Christmas and Other Themes

Today’s ‘bumper’ round-up of religious statistical news features seven stories. Two are Christmas-themed; two summarize public attitudes to the religious dimensions of the same-sex marriage debate; two report on new research among Roman Catholics; and the last highlights reflections on the 2011 religion census of England and Wales by the Director of the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society programme.

Churchgoing at Christmas

One-quarter of the national population claims they will attend a church service over the Christmas period this year (5% on Christmas Day itself, 11% on Christmas Eve, and 8% on another day around Christmas). The range is from 20% of men and residents of the Midlands and Wales to 30% of Londoners. Two-thirds say that they will not worship at Christmastide with one-tenth uncertain what they will do. Interestingly, when asked to indicate which of a list of Christmas Day activities they would pursue, an additional 2% (making 7% in all) mention going to church. Even so, apart from going to work (4%), this is the least favoured pastime on Christmas Day. Two-thirds anticipate singing Christmas carols over the festive period, women the most (51%) and men (31%) the least, closely followed by Scots on 32%. Among those with children under the age of ten, 45% expect them to take part in a nativity play, and 30% not. If past form is anything to go by, actual religious practices at Christmas will be significantly less than these aspirations.

Source: Online survey by YouGov for The Sun among 1,729 adults aged 18 and over in Great Britain on 9-10 December 2012. Data tables published on 14 December at:

Nativity knowledge

Britons’ knowledge of the nativity story is somewhat variable, according to a new survey. Asked ten specific questions about the first Christmas, on average they scored six out of ten, with 22% of parents and 18% of children scoring eight out of ten or more. The best-known facts about the nativity are that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (98%), Mary put the baby Jesus in a manger (89%), and that the Angel Gabriel told Mary she would give birth (83%). At the other end of the spectrum, only 14% knew that the three wise men travelled West following the star, 26% that Mary and Joseph were espoused (and thus not married) when she found out she was going to have a baby, and 32% knew that Immanuel means God is with us. A notable feature of the incorrect answers was the not infrequent appearance of Father Christmas, especially among parents’ responses. Over half of families (52%) said they planned to go to a school nativity play this year.

Source: Online survey by ICM Research on behalf of the Bible Society, undertaken between 6 and 12 December 2012 among approximately 1,000 parents of children aged 12 and under and 1,000 children. Full data tables are not yet available, but headline findings were reported on 17 December, notably in the online edition of the Daily Telegraph at:

The Bible Society’s press release is at:

Same-sex marriage (1)

Three-quarters of the British public (73%) are in favour of the legalization of same-sex marriages, but they divide over whether religious organizations should be required to provide religious weddings for gay couples. Some 28% of the population feels that these organizations should be put under such an obligation, and this is especially the view of the 18-24s (44%) and Liberal Democrat voters and public sector workers (37% each). Legalization of same-sex marriage but without requiring faith bodies to offer religious ceremonies is backed by 45%, while 17% oppose same-sex marriage but countenance civil partnerships, and a further 7% are hostile both to same-sex marriage and civil partnerships.

Source: Telephone survey of 1,023 adults aged 18 and over in Great Britain, undertaken by Ipsos MORI on 8-10 December 2012 on behalf of Freedom to Marry. Full data table published on 11 December and available at:

Same-sex marriage (2)

The British public is evenly divided about whether ‘marriage is a sacred act between a man and a woman and cannot be a sacred act between same-sex couples’; 42% say yes and exactly the same number no, albeit over-55s (56%) and Conservative voters (52%) are more inclined to take the former view and under-35s (52%) and Liberal Democrats (50%) the latter. This is notwithstanding that 60% (and 73% of under-35s) indicate that they support the legalization of same-sex marriage (in a question worded differently to that in the Ipsos MORI poll, above), albeit it is not generally regarded by the public as a priority for Parliament.

A majority (53%) backs same-sex marriages in churches, provided that churches are willing to conduct such ceremonies, rising to 63% of under-35s and 61% of Liberal Democrats; 39% are hostile, including 53% of over-55s, and 9% undecided. Only 35% endorse the Government’s proposal to prohibit the Church of England from conducting same-sex religious marriages, the majority (54%, including 60% of under-35s and the AB social group) wanting to see Anglican clergy offering such ceremonies if in accordance with their individual consciences. At the same time, 58% believe the Church of England is entitled to oppose the whole concept of same-sex marriage (with 26% disagreeing and 16% unsure). 

