(CN) – A shrinking number of Americans actually believe in the biblical stories surrounding Christmas and a growing number see the holiday as a cultural one, not a religious celebration, according to a Pew Research Center study released Tuesday.
Fewer adults in the United States, including Christians, fully support the religious connotations attached to the upcoming holiday, and relatively few Americans are troubled by this declining trend, according to the survey.
Currently, 55 percent of Americans say they celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, down from 59 percent of those surveyed in 2013. Millennials are reportedly much less likely to celebrate religiously, with 44 percent seeing Christmas as more of a cultural holiday than a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Today, 66 percent of all adult Americans surveyed believe that a virgin gave birth to Jesus, down from 73 percent in 2014. This is due in part to fewer Millennials identifying as Christians, according to the Pew study, which is based on phone interviews with 1,503 adults nationwide.
While nine in 10 American adults will celebrate Christmas this year, only half said they plan to attend church which has not changed significantly since the same question was asked in 2013. About 42 percent of Millennials say that they plan on attending church this Christmas, compared to at least 53 percent of older generations who plan on congregating for holiday.
Besides age, political affiliation also plays a major role in the way that Christmas is observed in today’s tumultuous climate. The shrinking public emphasis of the religious aspects of Christmas is bothersome to half of all Republicans while just one in five Democrats say they are bothered by the decline.
Fifty-four percent of Republicans say Christian displays like nativity scenes should be allowed on government property, versus just 27 percent of Democrats, according to the Pew study.
Gary Ebersole, director of the religious studies program at the University of Missouri – Kansas City, says that while he is not surprised by the study’s findings, they are troubling to the extent in which political affiliation correlates with literal beliefs.
“One of the great schisms in American society today is that between evangelical and fundamentalist Christians and the rest of the population,” he said in an interview Tuesday, adding that fundamentalist Christians are much more likely to carry their literalist biblical reading practices into the interpretation of the Constitution and, thus, constitutional law.
“For them, the words of both texts mean what they say in plain English with no room for changing cultural mores or…any suggestion of cultural and historical relativism,” he explained.
There has been a small but significant recent decline in the number of Christians who believe in the four main elements of the Christmas story, according to the Pew survey. Dropping from 81 percent in 2014 to 76 percent today, fewer Christians say they believe in the virgin birth, the visit of the Magi, the announcement of Jesus’ birth by an angel and the fact that Jesus was born in the manger.
“If this trend continues – and it is a big if – then the number of fundamentalists will continue to decline and the Jerry Falwell ‘moral majority’ will be a smaller minority over the next generation,” Ebersole said. “This does not bode well for the Republican Party, but if voter apathy also continues to grow, it will not necessarily benefit the Democrats, especially if conservatives continue to be energized by social issues such as abortion, guns, religious freedom, etc.”
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