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.