Sunday, December 22, 2013

Santa in the stable – a postmodern Nativity

It was reported in the Telegraph this week that 10% of British 25-34-year-olds think Father Christmas got a walk-on part at the Nativity: yes, Santa was there in the stable with the Wise Men and shepherds, down on his knees honouring the baby Jesus.

Let's throw in Batman, Darth Vader (or three), Bill and Ted, Commander Riker and Deanna Troi and a T-rex for good measure.

Well, why not? We're in an increasingly secularised era in which all religions are being systematically relativised and all beliefs equalised: Scientology is now a bone fide faith; Jesus is but one god in the Pantheon; and Christianity is just another myth.

Even 'Democratic Socialism' is now recognised by Employment Tribunal as a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010 (His Grace won't say he didn't warn you..).

Truth is as you perceive it: what you believe is true.

As His Grace wrote presciently almost four years ago, the moment the state begins to define ‘religion’, and then attempts to apportion rights and liberties under the guise of an enlightened tolerance of relativist equality, there is no logical end to the official recognition of all manner of weird cults, strange sects, spurious beliefs and pseudo-religions, all of which have to be equal under the law irrespective of the common good and irrelative to the inherent counterknowledge believed or propagated.

If you wish to believe that a carpenter from Nazareth can rise from the dead, you are free to do so. But in the age of ‘equality’ and ‘non-discrimination’, this is no different from believing that a middle-eastern illiterate warmonger had a direct line to Allah; that a man can walk around with the head of an elephant; that you should never cut your hair; that you may be cremated in the open air; that you believe that a mortal man may speak infallibly; and if you walk around Tesco in a hoodie carrying a light sabre, you are in harmony with ‘The Force’.

And if you want to worship Satan, that is perfectly cool. If you want to take Pagan holidays, that is accommodated. And if you want to believe in man-made global warming, the courts have already decreed that your devotion to such a philosophy is indeed the same as religious faith.

Of course, Santa at the Nativity is evidence of appalling religious illiteracy, but what do you expect when the RE syllabus has become a relativised mish-mash of undemanding multi-faith pap? The qualification has been dumbed-down over the decades to an astonishing degree: instead of studying one or two faiths in depth, most children now study all faiths (and none) with equal superficiality, and God help the RE teacher who advocates any notion of religious truth or seeks to use it to inculcate morality or values. Indeed, what is the meaning of sin in a society where morality is relative?

But don't be too hard on the children (or the 25-34-year-olds): if they want a Nativity scene with Santa, Darth Vader or T-rex, let them be free to imagine and learn.

It is for the believer to inhabit this world and to inculturate himself or herself in order that the truth may be preached and understood. This is linked acutely to the notion of incarnation. The mission of the Church is to be born anew in each context and culture, because the gospel is foreign to every culture. If the gospel is the story of God’s dealings with the world, it is a universal history, with significance for every person in the world. If Christians cannot communicate it in terms that are meaningful, then the gospel ceases to have meaning within that culture.

Christians should be a living testimony of God’s dealings with humanity, which in turn will raise the questions to which the gospel is the answer: In the words of Lesslie Newbigin:
If the Church which preaches the gospel is not living corporately a life which corresponds with it, is living a comfortable cohabitation with the powers of this age, is failing to challenge the powers of darkness and to manifest in its life the power of the living Lord to help and to heal, then by its life it closes the doors which its preaching would open. 
The Church has practised a limited understanding of mission throughout most of its history - where the gospel preached was primarily concerned with the conversion of souls, and the people's social, political and economic contexts were seen as unimportant: the missiological objective was primarily one of a future hope of redemption.

But salvation liberates people to rediscover their identity in this present world: it restores dignity and helps them discover meaning in the context of their own cultures and social histories.

If we now have to begin with Santa at the postmodern Nativity, so be it.


Blogger The Explorer said...

"O what a tangled web..."

