a roast on the spit (Hail Sithrak, Bringer of Equal-Opportunity Torment!) …
                I found a waist-deep peat bog one New Year. That stuff is pretty penetrating too. And not very lubricious.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted December 25, 2015 at 8:32 am | Permalink

                Well, I’m glad that’s cleared up.

    • Posted December 21, 2015 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

      Once again, I failed to read all the comments without posting. Damn.

  8. Sastra
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Were the questions really that clear? If I had to answer a survey which said that “Santa Claus lives at the North Pole” and “Rudolph the Reindeer had a shiny red nose” I might casually check off the box indicating positive belief, assuming that I was being tested on the details of the story.

    If the survey asked whether Santa is “real,” a lot of people might say yes — meaning that he’s real in the metaphorical sense and they believe in the happy joy of giving. So there’s probably still wiggle room for those who worship the theology of ambiguity.

    Goodness knows they don’t need much.

    • Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Pew usually asks the questions pretty clearly, and given that these figures are close to American adults’ literal beliefs about similar issues (Haven, hell, miracles, Satan, etc.), this doesn’t trouble me too much (the validity of the data, that is, not the data themselves!).

      • Posted December 21, 2015 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

        Also, it says the survey was conducted last year. Still pretty current, though. I doubt much has changed in one year.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      I thought that at first too but dismissed it because it would be something stupid I would do and I’d walk away feeling smug that I knew the story. Others may not be so easily confused. 🙂

    • Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      The final topline questionnaire is here:

      http://www.pewforum.org/files/2014/12/Christmas-report-2014-topline.pdf

      See for yourself.

      • Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

        Here’s the question from the above. Looks fine to me:

        Thinking about the Christmas story, for each of the following, please tell me whether you believe it is an event that actually occurred or not. First, [INSERT, RANDOMIZE]… Do you believe this is an event that actually occurred, or don’t you believe this? Next, [INSERT NEXT]…[IF NECESSARY: Do you believe this is an event that actually occurred, or don’t you believe this?]

      • Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

        So if I read this right, these questions are asked only of those people who are believers in general. The above four items (Q89 in the survey) are dependent on you answering that you believe in either Q87 (was he born to a virgin, yes) or Q88 (where people who say not to Q87 are filtered out but then are asked if he lived but wasn’t virgin born which; a “yes he lived” gets you to Q89).

        This survey isn’t necessarily very good at maintaining the oft repeated “~20% of people are not believers” (i.e. “Nones”, atheists, agnostics) given that 73% answer that he’s virgin born and of the 27% that don’t, 20% still think he lived. That leaves only 7% non-believers. I find it hard to believe that that 20% portion is composed of only people who think he was just a good guy giving speeches and not divine in same way but maybe I’m totally wrong.

      • Ralph
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

        Having looked at the survey, I do share Sastra’s skepticism about what kind of questions people thought they were answering here.

        “Thinking about the Christmas story, for each of the following, please tell me whether you believe it is an event that actually occurred…”

        If you’re not concentrating too hard, and the context of enquiring about your belief in biblical literalism is not clear, you could easily just misinterpret this as a quiz on how much you know about the canonical Christmas story.

        • Ralph
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

          I’m having flashbacks to Sunday School quizzes, sticking my hand up,

          “Ooh Miss, I know this one, I know this one, ask me, ask me… an angel of the Lord, Miss, it was angel of the Lord!”

          “Now, now, give the others a chance, don’t answer unless I pick you!”

          I fairly certain I wasn’t one of the cool kids when I was 7.

          • Posted December 22, 2015 at 2:04 am | Permalink

            Nope, you weren’t. I remember kids like you when I, briefly, went to Sunday school, after being brought up a happy little heathen to the age of 9. Trauma.

  9. Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Didn’t the Holy Spirit come upon Mary? That doesn’t seem much like a virgin to me.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      Ewwwww! I translated that from the Greek and it wasn’t as you suggested.

