A quarter of British Christians 'do not believe in the resurrection,' BBC survey suggests


A quarter of people who describe themselves as Christians in Britain do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, a survey commissioned by the BBC for Palm Sunday suggests.

However, almost one in 10 people of no religion say they do believe the Easter story, while claiming that it has 'some content that should not be taken literally'.

And a fifth of non-religious people believe in life after death, according to the poll.

ComRes surveyed 2,010 British adults by telephone, between February 2 and 12, 2017. The research was commissioned by BBC local radio.

The survey suggested that 17 per cent of all people believe the Bible version 'word-for-word', while 31 per cent of Christians believe the literal Bible version, rising to 57 per cent among 'active' Christians (those who go to a service at least once a month).

Exactly half of all people surveyed did not believe in the resurrection at all.

Some 46 per cent of people say they believe in some form of life after death, while 46 per cent do not.

Meanwhile, 20 per cent of non-religious people say they believe in some form of life after death, and nine per cent of non-religious people believe in the resurrection, one per cent of whom say they believe it literally.

The Church of England pointed out that the survey shows that many people hold 'core Christians beliefs'.

Commenting for the CofE, the Bishop of Manchester, David Walker said: 'This important and welcome survey proves that many British people, despite not being regular churchgoers, hold core Christian beliefs.

'Alongside them it finds surprisingly high levels of religious belief among those who follow no specific religion, often erroneously referred to as secularists or atheists.

'This demonstrates how important beliefs remain across our society and hence the importance both of religious literacy and of religion having a prominent place in public discourse.'

The BBC quoted Dr Lorraine Cavanagh, who is the acting general secretary for Modern Church, which promotes liberal Christian theology. She said: 'I think [people answering the survey] are being asked to believe in the way they might have been asked to believe when they were at Sunday school.

'You're talking about adults here. And an adult faith requires that it be constantly questioned, constantly re-interpreted, which incidentally is very much what Modern Church is actually about.

'Science, but also intellectual and philosophical thought has progressed. It has a trickle-down effect on just about everybody's lives.

'So to ask an adult to believe in the resurrection the way they did when they were at Sunday school simply won't do and that's true of much of the key elements of the Christian faith.'

Respondents were split evenly on the issue of life after death.

The majority of Christians say they do believe, while 46 per cent of the general public do and 46 per cent do not, with the remaining eight per cent saying that they do not know.

Examples of life after death in the survey included heaven, hell and reincarnation.

Three in 10 Christians surveyed (31 per cent) said they did not believe in life after death.

However, a fifth of non-religious people surveyed said that they did (21 per cent).

The survey found women were more likely to believe in life after death than men, with around 56 per cent of women surveyed compared with 36 per cent of men.

Of those who did believe in life after death, two thirds of those surveyed (65 per cent) said they thought their souls would go to 'another life' such as heaven or hell while a third thought they would be reincarnated (32 per cent).

Professor Linda Woodhead of the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at Lancaster University, said: 'This polling confirms that Britain is now split down the middle between those who call themselves Christian and those who say no religion, but this is not a simple division between religious and secular.

'A significant proportion of Christians don't believe in life after death and a significant number of the non-religious do.

'Belief in a soul and an afterlife persists, including amongst young people, even though belief in the resurrection of Christ and the authority of the Church and the Bible are in decline.'

Almost two in five Christians surveyed say that they never attend religious services (37 per cent), while one fifth say they attend every week (20 per cent).

Younger Christians are more likely than older Christians to say they regularly attend religious services.

Two in five 18-24 year-old Christians (41 per cent) surveyed and 25-34 year-old Christians (42 per cent) say they attend a service at least once a month, compared with about a quarter of 45-54 year olds (22 per cent) and 55-64 year olds (26 per cent).

In the BBC-commissioned survey, people were asked to choose whether they believed in the resurrection of Jesus 'word-for-word' as described in the Bible, whether they believed it happened but that some of the Bible content should 'not be taken literally', whether they did not believe in the resurrection or whether they did not know.

Full data tables are available at www.comresglobal.com