Monday, December 31, 2007


By this I mean not so much the disappearance of public consciousness of Christmas as the clock strikes midnight on 25 December (or, optimistically, Boxing Day, as we now know St Stephen's), but the regular allegations by some church leaders and frothing tabloid commentators that 'political correctness' is killing the festival. Well-meaning but over anxious council officials seeking to 'broaden' the event or 'avoid offence' are presumably easier targets than the rampaging commercialism from which Christmas's self-appointed defenders benefit too. And certainly a more comfortable target than... themselves (ourselves).

But the truth is that the alliance of Christianity with governing authority and dominant culture has inflicted the most damage on the subversiveness of Christ's birth. This is something Jonathan Bartley and I have been arguing in different ways over the past couple of weeks. See Jon's Church Times piece here, which roots the problem in our ongoing diagnosis of the ails of the Christendom mentality. Mine focuses on the biblical dynamic itself. We have also published provocations from Giles Fraser, from Methodist president Martyn Atkins (who I am delighted to see will be their general secretary shortly, and has a blog here) and from Rabbi Michael Lerner (mentioned below). Rowan Williams' BBC Radio 4 Thought for the Day is worth reading, too.

As for the 'new atheists' and their "God is Santa for adults" jibe. Well, they have a point. The reduction of God to a projected fantasy of cosmic reward and punishment has gone on in all too many churches. What is revealed in the child of Bethlehem (more likely, Nazareth) is, of course, something of a different order, and not at all childish - the God who is nothing like the gods of our creation. And since you can't receive the former without deconstructing the latter, atheism is definitely on to something, even if, for some of us, it doesn't go far enough - because it can only reject what we make in our own image. More is needed. What what Merlod Westphal calls 'Divine Excess: The God Who Comes After'.

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