      • simon Hayward
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

        Not sure which was funnier, Chris’s comment or your response, in any case there was danger of coffee spray

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted December 22, 2015 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

          Coffee? Is that some sort of enema game?
          Some girl, that Mary!

      • Posted December 21, 2015 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

        Greek? I don’t care about the Greek. I’m reading an inspired translation.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 22, 2015 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      Golden showers, getting knocked-up on her first date AND bukakke.
      Some girl that Mary!
      So Seamus goes to confession, and says to Father Pederastus “Forgive me Father for I have sinned. I have had carnal knowledge of a girl outside the state of holy matrimony.” [Long story cut short ; Fr Pederastus asks several times “was it this girl, was it that girl …” ; Seamus repeatedly denies that girls involvement, but makes an excuse that he swore to the girl on the Virgin Mary that he’d tell no-one what she’d done ; Fr Pederastus eventually gets bored. You can string this one out as long as you want. Dave Allen probably got a good 10 minutes out of it.] Seamus comes out of the church to his group of friends. “What did you get, Seamus?”
      “Three Hail Marys, ten rosaries and five good leads.”
      Ka-boom. Tish. I’ll be here all week.

      • Posted December 22, 2015 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

        Fr. Pederastus eh? I thought the Catholics told him to rename himself Fr. Ephebophilius.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted December 22, 2015 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

          I thought that the Holy See valued understanding Latin and Greek? Pederasty and ephebophilia are not the same thing.

  10. JJH
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    According to this poll, 73% of U.S. adults believe that a woman was impregnated by a supernatural entity to reproduce himself. We can debate about whether they actually believe it or are just following a cultural norm. But, either way, the fact that they are willing to state that as fact makes a strong statement about how religion can distort a society’s view of reality.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      It would be interesting to ask what exactly believers think that even means. How is timeless and spaceless represented by genetic chemistry?

      • rickflick
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

        I think the answer would be uninteresting. They’d probably say they didn’t really think about it. If pressed, they’d say they really didn’t care but God is so powerful, he could find a way to make it happen. At that point they’d probably lose patience and wander off to shop and eat.

      • Richard
        Posted December 22, 2015 at 8:58 am | Permalink

        I would like to ask them how many sets of chromosomes they thought Jesus had, but they probably wouldn’t understand the question – or say it was a miracle so nothing further need be known.

        Jesus H(aploid) Christ, as the saying goes.

        • Posted December 22, 2015 at 10:10 am | Permalink

          Too bad the shroud of Turin was a fake. We could have got half of god’s genome!

      • Posted December 23, 2015 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know, but I had a biology teacher who mentioned something about Jesus H(aploid) Christ.

  11. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I tried to find similar data for Canada & could only find this Pew survey from 2011 that asked about Xmas. It seems 52% of Canadians celebrate Xmas as a secular holiday. Thank goodness. I am still armed with my “you stole Solstice” speech though.

    • eric
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      Happy Belated Solstice!

      • Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        According to my Star Walk app, the Solstice isn’t technically until 10:48pm today local time (which = PCC(E) Time). So you’re not really wishing it belatedly if what I read is correctly.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

          Yes Star Walk tells me Solstice is at 11:48 EST (my time). And then it all gets lighter from there! Thank goodness. Walking through my forbidden forest at work in the dark is getting treacherous.

          Did you know that Star Walk has a widget for the iPhone? I only recently discovered this and now with a simple pull down, I can see things like Iridium flare, meteor shower, ISS or Solstice info.

    • James Walker
      Posted December 22, 2015 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      I celebrate Yule.

  12. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Not to be too gross about it, but the term “virgin birth” always strikes me as totally absurd.

    “Virgin conception”, maybe, but virgin birth? How in the hell are you going to get a full-term baby out of there without rupturing the hymen?

    This is right up there with fondling intestines through a chest wound. Are you trying to tell me that god, who knows it all, doesn’t know that his diaphragm is in the way? L

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      Well MacDuff was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped so maybe MacDuff had a virgin birth. Also Caesar.

