Page last updated at 08:10 GMT, Saturday, 20 December 2008

Most 'do not believe in nativity'

Nativity scene
In total, 30% of respondents believed the nativity story re-enacted in schools

The majority of Britons do not believe the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus, a survey has suggested.

Of 1,000 people questioned, 70% doubted the account, according to the British Market Research Bureau.

Almost a quarter of people who described themselves as Christians shared their scepticism.

St Helen's Church in Bishopsgate, London, which commissioned the survey, has produced a film of "sound evidence" supporting the Bible's account.

More than a fifth of Christians who answered said they did not believe Jesus was both God and Man - another central tenet of Christianity.

Young people were particularly sceptical.

BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Piggott said the findings suggested a fading influence for the Church's teaching in a secular age.

Nostalgia

"They also reinforce evidence that believers are increasingly willing to pick and choose which elements of the Bible's story they accept," he added.

Simon Gathercole, a new testament scholar at Cambridge University, said people were sceptical because they were not aware the origins of Christianity were anchored in real history.

"Jesus was born while Augustus was emperor of Rome just before Herod died... we're talking about events that are anchored in real history not in ancient Greek myths."

He also said some people think of Christmas as being religiously significant for purely nostalgic reasons.

"There's something in us that misses that connection with God that we sometimes feel our historical forebears had," he said.

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