Another Christmas has been celebrated around the world. But is the familiar, traditional, Christ-focused Christmas heading incrementally toward oblivion? One might be tempted to wonder, after reading the two leading opinion articles published consecutively in The Age on the two days before Christmas. Both authors, directly or in effect, called for Christ to be taken out of Christmas. Andrew Masterson (24/12) asserted that Christmas should be "divorced" and "decoupled" from the story of the Nativity. Instead, it should focus on the retail bonanza, exchanging presents, eating more than usual, and, of especially deep significance, having a day off.
There's more than a touch of irony in Masterson's headline "There is more to this season than shopping". He soon appears to directly contradict himself by saying "the real reason we could never do away with Christmas is commercial." Noting that we spend as much as $45 billion in the lead-up to Christmas, he says "the health of this nation remains tied" to retail sales, the lack of which "would prompt a crisis in capitalism". Furthermore, the $45 billion in retail sales "demonstrates that Christmas is bigger than Christianity". I would have thought it rather demonstrates that obsessive enslavement to the relentless gods of commercialism and consumerism is increasingly undermining and hijacking the true meaning of Christmas.
Meanwhile, according to the article by Paul Monk (23/12), Christmas is merely one of a host of ancient superstitions and practices inspired by the winter solstice. The twenty or so traditions enumerated by Monk include the Lenaia in ancient Greece, which featured human sacrifices in which male victims were "torn to pieces and eaten by wild women". The primitive brutality of such life-affirming practices hardly supports Monk's contention that there are "vast areas of common ground" between obscure ancient superstitions and our celebration of Christmas. What is our common ground with the Brumalia, Saturnalia, Soyalangual, Amaterasu, Dongzhi or Junkanoo? How many of them are impelled by a narrative that is remotely comparable with that of the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of the "kind, gentle activist" who was the subject of the outstanding Age editorial on Christmas Eve?
In other words, does Monk's purported inclusivity extend to embracing a traditional, religious, faith-inspired, Bible-based, Nativity-based, Christ-centred Christmas? Or does it extend only to ancient pagan supersitions that are obscure, often unpronounceable, in many cases unheard of, and practised by very few if any Australians?
Like Monk, Masterson is at pains to be inclusive -- but only up to a point. He claims Christmas, "once stripped of (its) New Testament trimmings", can be enjoyed by people who are "faith-based". I suspect he'd be very hard pressed to find any faith-based believers who'd enjoy a non-biblical Christmas. For the faithful, the profound reality of the Incarnation (God coming to earth in human form to become the means of our salvation) is not a matter of optional "trimmings", but of pivotal and indispensable truth. Masterson's cavalier and condescending dismissal of the central truths of the Christian faith as mere "tales" without validation is not exactly extending to people of faith an olive branch that might entice them to join "the biggest, most inclusive, secular celebration on the calendar".
Despite his dismissal of Christian belief as nothing more than tales and trimmings, Masterson nonetheless claims the faithful "are, of course, free to commemorate (Christmas) as a profoundly religious experience." (Thank you Andrew for your generous permission!) Yet in the next paragraph he's advocating that Christmas be "decoupled from the Nativity", and exhorting us to "put aside the prayer books". Thus Masterson's article is a classic example of anti-religious bigotry posing as tolerance and inclusivity. People of faith are patronisingly allowed to be part of the Christmas experience, but only as long as they don't bring their Bibles or their prayer books or, for that matter, their firmly held belief that the Gospel accounts are actually true, and Jesus actually existed.
It surely follows from Masterson's decoupling of Christ from Christmas that all Nativity scenes and all Nativity plays must be banned. Furthermore, an estimated 85-90 percent of all Christmas carols will have to go, since they contain too many references to "New Testament trimmings". As a result, the duration of Carols by Candlelight on Christmas Eve would have to be drastically reduced to about 20 minutes, consisting merely of Rudolph, Frosty and Santa, and certainly not including the much lovedHallelujah Chorus.
And of course, the most glaringly obviously change that's needed is a name change. Because Christmas contains, and is based on, the name of Christ, the name must be changed to something more appropriate, such as Retailmas, Gluttonmas, Dayoffmas, Rudolphmas, Jinglemas or Frostymas. Or perhaps Paganmas, because once you've removed every last vestige of faith in God, paganism is pretty much what you have left, and the kind of broad diversity Paul Monk is ostensibly calling for is suddenly looking rather narrow.
As for Masterson's assertion that "historically there is no evidence that a biological Jesus ever existed", does he mean there was actually a non-biological one? But more substantively, as Martin Roth astutely observed (Letters, The Age, 28/12), "it wasn't a bad effort for this fictional fantasy figure to found what is now the world's largest religion".
He's a figure whose historical existence has been affirmed by such famous figures as Napoleon and Einstein. Napoleon said: "Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I founded empires...upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions would die for Him. I search in vain in history to find the similar to Jesus Christ, or anything that can approach the gospel." And when Einstein was asked if he accepted the historical existence of Jesus, he replied: "Unquestionably. No-one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. No myth is filled with such life. No man can deny the fact that Jesus existed, nor that his sayings are beautiful."
The reflection titled "One Solitary Life" concludes with these words: "All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of mankind on earth as powerfully as has this one solitary life." If Christmas is not about Him, then surely it's absurd to call it Christmas.