I really need to lay off the UK news sites at this time of year.
As a Catholic, it is so dispiriting to read all the vitriol and mockery that is aimed at Christians in general and Catholics in particular at this time of year in particular. (It’s bad enough the rest of the year).
I understand that if you disagree with the traditional cultural beliefs as many people do, then you will feel annoyed by the way “Christmas” takes over at this time of year — mostly through the power of advertising, rather than anything to do with churches, if we’re honest.
But I have more trouble sympathising when people who don’t understand my faith talk about it as if they did; pontificate on what I “believe”; and judge and condemn me on the basis of things that have little or nothing to do with what is actually important about my faith.I have never rammed my faith down anyone’s throat but rabid aetheists at Christmastime make me want to trade in my pacificist, tolerant, help-thy-neighbour vision of Christianity for the good old-fashioned medieval version they assume still exists. The one with spikes and bonfires.
First, let’s get this straight (even though it more an on-going than seasonal issue): faith and science are not incompatible. If you believe in an omnipotent God then any process that science identifies to explain how the universe works simply becomes another string to that omnipotent God’s bow.
“Oo, gravity. That’s clever. Nice one, God!”
“Ah, primordial soup? Dei-licious!”
“Evolution? Why not?”
(I know my case is not helped here by the very vocal Christians who can’t live with the fact that maybe human interpretation of God’s word has been a little flawed over the years and that perhaps we need to admit that, but the fact remains: science and reasonable faith are not incompatible!)
On to this week’s news.
In Aukland a church (yes, a church. Yay for in-fighting. That really makes us look good!) erected a billboard that showed a miserable-looking Mary and Joseph in bed together with the caption “Poor Joseph. God was a hard act to follow”. Ho ho. Fine. Aside from the fact that people were a bit miffed at the sexual inuendo as they drove by with their kids in the car, fine, fine, very funny.
But a church spokesman said,
“What we’re trying to do is to get people to think more about what Christmas is all about…Is it about a spiritual male God sending down sperm so a child would be born, or is it about the power of love in our midst as seen in Jesus?
Easy. It’s about the power of love in our midst as seen in Jesus.
Yeah, it’s a big part of the Catholic tradition to say that Jesus was conceived in a supernatural way, because that way you can say that he is partly divine. But it was never presented to me as the whole meaning of Christmas. And even if we’re wrong, it’s not something Catholics obsess about at Christmas. Honest. We mention it in passing our nativity plays (and fervently pray that the five year olds don’t ask what “virgin” really means – not this year at least). We read it in the bible readings. But we also read about supernatural angels and astronomically-odd stars and wise men and shepherds and a stable and the massacre of the innocents and the flight in to Egypt and man’s inhumanity to man. But we choose, in the midst of that, to focus on a gift from God in the form of a baby. Babies are cute and lovely and a blank slate: a symbol of hope.
And we have a big party to celebrate hope and love and joy and our awe at the marvel of creation and life and the fact that there is something in people that makes them give gifts and make room for the unfortunate, even if it is only a pile of clean hay in the corner of a stable. We call that something God Within Us. You might call it something else. But you’re still welcome to come to my party.
I admit that people of faith have a lot to apologise for, historically and today. I exhort other people of faith to focus a little more on the Christmas message of love and a little less on whining at people who write “Xmas” or say “Happy Holidays”.
But I also ask people who don’t like my holiday or what you think I believe, to stop raining on my parade at this time of year. And I promise I won’t come down to your birthday party and start shouting about how you’re a fool for celebrating a meaningless and arbitrary fixed amount of time that merely denotes another trip around the sun? OK? OK.