A classic, Your Grace. Loved it!

PS: There is controversy in Utah about its anti-polygamy law. What is the basis for opposing it, or polyandry, polyamory...? And, of course, the list goes on.

22 December 2013 at 12:34  
Blogger The Explorer said...

Following up one of the cross-references, I found myself confronted with the lovely Hazel Blears again.

Such a wonderful surname for a politician.

If 'to blear' doesn't exist yet in the lexicon, then I'm creating it. Meaning: to confuse the public, particularly when used of politicians.

22 December 2013 at 12:49  
Blogger Nick said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

22 December 2013 at 13:54  
Blogger Nick said...

YG, the picture is a classic. it would be hilarious if it were not for the underlying message of religious ignorance in our society. We are seeing not just a move towards non-belief, but a move to re-write Scripture through ignorance and misconception.

In fact it should be no surprise that many Britains have no grasp of morality or a sense of obedience when they show this level of ignorance about basic Christianity

22 December 2013 at 13:56  
Blogger Mr Integrity said...

Your Grace,
How true this is? 'what you believe is true'
Today, everyone believes what they think as opposed to what they are taught. We all know better than those who have gone before.

One of my favourite films is 'Love Actually' and that contains an amazing assortment of creations at the school nativity. An approach that trivialises the truth of the coming King.

22 December 2013 at 14:11  
Blogger Janet said...

I'm in agreement with the sadness that so few people now know anything about our Christian heritage, let alone Christianity itself. However, that said, I actually rather like such an all-encompassing nativity scene. Being pedantic, the nativity as usually pictured didn't happen anyway - the wise men (however many of them) didn't turn up at the same time and there are various other things one could get picky about, not least the exhausting bloody messiness of childbirth and its aftermath, but I digress. The Bible is quite definite that everyone and everything will bow before God. That certainly includes all of humanity and all of the angels and demons, and Satan himself. So wouldn't that also include everything from human imagination?

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So each of us shall give account of himself to God. (Romans 14, 10-12)

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2, 1-11)

(Quotes from the Revised Standard Version, that being what I was brought up on :-) )

22 December 2013 at 14:28  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

But salvation liberates people to rediscover their identity in this present world: it restores dignity and helps them discover meaning in the context of their own cultures and social histories

Perhaps the people Ed West writes about on page 223 of The Diversity Illusion are yet to find salvation but they’re clinging to Christianity, or their understanding of it, as an expression of their culture:

‘The same patterns of sectarianism found in Ireland may emerge in some northern English towns where the demographic distribution of white Christians and Asian Muslims is starting to resemble Ulster’s fragile balance. While Islam is a hyper-identity for immigrants, Christianity has become one for the natives in response. The Census of 2001 showed that in those parts of England where there [is] now a large number of Muslim immigrants, there was a jump in the number of whites who described themselves as Christians, despite church attendances continuing to slump.’

Christianity as a badge of white identity. The bishops won’t like that one little bit.

22 December 2013 at 14:31  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Article: "And if you want to worship Satan, that is perfectly cool. If you want to take Pagan holidays, that is accommodated. And if you want to believe in man-made global warming, the courts have already decreed that your devotion to such a philosophy is indeed the same as religious faith."

The religious of one major religion or another can even dictate their terms to employers such as Marks and Spencer now:

22 December 2013 at 14:36  
Blogger Nick said...

Marks & Spencer are definitely wrong on this. No Muslim staff need to drink alcohol or eat pork - just sell it to those who want to. I'm currently drafting my letter to them. If anybody else wants to, the address is

Marks & Spencer
Aspect House
Chester Business Park
Wrexham Road

22 December 2013 at 15:01  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

What next? Roman Catholic till staff refusing to pass condoms over the bar reader? As the comments on that story suggest, people should walk away and leave their shopping on the belt if they disagree and this sort of stuff happens to them.

