A recent Pew Research Center poll revealed that Americans are less concerned with what Christmas greetings people use and that people are growing increasingly ignorant about Christmas’ original meaning and religious significance. Surveys are suggesting concerns over any “war on Christmas” would be better focused on religious literacy.
Other polls – informal and official – seem to back that illiteracy premise.
Fox News’ Jessie Watters hit the streets of the East Coast to give a Christmas quiz to adults. He received answers about the first Christmas like this:
Jesus was born in Jerusalem.
Jesus was born in Nazareth.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Jesus was born in some type of hospital.
I don’t know where Jesus was born.
Jesus was a preacher – an all-around nice guy.
Jesus had people skills.
The wise men brought Jesus incense and silver.
The wise men brought Jesus myrrh and sneakers.
The wise men brought Jesus a lamb.
According to Pew Research, “46 percent of Americans say they celebrate Christmas as primarily a religious (rather than cultural) holiday, down from 51 percent who said this in 2013, with Millennials less likely than other adults to say they celebrate Christmas in a religious way.”
PR continued: “Two-thirds (66 percent) say Jesus was born to a virgin, compared with 73 percent who said this in 2014; 75 percent believe he was laid in a manger, down from 81 percent. Similarly, [those] who say they believe that wise men, guided by a star, brought Jesus gifts – and that an angel appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus – also have declined. A slim majority of U.S. adults (57 percent) believe that all four of these things actually happened, down from 65 percent three years ago. Belief in these events has declined not only among people with no religious affiliation, but among Christians as well. Overall, about one-in-five Americans (19 percent) now say none of these things actually happened.”
Another recent poll conducted by St. Leo University, a leading Catholic liberal arts university that enrolls more than 16,000 students across its Florida campus, with more than 40 education center and office locations and online degree programs, discovered that Americans increasingly see Christmas as secular, not religious.
The poll found that: “43 percent of Americans view Christmas as a cultural event, with holiday music, family gatherings and gift exchanges. Almost one-third see it as equally secular and religious. Just 15 percent see it as a mostly religious or only religious event, the survey found.”
No wonder that the top response from 1,000 adults, when asked about when the holiday season started, said “Black Friday,” not even Thanksgiving, Advent or December.
Declining religious affiliation and literacy is not just an American trend. Across the pond, while a November YouGov poll found that the British still prefer to call the holidays “Christmas” (83 percent), “a separate study revealed one in five didn’t know the celebration is for Jesus’ birthday. (They thought he was born on Easter.) Only about 30 percent said they learned about Jesus from reading the Bible.”
With many of these Americans and British being potential possible parents, it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what their children might know and say about the first Christmas.
Jimmy Kimmel’s cameras hit the streets of Los Angeles, and here are a few of the answers they received from younger kids who were explaining the first Christmas story:
Jack Skeleton (from Tim Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas”) was born on the first Christmas.
Jesus’ aunt was the Virgin Mary, and Mike was his cousin.
The Virgin Mary left out gingerbread cookies for Santa on the first Christmas.
Santa took baby Jesus to a tree to have a feast.
Jennifer Babb from Scripture Union, which sends the Christmas story to 100,000 children each year, told The Telegraph, “When we realized that children don’t even know the basics of what they are celebrating, then the traditional, simple story is the best way.”
The K.I.S.S. method works best even when it comes to the Christmas story: Keep It Simple, Saint!
And the simplest way to learn about the first Christmas is to read it straight from the Good Book. Simply open and read the first couple chapters of the Gospels of Matthew or Luke in the New Testament. Every year at Christmas, my wife, Gena, and I read them to our family.
If you doubt the Bible, or wonder even if God is real, I recommend a free ebook that our pastor is giving out, “The God Questions: Exploring Life’s Greatest Questions about God.” I recommend everyone read it to become more educated about the facts behind faith.
Quite frankly, if for intellectual ability and religious literacy alone, Gena and I believe courses on religion (even comparisons and contrasts) need to be better taught in all schools, public and private. That is also why we support and are on the board of the National Council of Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. To date, our Bible curriculum has been voted into 1,280 school districts (2,900 high schools) in 39 states. More than 650,000 students have already taken this course nationwide, on the high-school campuses, during school hours, for credit. It is legal and constitutional.
While I adamantly believe in religious freedom as laid out in our First Amendment, and respect whatever others choose to believe, I’m also concerned about a nation that is drifting away from God for the precise reasons it concerned our Founders. They counted on religion (specifically Christianity) to be the bedrock for morality and civility, especially in a free nation where we the people are king.
That is what prompted George Washington to appeal to the nation for the irreplaceable role of religion in our republic during his farewell address as president. He said:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
Today, I fear that an increasing majority are accepting Washington’s challenge that “morality can be maintained without religion.”
But not on my watch, and not in my household, especially during such a special and sacred time of year as Christmas. And I appreciate and value principled leaders who share the same conviction, just as Ronald Reagan did in his inspiring Christmas address back on Dec. 23, 1981.
From Gena and me, we wish you, all Americans, and indeed all peoples around the globe, a very Merry Christmas and even happier New Year!