Legal battles over public displays of religious symbols pop up every Christmas season, but a survey by the Barna Group shows that three-quarters of Americans are in agreement on one of the fundamental elements of the holiday: that Jesus Christ was born to a virgin, Mary.
Three out of four people polled said they believe Jesus was born to a virgin as described in the Gospel narratives, according to the latest Barna survey. The Ventura, Calif.-based polling firm asked 1,005 adults whether they viewed six Bible stories as literal truth or "merely as stories told to communicate life's principles."
George Barna, founder and director of the Barna Group, said in an interview with The Blade that a majority of respondents in virtually all demographic categories voiced a literal belief in the virgin birth.
There was little difference between Protestants and Catholics on this point, he said, but among evangelicals, the percentage who said they believe that the virgin birth was literally true was in "the upper 90s," Mr. Barna said.
Except for atheists and agnostics, of whom just 15 percent took the virgin birth story as historically true, a majority of all other subgroups believed it to be factual.
"As we looked at 65 or 66 different population subgroups, and compared them across all kinds of measures, there really was not much distinction across any of the groups," Mr. Barna said.
In addition, some subgroups in which a majority rejected the literal interpretation of other Bible stories broke the pattern in regard to the virgin birth, he said. For example, 60 percent of people who categorized themselves as "mostly liberal on political and social issues" expressed a literal belief in the virgin birth.
The survey asked similar questions about five other Bible stories, with poll results showing that:
--69 percent of adults believed Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana.
--68 percent believed Jesus used five loaves of bread and two fish to feed a crowd of 5,000.
--64 percent believed the Earth was covered by a flood in which Noah, his family, and numerous animals were spared by living on an Ark.
--56 percent expressed literal belief in the Bible account of the devil, disguised a serpent, tempting Eve to eat forbidden fruit.
--49 percent accepted as accurate the Bible story of Samson losing his legendary strength when Delilah had his hair cut.
Mr. Barna said more people are prone to believe New Testament stories as literally true than Old Testament writings, a result that was especially notable among Catholics.
Including results from previous recent polls on Bible stories, Mr. Barna said about half of the Catholics surveyed believed Old Testament stories were literal while three-quarters of Catholics said they believed New Testament stories were literally true.
The Barna Group interviewed 1,005 adults by telephone in December, with a sampling error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
- David Yonke