Saturday, November 03, 2007

‘Downgrade’ Christmas? It couldn’t get much lower!

The media, blogosphere, and Baroness Warsi appear to have gone into overdrive in defence of Christmas, which a Labour think tank has suggested should be ‘downgraded’ unless other religious festivals are marked on an even footing. The Institute of Public Policy Research has suggested a number of ideas to make the UK more multicultural, at precisely the same time as there is an emerging consensus that multiculturalism has failed. They are proposing a ‘national culture’ to help immigrants somehow feel a part of the United Kingdom, and this includes public organisations marking other major religious festivals in order to give ‘public recognition to minority cultures and traditions’. The report robustly defends the idea that different communities should not be forced to integrate but should be allowed to maintain their own culture and identities.

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.


Anonymous oiznop said...

"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."

That has to be the quote of the week! Excellent.

My initial reaction to this proposal was 'how dare they!', but I can always count on Your Grace to come up with a totally unexpected and completely original perspective on things. You're right of course. Christmas couldn't be more downgraded than it already is. These holidays are what people as individuals make of them. The state has long ceased to defend their sacredness.

3 November 2007 at 12:21  
Anonymous the last toryboy said...

I thought this suggestion...

"• "Birth ceremonies", at which state and parents agree to "work in partnership" to bring up children"

even worse.

This is totalitarianism, plain and simple. These people are mentally sick control freaks.

3 November 2007 at 13:52  
Blogger Empedocles said...

Why integration has failed:
All countries that have attempted to integrate racial minorities have ended up with persistent segregation and its resulting social problems. To understand why integration has failed we must understand how it was supposed to work in the first place.

Western nations are founded on the Enlightenment view descended from Descartes that each individual is a distinct separate substance. This substance was essentially rational, and could over time acquire various beliefs, desires, etc. In this way it was believed that everything about an individual—sex, race, height, weight, religious and political beliefs—everything except for its rationality was merely contingent upon accident and/or personal experience. Specifically, the individual was born basically a tabula rasa (although Descartes thought there were some innate ideas) that could be provided with experiences that would form ones beliefs and character. It was presumed that if two individuals were provided with the same experiences, they would possess the same beliefs and character. Acting on these premises, the civil rights movement thus had two aims: to remove segregation on the one hand, and foster integration on the other. Integration was supposed to work by providing equal experiences and removing the differences that resulted in a lack of equality and thus prejudice and segregation. After all, on the Cartesian model, by giving all individuals identical experiences, or as closely identical as possible, we would remove cultural differences and result in an integrated culture. For example, bussing was an attempt to provide all citizens with the same educational experiences, a well as exposure to individuals of different races, in order to dispel prejudices resulting from ignorance due to a lack of experience of others. If all citizens were brought up in similar neighborhoods, going to similar schools, with similar exposures to others, given the same opportunities, we would achieve a society where racial differences no longer mattered since race and identity would no longer be linked. Whereas bussing was an attempt to repair educational inequalities, affirmative action was an attempt to integrate the work force so that professions were not racially determined and that racial disparities would be erased resulting in an integrated workforce with a common culture. Over time, with academic achievement equalized, cultural differences removed, and economic inequalities erased, we would move to a society where race no longer played a factor in determining personal identity, professional achievement, economic class, or cultural differences.

Why then has integration failed? Conservatives claim that integration has failed because ethnic and racial groups insist on self-segregating and refuse to integrate, liberals claim that persistent racism has kept integration from working. It is crucial to see that both sides accept the premises of integration, that the way to achieve it is to provide equal experiences. Since the theory on integration is correct, it is argued, if it has failed the only possible explanation is that it must have failed for moral reasons; someone is behaving immorally and thus preventing integration from succeeding. The validity of the theory of how integration was supposed to succeed is accepted by both sides, and if the theory is correct, then an explanation must be offered on why integration has failed to occur. The offered explanations are moral in character: either people are self-segregating, or people are racists. And so most of the civil rights movement has abandoned integration and embraced multiculturalism. It is my contention that neither explanation is correct, and that integration failed because it was based on a faulty conception of personal identity.

Personal identity:
One of the enduring philosophical questions is the question of what makes an individual the individual they are. What makes me the same person I was yesterday, or last year? What differentiates me from all the other people? If my memories could be transplanted into another person, would I be that person or the previous? The dominant theory of personal identity over the last several centuries was that of Descartes. For Descartes, one is individuated by being a separate spiritual substance. This substance acquires individual beliefs and desires through experience, and these can differ from individual to individual, and within the same individual over time, but the underlying substance remains constant and this is what constitutes the identity over time. Descartes’ views have largely been discarded as they give rise to all sorts of philosophical difficulties—primarily due to the mysterious nature of this spiritual substance and our vastly increased understanding of the workings of the brain. Others have taught that it is ones memories that constitute ones identity, but this likewise gives rise to all sorts of insoluble riddles over memory transplants, lost memories, changed memories, etc.