Source: Online survey of 1,003 adults aged 18 and over in Great Britain, undertaken by Survation on behalf of The Mail on Sunday on 14 and 15 December 2012. Summarized in Simon Walters, ‘Britons Vote in Favour of Same-Sex Marriage’, The Mail on Sunday, 16 December 2012, p. 13, available at:

Full data tables located at:

Bible engagement

Roman Catholics have a relatively low level of engagement with the Bible, according to a new survey. Of those who attend Mass once a month or more, 57% do not read the Bible week-by-week outside of a church setting. This is despite the fact that around two-thirds of them contend that the Bible has something useful to contribute to contemporary life and society, and that one-third assert that a passage in the Bible directly influenced a decision they made in the past week. For Catholics who worship less frequently than monthly or not at all, 81% seldom or never read the Bible. Less than half of both groups of Catholics feel confident about describing five specific passages from the Bible, with familiarity greater among Catholics aged 18-34 than their older co-religionists.

These findings are consistent with a ‘meta analysis’ of over 150 British sample surveys relating to the Bible and undertaken since 1945, which the present writer has almost completed, one of whose findings is: ‘Protestants in general and Free Church affiliates in particular are more Bible-centric than Catholics (apart from some indicators of literalism)’. Indeed, the faith of Catholics seems to be as much underpinned by the teachings and authority of the Roman Catholic Church as by the foundational text of Christianity.

Source: Survey of 1,012 self-identifying Roman Catholics aged 18 and over undertaken by Christian Research between 17 November and 4 December 2012, and on behalf of the Bible Society, in partnership with the Home Mission Desk of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. The sample divided between 502 Catholics who said that they attended Mass once a month or more and 510 who went less frequently or never. Headline findings are contained in a press release from the Bishops’ Conference dated 7 December, two days before Catholic Bible Sunday, and available at:

Roman Missal

It is just over a year since Catholic parishes in English-speaking countries started to use the revised English translation of the Missale Romanum edition tertia, which aimed to offer a more literal rendition of the Latin, replacing the translation introduced after Vatican II, with its emphasis on capturing the sense of the words. However, initial responses to the new Missal among the faithful seem to have been decidedly mixed, according to one local survey. In it only 22% described the general experience of their parish with regard to the Missal as positive, with 31% neutral, and 42% negative. Factoring in their personal views brought the negative total to 45%, with 28% positive, and 25% neutral. This underwhelmed reaction is despite the fact that 83% claimed to have been at least somewhat prepared for the new translation, the most common forms of catechesis being at Mass (69%), the parish newsletter (50%), and from a priest or deacon (41%). Pew cards (71%) and parish leaflets (30%) were commonly made available as ‘people’s aids’ at Mass. Qualitative data were collected alongside the statistics, it being noted that ‘concerning the language of the people’s responses and prayers, a panoply of [negative] adjectives and descriptors that would be the envy of Roget’s Thesaurus is wheeled into line’.

Source: Survey conducted by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth between 1 January and 30 April 2012. The survey form was posted on the diocesan website and was thus accessible to people from outside the diocese. Although the majority of the replies came from within the diocese, a significant number came from elsewhere (mainly Northern England). They were received, either in written form or as email attachments, from a self-selecting sample of both laity and clergy. ‘There is no indication of any particular group with an agenda “packing” or skewing the responses’. Even though statistics are cited to two decimal places, the number of respondents (307) is not specified until the very last page of Paul Inwood’s summary of the survey, which can be found at:

The weekly Catholic magazine The Tablet is currently running an online survey on the same subject. To participate, go to:

Religious census

The religious life of the country is more diverse and complex than a superficial reading of the 2011 census data for England and Wales might suggest, according to the latest commentary on the initial results which were released a week ago. In particular, there is no hard-and-fast fault-line between ‘Christians’ and those professing ‘no religion’. ‘The census is a poor guide because it asks a single question about identity and offers a limited range of answers … The census still works with simple, unitary categories of religion. If forced, most of us can squeeze ourselves into one of these boxes. But if asked what we really mean, we display a heterogeneity which simplistic readings of the census ignore … Most people no longer identify with the labels of religious affiliation … Religion, like secularity, has become a matter of choice. We do not obey authority as we once did, and we no longer take our religious identities “off the shelf”. We explore for ourselves and assemble spiritual packages we find meaningful.’

Source: Linda Woodhead, ‘Faith that Won’t Fit the Mould’, The Tablet, 15 December 2012, p. 8.


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One Response to Christmas and Other Themes

  1. Pingback: Some British Christmas Religious statistics | eChurch Blog

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