22 December 2013 at 15:06  
Blogger carl jacobs said...

I am not quite sure I understand this post. How can a state with an established religion avoid defining religion?

the moment the state begins to define ‘religion’, and then attempts to apportion rights and liberties under the guise of an enlightened tolerance of relativist equality, there is no logical end to the official recognition of all manner of weird cults, strange sects, spurious beliefs and pseudo-religions

As can be seen the post contains its own unstated definition of religion. Otherwise it would not be able to make reference to "weird cults, strange sects, spurious beliefs and pseudo-religions."

The problem is not that the gov't is defining religion. The problem is that the gov't is dominated by the irreligious, and the irreligious are define religion according to the precepts of irreligion. And Archbishop Cranmer doesn't much like the result. Understandable. I wouldn't like it either. They are defining religion not as the metaphysical reality beneath physical existence, but as the story we tell ourselves to make life palatable. It immanentizes and thus delegitimizes the whole concept. That is of course the whole point.

Which is what our weblog host sees and what causes him to object. He sees Scientology and Christianity dropped into the same bucket. And he says "Those are not the same." To which the Secularist responds "Yes, they are, and I have the power to say so." Cue gnashing of teeth and the writing of this post.


22 December 2013 at 15:07  
Blogger Simon said...

Some years ago I read that the Japanese were becoming taken with the idea of Christmas. The window of one Tokyo department store was dressed with a magnificent depiction of Santa Claus, crucified.

The story may well be apocryphal, but the image is too good to waste.

22 December 2013 at 15:15  
Blogger Marie1797 said...

“If we now have to begin with Santa at the postmodern Nativity, so be it.”

Yeah and baby Jesus is an alien from outer planet Zogg come to save us from Darth Vader and the evil warriors. Then Santa arrived bringing presents for everyone and so there was peace upon all men.

How the truth gets distorted and adulterated over time if the original is not adhered to and taught properly. We need to treasure and value Christianity above all else.
Santa is of course Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra a 4th century Greek Christian who gave gifts to the poor.

22 December 2013 at 16:31  
Blogger Nick said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

22 December 2013 at 17:22  
Blogger Len said...

Christmas is a pagan festival which 'the Church' tried to 'Christianize'. The Church tried to incorporate pagan beliefs and customs into Christianity which confused the Christian message.It is time the true Church and the State authorized religion parted company.

Perhaps it is time for Christians to totally dissociate themselves from what is essentially a pagan festival which would no doubt delight the secularists.

A bit off thread but has anyone heard of the new secular religion 'Sunday assemblies' 'started by two British comedians, is now an international network of atheist churches with US locations in New York and Portland, also listing 4 UK assemblies and one in Australia. The Sunday Assembly calls themselves “a godless congregation that celebrate life.”

Man has now become god.Man decides what is moral and what is not.Man decides what laws we follow and what we disregard.
It seems that man cannot learn from past mistakes and is doomed to repeat them.

How long Jesus before you reclaim what is rightfully yours?.

22 December 2013 at 17:28  
Blogger Nick said...

"Truth is as you perceive it: what you believe is true"

Spot on YG. Except there is now one overriding "truth"; that all truths are true (unless they are Christian). Also all "truths" are subserviant to the Uber-"Truth" as defined by a small number with power and influence (not wisdom or love).

I sometimes think that there is little Christians can do about it in a practical way. We just need to be faithful, not powerful. God is the powerful one, and He will hold everyone to account at some point. Those who pervert the message of the Scriptures, whether through ignorance, or wilful misrepresentation, should be particularly fearful.

The final words of the Bible....

"...For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book....."

22 December 2013 at 17:29  
Blogger Dreadnaught said...

Labour wants to 'do God' but where are the Tories.

22 December 2013 at 17:34  
Blogger Happy Jack said...

Happy Jack says the church must go back to telling people about the good news and also living by the Sermon on Mount and the words of Jesus. One without the other does not work. Everyone who believes in Jesus should say so and also stand by the laws of God and live by them by loving God and loving others. This goes for all the bishops and all the politicians too. Jack says, to hell with self discovery!