      • Grania Spingies
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        Is that true though, about Caesar?

        That’s certainly what I was taught in Latin classes; but I have subsequently read that Caesarian section was a fatal procedure at that time and as we know Caesar’s mother was around into his adulthood, she couldn’t have had a c-section.

        Pliny the Elder claimed it was an ancestor of his.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

          Who knows, people make this stuff up all the time. Caesar spent most of his life trying to be a patrician and avoiding be killed in wars then, when he got older, he slept with all his friends’ wives. I maintain that this last bit is what got him killed and not his ambitions to be a “king” – Rex being a dirty word in Rome. Yet, despite all these adventures, all we really think about with Caesar is salads and being from the womb untimely ripped.

          A high number of women died in child birth in Rome as well. This is why I figure the best occupation would be a vestal virgin – you get to know all the secrets of the city since wealthy men left you their documents, you got the best seats at the games and all you had to do is keep a stupid flame from going out and not have sex (or if you did, not get caught but that defeats the purpose of not dying in child birth since I’m sure birth control techniques were suspect).

          • Grania Spingies
            Posted December 21, 2015 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

            Salads 😉

            From now on I will always associate him with lettuce. Thanks for that.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted December 21, 2015 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

            Hmm, I associate Caesar with… Cleopatra.

            “he slept with all his friends’ wives.” Now I didn’t know that. But I’m sure I’ll remember it. [vbeg]

            I’d always assumed the vestal virgins were high-class ladies whose ‘virginity’ mainly comprised not-getting-pregnant. But it seems I was wrong, awww. Apparently (Wikipedia) any who strayed were executed for annoying the gods, religion really does poison everything.

            cr

    • Doug
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

      “How in the hell are you going to get a full-term baby out of there without rupturing the hymen?”

      The Bible doesn’t say, but some Catholics believe that Jesus popped out of Mary’s side, rather than the usual route. You don’t think that the Son of God would come into the world through . . .THAT, do you?

      They can answer any objection you bring up-they’ve had 2,000 years to think about this.

      • Posted December 21, 2015 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

        Plus, they can (they *think* they can) use the explanation: because magic.

      • Posted December 22, 2015 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

        Well, as Larry Fling would say, THAT was also manufactured by God :-).

  13. Mark R.
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Can you imagine the billion$ of annual revenue that would be lost if it weren’t for Matthew’s gospel? I’m surprised we haven’t made him the patron saint of America.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

      +1

    • Posted December 21, 2015 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

      Isn’t Luke 2 the more popular story?

  14. steve oberski
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    What I find interesting is that there appears to be a group that finds it too fantastical to believe all of those propositions at the same time but have no problem believing just one of them.

    What was their basis for selecting one and rejecting the others ?

    It’s like saying that you believe that the earth is visited by space aliens who conduct routine rectal probes but find the notion of crop circles and cattle mutilations to be ridiculous.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

      Crop circles (as such) are a real phenomenon. Many of them are beautiful designs, and a credit to their makers.

      What is intriguing is that Doug and Dave (the original circle-makers), when they read the intriguing theories being propounded for their circles, deliberately tried to introduce elements (satellite mini-circles, ‘tentacles’) that the theories couldn’t explain. It was in vain, the theorists promptly adapted their theories to account for the new ‘phenomena’. (Source “Round in Circles” b Jim Schnabel).

      Really, circle-ology is very reminiscent of some religious beliefs. Including a remarkable parallel with the ID argument from incredulity, “You really believe they could be made by a couple of guys with a rope and a plank?”

      If you want to see some beautiful photos of circles, just try ‘crop circles’ in Google Images or go to
      http://www.circlemakers.org/exhibit_a.html
      and check out the ‘Top of the Crops’ links, especially the older ones.

      cr

    • Posted December 22, 2015 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      I don’t see any problem with the manger thing.