The truth is that what separates one from all other individuals, what “individuates” is ones history: the one thing that you can share with no other being is your history, no two beings have the same history. Even identical twins have different histories, even from the moment their cells separated. And even if ones memories were implanted into another person, your histories would therefore differ. The main import of this discussion is that, as a result, to understand oneself, what makes you who you are and makes you different and unique from all other beings, is to understand your history. For example, if you want to know why you have the political beliefs you do, say why you believe in democracy, you need to know American history, why America is a democracy, what ideas lead to the political system we have today. But in order to understand this you need to understand the political disputes of the Enlightenment. And in order to understand this you need to know the political theories of the pre-Enlightenment that the Enlightenment was reacting to, etc. In order to understand why one has the religious beliefs you do one would clearly need to know ones personal history, how you were raised and any influences in your life that lead to your current beliefs. But to understand where these ideas came from would require one to know the various religious traditions, their history, the disputes that were involved in their creation, why they ended up the in form they have, and the history of how you ended up with these beliefs. To understand why you are where you are, you need to understand your personal history, why you moved from place to place through your life. But to understand this fully you need to know the history of your ancestors as they emigrated across the Earth even as far back as the original emigration out of Africa. Actually, you would need to know the history going even further back as to why the first humanids were in Africa in the first place, and the whole evolutionary history of life on earth. Race is the result of history as well, it records the migrations of people around the world from the original migrations out of Africa—in your race you wear the history of your ancestors on your sleeve as it were. The same could be said of any taste, desire, preference, aspiration, or conviction one has; to understand why you are the way you are you need to understand your history. Even to understand why one likes something as inconsequential as the taste of strawberry ice cream would require an understanding of history, in part your personal history and your various reasons for liking it, but also in part evolutionary history and why we developed the preference for sweets that we have, as well as the biological processes in play in the perception of sweetness.

In summary, you are the way you are, and different from every other being (although sharing much with them) because your history is different from every other being. If this is the case, as I think it is, integration, i.e., the adoption of a new culture, is the process of dropping one history and adopting another as ones own. Historically, immigrants come to the US and they soon (in a generation or two) more or less forget their history and the culture that results from it and adopt their new one. Soon they're proud of how "we" defeated the British, the Nazis, and the Communists, even if they're in fact British, German, or Russian and it was their ancestors that "we" beat. Cultural practices are also the result of history--the traditions, mores, rituals, and celebrations of each culture are the result of historical events and adaptations. In integration the previous historically derived cultural practices are dropped in favor of the also historically evolved cultural practices of the US. However, one can not drop their race the way you can drop other aspects of ones identity. For example, when the British celebrate “our” great naval history, Asian and middle-eastern immigrants know that that "our" does not include them—that British history does not include them--but white immigrants to England--after a generation or so--can drop their true background adopt a new history and blend in with the rest of the "we." Caucasians living in non-white countries come to feel the same thing, that they can't drop their history/identity and become fully part of the culture. African-Americans can never and should never drop their history the way European immigrants have been able to and see the country as a land of opportunity and freedom when the fact that "they" had no freedom and opportunity is always staring them in the face.

This tension between being pressured on the one hand by the political push for integration to adopt the “mainstream” or “white” history and the resulting values, politics, and identity, and on the other hand by the obvious fact that “our” history results in a very different lessons, values, and political beliefs-- leads to the feeling of alienation that minorities universally express, and finds its way into different political beliefs, social mores, artistic expressions, etc. The cognitive dissonance between the pressure to adopt an alien history, and the impossibility of doing so when ones race and its attendant history is ever apparent, results in the widespread alienation and its attendant social ills. The facts of slavery and Jim Crow can not and should not ever be dropped for the adoption of an alien history, but since integration requires the adopting of another’s history, integration is impossible. However, the failure of integration is not a moral failing on anybody’s part, it is the result of the adoption of a faulty theory of identity giving rise to false beliefs, and was bound to fail for this reason. Given the fact that history is essential to ones identity, one of the worst things you can do to a person is force them to abandon ones true history/identity and adopt a false history and resulting values of another race, ethnic group, or religion whose history results in very different values, and cultural identity (as was attempted with native Americans). This is, if I may coin a phrase, “identitycide” and is one of the worst forms of racism imaginable. And yet identitycide is the basis of America’s educational system, and much of the alienation that plagues African-Americans and other racial groups.

I would argue that the solution to this problem is to abandon liberalism and adopt communitarianism.