And Jack says never mind all this talk of "post modernism'. Santa and Darth Vader at the nativity? No!

And Jack looked into this church of satan and it all sounds very much like some of the ideas of secular and atheistic liberalism.

22 December 2013 at 17:34  
Blogger Marie1797 said...

"Labour wants to 'do God' but where are the Tories."

Too busy on national television telling Nigel Farage what he can do with his middle finger!

22 December 2013 at 17:48  
Blogger Len said...

We Christians should not be at all surprised at the ongoing attack on the very foundations of our beliefs.
This battle was illustrated in the Book Of Job and the testing of Job.
Genesis records Satan as the father of lies, a murderer ,and a deceiver and we see this throughout history
With Satan`s attacks on Moses,David,Daniel and even the Lord Jesus Himself was tempted by Satan.There are also countless others who have been put to the test.
More recently the foundations have been attacked By Darwin, even more recently our own Governments.
We have arrived at a time when we are to go onto the threshing floor where the wheat will be separated from the chaff.
There will be those who conform to the spirit of this [evil] world system and some churches are already in Babylon as was Lot,and others will remain faithful under persecution and not conform to this world system.
Our faith will be tested to see if is pure gold or just so much dross.

22 December 2013 at 17:57  
Blogger Uncle Brian said...

Curiously, Your Grace, in the ComRes poll cited by the Telegraph, younger respondents displayed a slightly surer grasp of the Gospel narrative than the age bracket you single out to mention in your post.

The question they were asked: “Is Father Christmas included in the in the Bible accounts of the Christmas story?”

Ages 18-24: Yes 5%, No 79%, Don’t know 16%

Ages 25-34: Yes 10%, No 77%, Don’t know 13%

Could these results simply mean that younger adults are marginally readier to admit that they don’t know?

The full poll findings are available from ComRes here:

22 December 2013 at 17:58  
Blogger David Hussell said...

The article challenges the Church to find an appropriate way in which to preach The Good News, in this, the Postmodern Age. The age of Modernism has passed and we are now in Postmodernism - at least according to Leslie Newbigin, who is quite popular with His Grace at the moment, it seems.

The age of Modernism lasted say, about 350 years, plus a bit maybe? - from the Enlightenment onwards anyway. Yet for much of that period we did succeed in getting our point across. But now with the PM era barely what ? - 50 years old we are struggling far more. Why? Well ideas abound of course, and I have my, admittedly not very original, thoughts. But Cranmer is absolutely right to put this question in front of us, as it really is the main one facing all the Churches at present, I believe.

Many folks in the west are influenced by both Modernism and Post-Modernism simultaneously, and the relative importance, the relative weight, of each bundle of "beliefs and attitudes" alters between communities, between town and country, social classes, groups, regions and what have you. So the resulting challenge is very real, but never impossible, since all things are possible for God.

So how do we do that ? How do we communicate The Gospel to an increasingly desperate, needy world ? How is that achieved with the professional communicators, the media, at best disinterested in religion, and usually, I believe, actively prejudiced against orthodox Christian faith. That's the biggest challenge facing the Church in the west at the present, I believe.
Thank you Cranmer for, at Christmas, our greatest feast, raising this most important of questions. And His Grace suggests that we start communicating with a PM Nativity Scene, to which I say, in my pragmatic way, "Bring it on, and if it works, let's do more, as long as the core truth is portrayed, as long as the message is the true one, let's do it ! "

22 December 2013 at 21:41  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Part of the issue here I think is that we have a focus on belief itself rather than religion or beliefs. Something similar happens with culture rather than the content of culture. We live in a plural society and the world, which we have unprecedented access to these days, is multicultural. Culture and beliefs define people and that's important because there is potential for oppression if we ignore it. We are in a post-modern world where the are different 'truths' but we nevertheless have to live together and carry on. This is where the notion of the 'common good' comes in as referenced in the article, I'd say. But that's a topic in itself. As for common knowledge of the nativity scene, that's a disgrace. Religiius education should cover Christianity given that it's currently our established religion, and approach one or two of the other big ones in a comparative sense I'd say. Hinduism and perhaps Buddhism would be my choice given that Judaism and Islam are monotheistic like Christianity is, albeit more clearly so for children than Christianity's trinitarian version.

