EVEN without an Advent calendar we know Christmas is on the way when the mass media solemnly informs us that all those ancient customs we cherish – the holly wreath, the mistletoe, the Christmas tree, the Christmas carol – really originated in pagan times; although it is never explained exactly how these mysterious and apparently pointless customs originated, since they are lost in the mists of time.
And so at Christ’s Mass we are busily inventing the Christ-less Christmas; in an age when everything ‘old’ is considered old hat, we are encouraged to venerate a religion even older, and consequently more authentic, than Christianity. We are given to understand that it would be so much better for everyone if that nasty Christian religion hadn’t been invented and we could enjoy our lovely old pagan customs without the Christian taint clinging to them like a bad smell.
All those prohibitions on what Christianity used to call sin are now, of course, widely recognised simply as acts of self-expression, although while lecturing the rest of the world on being ‘kind’, we may, in the interests of self-expression and in order to express the spirit of the age, choose to invoke That Name as a swear word. All this is as simple as ABC – Anything But Christianity – and it seems there is nothing left to do but wish everybody a far from merry Christ-less Christmas.
With the earnest desire of not offending anyone – except Christians – we are entering the age of neo-paganism, an even bloodier era including as it does pre-birth child sacrifice and giving the vulnerable ‘the right’ to be killed, all while justifying both in (Christian) terms as ‘compassionate’.
But as G K Chesterton observed, Christianity has not been tried and found wanting but has been found difficult and left untried. All those tiresome ‘restrictions’ on human behaviour were there for the same reason that people put fences at the tops of cliffs, but we have stopped feeling compassion for the corpses on the beach – the real victims of unrestricted ‘self-expression’ – preferring to pity ourselves for being bound by the rusting remnants of Christian fences placed around human behaviour. Is it still forbidden, we ask, to kill the vulnerable when they so obviously need to be put out of their misery?
Of course, as Chesterton also noted, when people stop believing in God they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in everything, and we can now choose from a smörgåsbord of religions, both old and new, which demand not so much rational belief but the willing suspension of our disbelief.
In contrast to paganism, whose chief virtue is the vagueness that can justify any vice, Christianity and its Jewish roots are well documented; and they banished the murder of the innocent. All those formerly seen as easy prey were offered protection, as the wealthy and the strong were required to bow down to the weakest of all – the new-born child in the manger, who offered himself as a victim and was killed that we might live.
Christianity, far from abolishing old pagan customs which did not contradict Christian belief, built upon those foundations, hence the holly wreath and the mistletoe; now, however, Christianity is the most persecuted religion of all. The most recent census found that fewer than half the population in England and Wales identify as Christian. Breathlessly reported by the BBC and analysed by Aleem Maqbool – yet another BBC Religion Editor from a Muslim background – the news was greeted in limp-wristed fashion by Christian leaders but leapt upon by the chief executive of Humanists UK, Andrew Copson, who said the figures should be a ‘wake-up call which prompts fresh reconsiderations of the role of religion in society. No state in Europe has such a religious set-up as we do in terms of law and public policy, while at the same time having such a non-religious population’.
This development might be seen as heralding the death of Christianity in this country; clearly, some hope it will die a natural death without recourse to euthanasia, but if sneers and snarks could kill a culture, Christianity would be dead and buried by now. And as Chesterton also pointed out, ‘Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.’ The Disciples found an empty tomb, and since then there has never been an empty manger. There has never been a Christ-less Christmas – and there never will be.