3 November 2007 at 14:39  
Blogger Snuffleupagus said...

The Last Toryboy
Why is that suggestion so objectionable?

3 November 2007 at 15:15  
Blogger Little Black Sambo said...

I think that what Empedocles is trying to say us summed up in the Flanders & Swann song:
The English, the English, the English are best;
I wouldn't give twopence for all of the rest.

3 November 2007 at 15:32  
Anonymous Dr. Irene Lancaster said...

This story also appeared in The Times and I commented on it there as well.

I feel that this is simply to appease Islam, as Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists have never ever complained about Christmas.

Personally, I would not like the State to celebrate Jewish holidays. It would make me embarrassed.

Out of interest, there is plenty of appreciation of Christianity in Israel, not just in churches, but on State radio and also in concert halls.

I myself have just joined a semi-professional choir, which will be performing a Nativity Cycle in January by the modern South American composer, Ramirez. And in Spanish, too!

I've been to more Masses and Church music performed by the Haifa Symphony Orchestra in one year than I did in lifetime in Britain.

And during Christmas, the 'German Colony', where many of the city's Christian communities live, is awash with Christmas trees, Father Christmases and the like!

And no-one objects at all.

But just like Holocaust Memorial Day, which I think was a mistake in Britain and which has elicited a backlash from the Muslim community there, I think the idea of downgrading Christmas in favour of other celebrations is ridiculous.

Chanukah is celebrated alongside Christmas in some parts of the USA and has become a very materialistic holiday as a result.

3 November 2007 at 18:10  
Blogger Snuffleupagus said...

Dr Irene Lancaster
Are you then saying that you would not want Chanukah celebrated with the same official stamp as it is celebrated in the USA because this necessarily would make it more materialistic?

If this is the case Your Grace, then surely the Christians should be campaigning for Christmas to be downgraded, so as to bring real meaning back into it?

Dr Lancaster, you do well to bring up the United States. Because of the influence and weight given to Chanukah, Americans and Canadians no longer say 'Merry Christmas' in shops, on the street etc. They say 'Happy Holidays'. Their season cards all have Happy Holidays printed inside and even the Santas in the shopping malls will greet you with this saying.

Whenever I say 'Merry Christmas' in North America (by mistake), I usually get a frown from those around me. I have one Jewish friend in New York who is horrified by England's lack of 'progress'. For North America, I believe the term Happy Holidays was introduced to appease the Jews, not the Muslims. As for the discussion in this country, I am not sure who it is for.

3 November 2007 at 19:17  
Blogger Homophobic said...

"Multi-sensory worship"

These liberals, having abandoned truth, are now declining into the most illusive, ephemeral, and decadent sensuality. The desire for "religious experience" is a form of self-worship and marks a radical departure from Christian humility and meekness.

"Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future" will be very instructive reading regarding this new onslaught of satanism.

3 November 2007 at 20:49  
Blogger Johnny Norfolk said...

I hope their think tank springs a leak.

3 November 2007 at 23:58  
Anonymous Morus said...

On a frivolous note, I am a Catholic who has celebrated more Passover Feasts than most of my Jewsh friends. My father always convinced me (when an unwilling adolescent) to go to Midnight Mass at Christmas, on the grounds that if Yasser Arafat (atheist, leading a Muslim majority, within a Jewish nation) could make it, then I had little excuse. Similarly, I am attending a 'Chrismukkah' party (religion giving way to sheer logistical nightmare of trying to get the same people to two different parties a week apart). I like the idea of recognising each other's faiths, but for the State to impose in this way would be sickening. Empedocles is right to want to abandon Liberalism for Communitarianism, but must remember the words of MacIntyre - "the one issue on which the Liberals have been in the right is their suspicion of the State". Communitarians are great, as long as they recognise (as many rarely do) that the State should not be used to impose any conception of the good (the religious right in the US, please take note).

What drives me crazy, as someone who is still waiting for the left to become philosophically coherent again (say what you like about Marxism - it was a dreadful ideology, but they did immanent coherence very well), is that while I am adult enough to recognise that there are people (in the IPPR and elsewhere) stupid enough to think these things, and people stupid enough to put their names to these things, I simply cannot understand how anybody employed in Modern British Politics could be stupid enough to believe that this report's conclusion would attract anything but political scorn and universal derision? Do they honestly not know what effect this has, even on people who are sympathetic to their causes? I have met Nick Pearce, and he is not a stupid man - I can only assue that this went off on a horrible tangent after he left. ID cards, bin taxes and road-pricing might be unpopular, but they are not as wooly-minded, NW3, politically-retarded as this particular instance. It will be no more welcome on the Left than on the Right.


4 November 2007 at 16:54  

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