More understanding of Christianity is useful but it’s no substitute for more Christians

Dec 24, 2017 by

by Melanie McDonagh, unherd:

This is, you’d have thought, the high point of the year in terms of brand recognition for the Christian faith. “Christ’s Mass” is precisely what “Christmas” derives from – and even the determinedly Godless will at some point have had Mary’s Boy Child played at them somewhere in the last few days (in my case, by itinerant Filipino carol singers on the bus), with its impeccably orthodox payoff; “and man will live for evermore/because of Christmas Day”.

Or, for the middle classes, end of year carol services involve exposure to the plain exposition of the doctrine of the Incarnation: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see/Hail th’Incarnate Deity” … that’s Hark the Herald Angels for you. One Evening Standard columnist, Ayesha Hazarika – a Muslim by background and, of course, an UnHerdianobserved this week that going to a carol service (candle-lit) should be practically obligatory as a seasonal activity; she almost cried during the last verse of O Come All Ye Faithful (presumably the dynamite climax: “God of God, Light of Light”). No other belief system has this kind of cultural underpinning.

And yet, it’s not working. Three years ago, YouGov did a survey of beliefs about the Christmas story and it seemed a majority of people (55%) thought that Jesus was not born to a virgin mother, compared to 24% who thought he was. 18% did not believe Jesus Christ actually lived at all. A few days ago The Independent published research suggesting that one in five Brits did not realise that Christ was born on Christmas Day. And, yes, I do realise that the date of Christmas was only fixed in the fourth century; this is still really weird.

But the detachment from religion goes further. This was the year in which the National Centre for Social Research revealed that 53% of Britons regard themselves as having “no religion” – and in the case of 18-25 year olds the proportion rose to 71%. Only 18% identified as a member of the Established Church, of England. This is getting to Scandinavian levels of unbelief – in Sweden only about 18% of people are actually Christian.

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