What we have here is a unique -- but to my mind interesting and valid -- variation on the whole tradition of major newsrooms publishing news reports just before Easter that strive to undercut the most important doctrines in ancient Christianity.
In this case, BBC leaders commissioned a survey asking 2,010 adult Brits what they do and do not believe about the resurrection of Jesus, the central doctrine of the Christian faith. The headline that resulted delivers some sobering news for small-o orthodox Christians: "Resurrection did not happen, say quarter of Christians."
This raises a logical question: Is someone a Christian if he or she does not believe in the resurrection? In this case, the pollsters working with BBC on this survey simply punted, in terms of trying to answer that question. Here is the overture:
A quarter of people who describe themselves as Christians in Great Britain do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, a survey commissioned by the BBC suggests.
However, almost one in 10 people of no religion say they do believe the Easter story, but it has "some content that should not be taken literally".
A fifth of non-religious people believe in life after death, the poll suggests.
The Church of England said it showed many people held religious beliefs.
Wait, the whole Church of England answered? In chorus? I would assume that this was a quote from a press agent for the Anglican establishment, a PR pro who really had to reach in order to find that silver lining!
Now, the first thing that jumped into my head when I saw this was that if you combine the "Christians" who do not believe in the resurrection with the secular people who do not believe in the same doctrine, then you have a really good picture of the size of a religious and secular left coalition in modern British culture.
Frankly, I would love to see someone do the same survey here in the United States. Why? Well, you know the old saying that culture is upstream of politics? The basic point is that how people live their lives tends to influence how they vote.
Culture is like climate (saith sociologist James Davison Hunter) and it takes a long time to change a nation's climate. Lots of people tend to focus on the storms -- like individual presidential elections -- but they fail to realize that the storms are caused by the climate, not the other way around.
I would argue that doctrine is upstream of culture, which is upstream of politics. As I have previously written here at GetReligion, if does appear that demographics is destiny. However, some of those trends in demographics -- think birth rate -- are linked to doctrine. And so forth and so on.
Thus, I think this BBC survey is really interesting. A follow-up question: Were Muslims simply put into the general public niche or were Muslims not interviewed? Just curious.
One or two of the bullet points in this report could serve as hooks for news stories, in and of themselves.
Concerning the biblical accounts of the resurrection, the survey found that:
* 17% of all people believe the Bible version word-for-word
* 31% of Christians believe word-for-word the Bible version, rising to 57% among "active" Christians (those who go to a religious service at least once a month)
* Exactly half of all people surveyed did not believe in the resurrection at all
* 46% of people say they believe in some form of life after death and 46% do not
Note the correlation there between belief in the Christian doctrine of resurrection and belief in the concept of life after death. I wonder if that same connection could be seen in a survey here in America?
I would note that, in 2014, the team at LifeWay Research did include a resurrection question in the "Theological Awareness Benchmark Study" conducted for Ligonier Ministries. The survey asked three questions that, here at GetReligion, we have long called the "tmatt trio" -- because I have used them for several decades as a way of probing fault lines inside Christian groups.
Those familiar questions are:
* Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this happen?
* Is salvation found through Jesus, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
* Is sex outside of marriage a sin?
How did belief in the resurrection fare here in America, three years ago?
To no one's surprise, the resurrection question drew the most positive responses -- with 45 percent of those polled strongly affirming that doctrine and 23 percent agreeing "somewhat." At the denominational level, 91 percent of evangelical Protestants affirmed the resurrection, to one degree or another, along with 84 percent of black Protestants, 73 percent of "mainline" Protestants and 73 percent of Catholics.
So, as always, England appears to be several decades ahead of America, in terms of veering into hardcore secularism.
Frankly, I wish that pollsters spent more time and money probing doctrinal questions of this kind, while attempting to chart developments on the cultural and religious left and right. I remain convinced that beliefs matter, when you are attempting to find patterns in the lives of believers and unbelievers. I'm glad BBC did this survey.