23 December 2013 at 06:22  
Blogger The Explorer said...

If it's true for you, it's true.

Here'e the Plague, and four towns with four different responses.

1. Antibiotics.

2. Burn sulphur for the bad air which is the cause.

3. Self-flagellation. (Today called PC).

4. Rub yourself in mercury.

Town 1 would survive intact; 2 with reduced numbers; 3 and 4 would die out.

Ideas have consequences: regardless of the sincerity with which they are held.

23 December 2013 at 07:32  
Blogger David Hussell said...


There's some sense in what you say. But because the syllabus for religious teaching fell into the hands of relativists, like much else in education, the children are taught a meaningless mish mash.

We have created our own slow acting cultural suicide. Our culture will not survive the near extinction of Christianity as the acknowledged public truth. I don't suppose most of the non-extreme liberal relativists will like society much either, once it has worked out to its ugly destination. What's the bets that then they will blame the CHristians for not having been more assertive? And in a sense they may be right.

23 December 2013 at 08:44  
Blogger David Hussell said...

The Explorer,

Yes, ideas have consequences. But to some that might sound frighteningly like personal responsibility , perhaps ?

23 December 2013 at 08:46  
Blogger Uncle Brian said...

David Hussell

What's the bets that then they will blame the CHristians for not having been more assertive?

Odds on.

23 December 2013 at 09:02  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

David H: "We have created our own slow acting cultural suicide. Our culture will not survive the near extinction of Christianity as the acknowledged public truth."

It's cultural change, not cultural suicide. Normal stuff, really.

23 December 2013 at 16:54  
Blogger Happy Jack said...

Happy Jack has been thinking about all this post-modernism and has watched the film 'Dogma'.

Jack remembers a priest in this giving them "Catholicism Wow". He was saying they were going to retire the "wholly depressing" crucifix and said Christ came "to help us out" not "give us the willies" and launched the "Buddy Christ" - winking at people and giving them the thumbs up.

There is a lot of rude things and swearing in this movie and fun is made of faith but it does make you think. Is this the way post-modern Christianity is heading?

23 December 2013 at 17:55  
Blogger The Explorer said...

DanJ0 @ 16:54

Change or suicide? Perhaps the question can only be answered when there is, or isn't, a corpse.

No corpse, you were right. Corpse, David was right.

The answer, I suppose, lies in the future.

Adam Smith, I think, said there's a deal of ruin in nation. So it's difficult to be precise about the timescale. Much more difficult than the demise of an individual.

23 December 2013 at 18:13  
Blogger Len said...

People may be leaving the church in droves but it is not Christianity they are leaving, it is religion.
Religion can do many things[not all good] but the one thing religion cannot do is to give Life.Only Christ can do that.Only Christ can breathe His Life into dead souls and into dead Churches.
Religion can be dead and quite frankly boring.
Christianity as a relationship with the living Christ is anything but boring.
It is sad that many people are leaving the church because they did not find Christ there but instead found religion.
In the book of Revelation Christ is found knocking on the door of...the Church!.
If Jesus were to leave your Church everything would carry on as before, the programmes would continue,the people would gather,but there would be a sense of hopelessness, an emptiness,a deadness, a sense of futility and eventually that church would die.

Jesus is knocking hoping you will let Him in so that He might give His Life to you. As to the person so to the church.

23 December 2013 at 23:58  

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