British children no longer know Bible stories

Published 07 February 2014  |  
AP

Research from the Bible Society has revealed that around half of children are growing up unfamiliar with Bible stories like Adam and Eve, and David and Goliath.

The research, carried out by YouGov, was released in a report published today by the Bible Society as part of the launch for its 'Pass it' on campaign calling on parents to keep the Bible alive for future generations.

The research reveals that there is a growing generation gap of Bible literacy in Britain despite 43% of parents believing it is important for their child to have read, seen or heard Bible stories because they provide values for a good life.

Similarly, 40% think they are important to the nation's history and culture, and over a third (36%) say they are classic stories that stand the test of time.

Just 12% of parents surveyed said it was not important for children to read, see or hear Bible stories.

More than a quarter of all children (28%) also say that they would like to read, hear or see more Bible stories, peaking around the ages of 8 and 9 where it rises to 40% and 41% respectively.

Encouragingly, half (49%) of primary school children describe Bible stories as interesting, while almost one in three (31%) of those in secondary school feel the same. By 14 and 15, the proportion of children that think Bible stories are interesting is 35% and 27% respectively.

Around half of children never read or are never read Bible stories, in contrast to their parents' generation, with around nine in 10 parents (86%) saying they read, listened to or watched Bible stories when they were growing up.

Over half of children polled (54%) read Bible stories never or less than once a year at school or home. Similarly 45% of parents with children aged 3 to 8 never read Bible stories to their child.

Among non-Christian parents with children aged 3 to 8, one in 10 read Bible stories to their child daily, rising to 12% for those that do not associate with any religion.

However, the survey found that children today fail to identify Bible stories from fables, fairytales and Greek myths.

Polled just a few weeks after Christmas, almost one in three children (29%) did not identify the Nativity as a story from the Bible, including 35% of 15-year-olds. This rises to 36% for the Good Samaritan, 41% for Samson and Delilah and well over half, 59%, for David and Goliath and Jonah and The Whale.

Even for some of the best known Bible stories, one in five were unable to identify Noah's Ark as a Bible story, while a similar proportion (19%) did not know Adam and Eve came from the Bible.

By contrast one in 10 (9%) believe that King Midas and Icarus appear in the Bible. Many children have not read, seen or heard classic Bible stories.

A quarter of children (23%) indicate they have never read, seen or heard Noah's Ark or the Nativity (25%), rising to 38% for Adam and Eve and 43% for the Crucifixion.

More than half indicated they have never read, seen or heard Joseph and his coat of many colours (54%), Moses parting the Red Sea (56%), and David and Goliath (57%).

The proportion rises to 61% for the feeding of the 5,000 and the Good Samaritan, 63% for the creation story, three quarters (72%) for Daniel in the Lion's Den, and 85% for the story of Solomon.

Even among adults, there is a notable decline in Bible readership through the ages, with less than two thirds (63%) saying they read, listened to or watched Bible stories in school. But this varies from 56% of 25 to 34-year-olds, to 79% of those aged 55 or over.

Similarly, for those that think it is appropriate for children to learn Bible stories, only half of 25 to 34 year olds think it is appropriate for teachers to read them to their child, rising to 61% of 35 to 44-year-olds, 79% of 45 to 54-year-olds and 83% of those aged 55 or over.

Bible literacy is part of a much bigger battle to keep children engaged with reading, with the survey finding that only 40% of parents with children aged 3 to 8 read stories to them daily, and that one in seven (14%) never do so, whether Bible related or otherwise. Just over a third (34%) said they read stories to their child less than once a week.

Around one in 10 children (8%) said they had never been read a story by their parents, grandparents or other family members, and nearly a third (31%) read stories by themselves less than once a month or never.

The proportion of children that read stories every day almost halves between primary and secondary school, from 42% to 22% respectively. By age 15, only 13% do so compared with over half of 8 year olds (52%) and a third (32%) of children overall.

Bible Society's 2014 'Pass It On' campaign is designed to encourage parents to pass on classic Bible stories such as David and Goliath to the next generation.

Sir Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate (1999-2009), says that these statistics are becoming a disturbing reality and that many of Britain's brightest students no longer know the story of Adam and Eve - making it difficult for academics to teach crucial literary and historical texts.

Commenting on the publication of the report, Sir Andrew said: "It's essential for us to keep these stories alive, regardless of our religious beliefs - or lack of them. They are indispensable to our understanding of the past, and to the enrichment of our present."

Speaking about the campaign, James Catford, Group Chief Executive of Bible Society said:
"Our research indicates that the Bible's brilliant and engaging stories could be lost to future generations unless people take action."It's clear that parents want to give their children the best start in life.

"The Bible's contribution to our culture – language, literature, the visual arts and music – is immense. It doesn't matter who you are or where you come from.

"The Bible enriches life, and every child should have the opportunity to experience it. If we don't use the Bible, we risk losing it. We're calling on parents to pass it on."

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