The Bible Society commissioned a report into general knowledge about scripture stories, and the results strongly indicated that most children had no idea about them. Not only had they never been read them, they had never seen or heard the stories, and were clueless about the characters. Not just children, but one in three of British adults did not know that the nativity story of the birth of Jesus came from the Bible. The survey was done just after Christmas.
Jonah and the whale, David and Goliath, Samson and Delilah and the Good Samaritan were among the stories that up to 59 percent had been completely unaware were from the Bible.
In stark contrast, 46 percent of adults thought that a Harry Potter plotline was biblical, and another 54 percent incorrectly picked a Hunger Games storyline. One in every 10 said that King Midas, Hercules and Icarus, all legends from ancient Greek mythology, were from either the Old or the New Testament.
The figures, coupled with the ever-shrinking church congregations, point towards a rapid decline in the religion. A former Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England, prophesies they are “one generation away from extinction.”
The survey questioned 5,700 adults and 804 children. Despite the fact of it being a popular childhood toy, a quarter of all the children had not heard of Noah’s Ark. In declining order they were clueless about King Solomon, Daniel and the Lions, the Creation, Adam and Eve and the Crucifixion.
The only encouragement for the Bible Society was in the results for cultural significance, which were high, despite the glaring gaps in knowledge. Half of all the adults said that these stories gave “good values for life” and the statistics were almost as high again for those who thought they were classics that “stood the test of time” and were important to our history.
Sir Andrew Motion, a former poet laureate, found the results “disturbing” and worries that, regardless of religious belief, a way must be found to keep the stories alive. He feels they are “indispensible” to both our ability to make sense of the past as well as enriching the present.
The chief executive of the Bible Society, James Catford, was also very concerned. He said that the stories in question were engaging and brilliant, and they look to be in danger of being lost to future generations.
Many find it difficult to see how his call for action can be implemented. The parents who were questioned had not grown up without hearing the Bible stories. Eighty-six percent of them had been aware of the key passages, yet they had neither remembered them nor passed them on. The latest census saw another huge decline in those who ticked the box for “Christian” and church attendance has halved since 1968 when it was still only 1.6 million.
If the tales are no longer told in school assemblies, nor in homes, and people aren’t going to church, there is little hope for their survival. Bible literacy is dying out. Older children actually fared worse than younger ones in the questions, with secondary school students most likely not to know the key stories. This is put down to their engagement waning and their memories faltering. This is an effect which appears to continue into adult life.
In response, the Pass It On campaign has been launched, which aims to encourage parents to tell Bible tales to their kids. The bishop of London, Richard Chartes, said there was “work to be done” so that the Bible is kept alive.
Echoing that sentiment, James Catford says, “If we don’t use the Bible, we risk losing it” and that no matter who you are or where you come from, the Bible “enriches life, and every child should have the opportunity to experience it.”
It is clear that the Bible stories are facing extinction. Whether they can be resurrected is another question.
By Kate Henderson