The Light of the World

The Light of the World

The journalist Alison Pearson wrote an article in The Telegraph newspaper on Wednesday. Here is a summary of what she said.

'The link between church, state and the population was slowly chipped away when it was thought funky and fashionable by the brain-free usual suspects to put the religions of immigrants who were not Christians on a level footing (with Christianity), something I’m not aware of any of the countries that the immigrants came from allow. There are many in the UK who see themselves as Christian agnostics.  I mean those of us whose faith may be tattered, or non-existent, but who love the traditions we were brought up with and who feel, rather mysteriously, that through re-enacting them, we are brought nearer to something bigger than ourselves.

The same thing is happening in schools across the land this week, as excited small persons don tea towels and sparkly angel wings and deliver their own unique interpretation of the Christmas story. My friend’s grandson, demoted at the last minute from Joseph to Third King, dropped his present like a tactical stealth bomb on the baby Jesus’s head, the Nativity play being the only stage production in which such mistakes get more star ratings than perfection.

And into all this loveliness and wonder and people doing something warm and communal for a change instead of shopping 'til they drop comes the Commission on Belief and Religion in Public Life which includes pillars of the establishment like Baroness Butler-Sloss, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, former head of the Muslim Council of Britain, and Lord Williams, better known as the former Archbishop of Canterbury. It says that Britain has seen “a general decline” in its Christian affiliation, and the time has come for public life to take on “a more pluralist character”. Only two in five British people now “identify” as Christian, and the commission wants a new settlement for religion in the UK. Major state occasions should be changed to be “more inclusive”. “Socially divisive” faith schools must be phased out. British children will never become familiar with the Judaeo-Christian religion which underpins 2,000 years of Western civilisation; if you banish it from schools, they will certainly not get it at home. And the stories and attendant values which those of us over the age of 40 take for granted will be lost.

Sadly, you have to conclude that this is exactly what those hand-wringing members of the liberal establishment want. We probably have 10 years before we stop greeting each other with “Happy Christmas”. A Nativity play, should such a regressive, sexist construct be allowed to exist in 2025, will probably begin with a four-year-old Angel Gabriel reading out a disclaimer: “The baby Jesus was meek and mild, but unfortunately he does raise major questions around gender and ethnicity. If you are affected by any of the issues in this Nativity play, please call the free helpline, Offended Anonymous, or speak to Mrs Michaels, the Head of Non-Religious Transgender Studies.” In this new, secularist Britain, you will still be allowed to buy a Norwegian spruce to decorate, but it will be called a “holiday tree”. That sad and joyless terminology is now the norm in the United States, where Christmas, to the great sadness of many Americans I know, is the one religious festival that dare not speak its name.

Is that what they have in mind? Baroness Butler-Sloss claims that the suggested changes would add to our heritage, rather than take anything away. I’m afraid our lady of multiculturalism is so open-minded that her brains have fallen out. There appears to be some kind of fuzzy hope that, with Christianity marginalised, we will create a more harmonious society. Experience elsewhere suggests exactly the opposite. In 2012, for example, Belgian authorities caused outrage when the giant Christmas tree, which had always been erected in the Grand-Place in Brussels, was replaced by a politically correct, minimalist “tree” made of TV screens. In addition, the city’s historic Christmas Market was renamed Winter Pleasures. Critics claimed this was done to appease the booming Muslim population in Brussels. That worked well, didn’t it? Brussels, now better known as the jihadi gun-running capital of Europe, is hardly a shining advertisement for multiculturalism.

To put those religious traditions on a par with Christianity is still totally unacceptable to the majority of Britons, whether they “identify” as Christian or not. Try to picture the countries that many immigrants come from making similar concessions; they’re more likely to burn down a church than promote pluralism. There’s not much that makes me want to run amok, but the spectacle of eminent judges and religious leaders signing the death warrant of Christianity in these isles is just intolerable. It is literally beyond belief. Hands off our faith schools! Hands off our Christmas! At this most unsettling of times, we want public life to have a character that is deeply familiar and comforting; we need our traditions more than ever. “Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight"'.

In Scotland the same process is bring applied. The First Minister is an avowed atheist. The Secular Societies are becoming more and more influential. The Church of Scotland gives an uncertain sound. The Roman Catholic Church once vociferous under Cardinal O'Brien, is now living in shamed silence. The only voices of protest are from the Free Church and the occasional letter from Richard Lucas and from me in The Scotsman. Christmas carols are stunningly, hauntingly beautiful. The atheists would have done with them, would not have children learning them and singing them in schools. Would ban them from broadcasts and confine them to church services only. We need to stand up for Jesus, for the Church, for our faith.

Have you noticed how our broadcast media are dominated by Islam, Islamic issues, Muslims voices and opinions? Every night, every news bulletin, every week, every month, every year? Do we ever hear a Christian opinion, a Christian response, a Christian perspective? No. There was lots coverage of Donald Trump's remarks about stopping Muslims getting into America temporarily until the implications of the San Bernardino mass murders were worked through. He was heavily criticised. There was a brief shot of an evangelical Christian preacher called Jerry Falwell – the son of the Jerry Falwell who was a prominent evangelist for many years in America. Jerry Fallwell junior carries a gun in is hip pocket – even while he is in Church – even while he is preaching. He said that if the staff at the San Bernardino office Christmas party had been carrying guns they would not have been murdered. This you may agree is very far away from the core message of Christmas.

Does Christianity always have to be the soft option? Are we always expected to turn the other cheek? Is Jesus' way of forgiveness, love and peace actually credible as a lifestyle today? Of course it is. It may not be easy for it is simpler to be angry and filled with revenge and hate when something terrible happens. And we are now confronted with a mass ideological movement which wants to take over the world and convert it - Islam. It seems to be winning by numbers, by wealth and by violence. Islam seems to be winning by political abandonment of Christianity in the west. Islam seems to be winning by entering the belief and values space created by atheism in western societies and colonising it in the name of Allah.

The classical prophets of Judaism would have said this. 'You have abandoned the living God of your forefathers who saved you as a people and called you for his own and gave you the land flowing with milk and honey. You could not bear the Law and you could not keep God's commandments. So now, God has given you over to another god, harsher than the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a god whom you did not choose to worship and who did not call you to witness and service. You will be taken over and oppressed and be made into second class citizens. You will be ruled by the Sharia and you will cry again for freedom and God will not answer'. And for speaking like that any prophet today would be shunned and ostracised and dismissed from any public position in the land.

We romanticise Christmas. We romanticise Jesus and Mary and Joseph. It is comforting and therapeutic to suspend reality for a few days. But they lived in the real world. And it was dangerous then for them. It is not dangerous for us yet. We are likely to be able to live out our lives in peace still. But it will be a challenge and a choice for each of us to choose to be a Christian and to live as witnesses to Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Living Lord. Are you up for it? Will you cope with the testing of your Faith?

You have a chance to share in the real and raw meaning of Christmas. Beyond and beneath the tinsel and decorations and schmaltzy popular songs, beyond Santa and the reindeer and silly hats and too much feasting and drinking. Jesus' birth was a serious event whose purpose was to make this world a better place. And it has done so. It has worked. So rejoice in being at the heart and core of Christmas and decide and determine to be true to the Son of God who is your Lord and Saviour. Pray, worship, love, serve and witness in this self same world as he entered whose birth and birthday we celebrate and rejoice in. He lived and suffered and died and rose again. We share for ever in his victory.

Robert Anderson 2017

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