  15. Posted December 21, 2015 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mass Delusions a.k.a. Magical & Religious Woo-Bullshit Thinking and commented:
    65 per cent of U.S.adults believe in all four of these key elements of the Christian Christmas story: 1) that baby Jesus was laid in a manger; 2) that wise men, maybe (but not necessarily, three, came to Bethlehem, guided by a star, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to baby Jesus: 3) that an angel announced the birth of baby Jesus to shepherds; and 4) that baby Jesus was born to a virgin.

    Maybe even worse, according to this Gallup poll – see: http://www.gallup.com/poll/145286/Four-Americans-Believe-Strict-Creationism.aspx – 40 percent of Americans believe that God created mankind around 10,000 years ago; another 38 percent believe in intelligent design.

    That is, (40 + 38 =) 78 percent of adult Americans doubt the scientific view of “secular evolution”!

    Apparently they don’t read the blog posts here on the WEIT (Why Evolution Is True) blog. It’s a pity.

  16. kieran
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Wise men…they got lost!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QarofaycN3c

  17. rlundgren.jr@comcast.net
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    And, Happy Holidays to you!Bob and Margi

  18. Posted December 21, 2015 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    My nephew once got in trouble at Christmas one year when his Grandmother told him that Jesus came from a manger and my nephew asked, “like where the horses go poo?” His Mother and Grandmothers were, of course, mortified. I wanted to high five the boy.

    • Les
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

      I’m not sure why they were mortified. The whole point of the fable was to make his birth lowly (bastard born in manger).

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

        Probably for the same reason Xians get all up in arms at the Jews for crucifying him when we all knew he had it coming and he had to do this for the humans.

        • Posted December 22, 2015 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

          It was the Romans who crucified him.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted December 22, 2015 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

            You don’t have any Catholic family do you? They usually aren’t very informed on even their own myths.

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted December 22, 2015 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

              Marvin had a comment for that. (As well you know!)

            • Posted December 23, 2015 at 9:49 am | Permalink

              You are right! Those in my culture who still believe (or pretend to) are Orthodox Christians.

      • Posted December 23, 2015 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

        You’re right, there is no reason why someone whom is actually well versed in the mythology would be mortified by that. But, well versed is not how I would describe the Christians in my family. Nor, does any image of Christ that isn’t regal or bursting with reverence fit with their gospel either.

  19. Posted December 22, 2015 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    It does show that most people still have little reason not to think that the accounts of Jesus in the bible are not literal.

    These same people might have answered differently were they first asked “was Jesus real?” Or “Should you take everything in the bible literally?” Then, if they were asked whether the virgin birth actually happened, they might thought more critically. That could be an interesting thing to examine in future polls. Ask half the people without these guiding questions and the other half with them. Compare to see if the averages differ.

  20. Posted December 22, 2015 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    Somewhat OT, but someone once sent me a joke about the Wise Men. Something to the effect that if they’d been Wise Women, they’d have shown up in time to be midwives, cooked up a feast, and made everyone super-comfortable in that barn. If they’d been gay men, they would have brought every fine creature comfort you could imagine, and thrown a parade introducing the baby Jesus to the world.

    The person sending me the joke was an anti-gay bigot, and a bit of a misogynist as well, so of course it wasn’t worded quite that way. But I choose now to strip out the bigotry and misogynism and enjoy the notion of Wise People from different outlooks celebrating a holy baby.

    Even back when I was Catholic, I was always troubled by the virgin birth; it was a Big Deal, and it struck me early on that Mary didn’t get a whole lot of say in the matter. An angel came, said “this is what’s going to happen” and good little God-worshiper that she was, she didn’t argue. That was the model of female behavior, or so I was taught. I knew by the time I entered high school that I probably would have argued about being set up; that angel would have had to reassure me that he’d sort it out with Joseph.

    Of course, now it’s just another virgin birth myth, undoubtedly invented backstory because every god who was somebody had a virgin birth in the first century CE.


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