LONDON–I don’t know how things are back home in the U.S.–How many lawsuits this year over the public use of Christian symbols, parables and metaphors? How many Christmas carols silenced in public schools?–but based on what I read in the British press, it doesn’t seem to be much better here. The so-called “Christmas killjoys” are alive and well on this side of the Atlantic, too.
Christmas–and anything that smacks of the alleged superstition of Christianity–seems to be slowly but methodically being removed from the British public sphere (as it is in America). Much of the time, it is the result of pressure from non-Christian groups and the spineless public officials who kowtow to them.
The so-called atheist brigade in Britain is led in part by people like Oxford’s Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion. Dawkins, “flag-waver for atheism,” has been (unfortunately) much in the news lately. I heard him on NPR Online over the weekend in a sympathetic news report on how famous atheists are leading a broad cultural offensive against Christianity. I then saw Dawkins interviewed and profiled in the Financial Times‘ weekend magazine (in which he comes across as conceited and vain, which makes him a rather ugly man.) He then just happened to come up in several conversations that went on around me. Dawson’s ubiquity is somehow related to the season, of course, and the closer we get to the 25th, the more vigorous the response of atheists like Dawkins.
But Dawkins and his followers need not worry too much about fighting off Christianity. It seems to be atrophying on its own, as more and more adherents are less and less willing to stand up for it–whether as simply a part of their cultural inheritance or as the sublime treasure and spiritual nourishment that it often provides to people. It is times like these when I am reminded of one of Russell Kirk’s favorite quotations from Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
In Britain, like in America, it is not just good men doing nothing; it is the unfailingly polite company man doing everything possible not to make someone else feel uncomfortable in the workplace. Because diversity, otherness and tolerance are all corporate buzzwords nowadays, anything remotely offensive must be suppressed. Thus, in a recent survey carried out by a London organization, three out of four firms–that’s 75 percent of companies!–said that they had made executive decisions to outlaw tinsel and trees, and aggressively prohibit other traditional festive trappings from the workplace. My local Christmas tree man in Islington confirmed much of this for me, telling me that even though the supply of trees and wreathes is down this year (due to less than ideal weather conditions in northern Europe), so is the demand as fewer and fewer offices are putting up trees.
These changes in the workplace are applauded by people like Terry Anderson, president of the National Secular Society (NSS), who is quoted in a recent news report as saying that there really is no anti-Christian agenda behind these changes in the workplace. It is, rather, all related to safety and occupational hazards, he says, rather unconvincingly. (Then again, I suppose a Christmas tree could suddenly fall on someone or perhaps a stocking might accidentally wrap itself around someone’s neck.) Thank goodness for the NSS!
Political correctness–to the point of lunacy–already abounds here: Just the other day someone in a classroom reprimanded me for saying “let’s brainstorm” (apparently, that word is insensitive towards the mentally ill). And, if memory serves, it was a few weeks ago that the British media started carrying references to “Winterval”, rather than Christmas. Less Christo-centric and more inclusive, they said. (Much more vague and far less precise, I’d say.)
There are plenty of other examples of this kind of cultural idiocy. Shopping at an Oxfam boutique or FairTrade installment are, for example, both almost de rigeur in London. But it is when we talk about Christmas itself–about its Holy meaning or simply about the historical traditions that accompany it–that people bristle most uncomfortably. It’s as if the British are embarrassed that they were ever Christian.
Jonathan Clark of the University of Kansas writes in this week’s The Spectator (UK): “Before, the West’s substantial indifference to the theological meaning of Christmas was generally taken as a mark of maturity: the West had merely traveled further along the road of tolerance, pluralism and indifference. … What we now see is that the West was all along not so much secularised [sic] as ‘in denial’, refusing to accept some basic truths about itself.” He goes on to point out that while other religions celebrate their beliefs openly and are proud of their traditions, Christianity is confused, sadly divided, rather muddled in its beliefs and embarrassingly self-conscious.
Perhaps it is time for a change. Perhaps, as Rod Liddle writes elsewhere, it is time for Britain to remember that “Protestant Christianity is the very essence of what it is to be British: it gave us our language, our national identity and, with both of these things, a template for how we think and reason.” (Mind you, it is not exclusively this, but this is certainly the fertile terrain in which all other things are rooted.) Perhaps it is also time for we Americans to remember that our roots are British, our heritage is the West and our essence is Christian–regardless of whether you choose thump the Bible or not.
Alvino-Mario Fantini is Europe correspondent for Brainwash. He is currently an Erasmus Mundus scholar through the European Union.