‘Downgrade’ Christmas? It couldn’t get much lower!
This is just the sort of news that persuades Cranmer that there is something ever so slightly oxymoronic about the concept of a Labour think tank. In case they haven’t notice, there is a national culture – it is British. It has been developed over centuries – adapted, moulded, syncretised from a myriad of traditions, and has emerged to constitute what is utterly and uniquely British.
But that aside, Cranmer is unsure what all the fuss is about.
The sense in which this country is Christian has undergone profound change over the past 50 years, and it may be asserted (and has been by many eminent theologians and sociologists) that the UK has ceased to manifest the Christian religion in any sense.
November 5th long since ceased to be a celebration of the Protestant faith. The increasing dominance of Halloween, the emphasis on the secular and utterly godless side of Christmas, the reality that eggs and bunnies have replaced the cross of Easter - all reflect the movement of our culture away from Christianity to paganism (or, indeed, a return of these festivals to their pagan roots). Increasingly there is an ignorance about even the basis of the Christian story and a misunderstanding about the joyful and life-enhancing message of the Gospel. Instead, there is an onslaught of ‘New Age’, Theosophist, occult and pagan ideas. Myth and mysticism are supplanting biblical Christianity, and labyrinths, gemstones, icons, chanting, meditation and other forms of ‘multi-sensory’ worship are gaining prominence. It is a new era of Gnosticism which appeals to a generation seeking religious experience over religious truth.
It is not, therefore, a question of ‘downgrading’ Christmas, for the only Christian holy days which survive in the public consciousness are those which are fused with commercialism: Mammon has already supplanted God. So adding Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, Eid, Diwali, Buddha under his bodhi tree or Guru Nanak’s birthday, will simply increase the commercialism of these festivals, perverting them to the extent that they will cease to be distinctive or even recognisable. For this reason alone, the leaders of these faith groups should resist calls for ‘even-handedness’, for that way lies materialism, commercialism, and conformity to the god of this world.
And further, who will decide what constitutes a religion ‘worthy’ of a day of recognition? It is one thing to grant Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs their holy day of recognition, but, since there is no definition in law of what constitutes a religion, there is no logical end to the number of days we will find ourselves commemorating. What of the Druids and their solstices, the Wiccans and their new moons, or the myriad of denominations of the ‘big six’? And let us not forget the Jedi Knights, who (after their strong showing in the 2001 census) will have a very strong case in law for a day commemorating the birth of Yoda.
These are not flippant questions at all. But perhaps the main concern is that this report was commissioned by Nick Pearce when he was director of the Institute for Public Policy Research. Under his tenure, they came up with such genius ideas as ID cards, bin taxes and road pricing. He is now head of public policy at Downing Street. God help us.