This locution originated in America to protect the supposedly fragile sensibilities of Jews, Muslims, Taoists, Hinduists, Buddhists, animists, agnostics and above all atheists. They were all expected to feel deeply insulted by any reference to Christ and especially by any derivative of his name.
Few actually were. Most were intelligent enough to realise that, while their own creeds are particular, Christianity is universal.
The birth of Christ didn’t just give rise to a new religion – it gave rise to a new humanity and a new civilisation, the greatest the world has seen. If all Americans, regardless of their politics, celebrate the Fourth of July as the birth of a new nation, surely they all, regardless of their faith, can find it in their hearts to celebrate Christmas as the birth of a new world.
The only ones feigning insult were the liberal and predominantly atheist intelligentsia, the kind of people who had been chipping away at the foundations of the West for centuries. Credit where it’s due, they’ve proved to be cunning enough to convert most Americans to putative hypersensitivity. This sorry lot sensed correctly that propaganda of an insult culture and the number of those feeling insulted exist in a symbiotic relationship.
Though these days most modern perversions originate in America, as befits the leader of the post-Christian world, they spread quickly. Thanks to our wonderful technological advances, the time lag is getting shorter and shorter.
In this instance it was about 15 years but worth the wait – now even most Brits wish one another ‘a happy holiday’. They then besiege various emporia by day and get legless by night, for this seems like a good way to celebrate a ‘holiday’.
During midnight Mass at Shrewsbury Cathedral the Rt Rev Mark Davies told his congregation that the hysterical attempts to push through a bill legalising same-sex marriage are a direct attack on Christianity. He compared coalition plans to the ideologies of Nazism and Communism, which threatened Christian civilisation in the name of ‘progress’.
The sermon has drawn predictably inane non sequiturs from ‘the gay community’ (isn’t it lovely the way we’re all arranged in pseudo-communities, what with real ones nowhere in evidence?), screaming about their suffering at the hands of the Nazis.
True enough, what the Nazis did was evil. But all modern, which is to say post-Christian, states have something in common. They all come full circle and overlap at the red-hot end of hatred towards the traditional, which is to say Christian, world.
So Bishop Mark was absolutely right – our civilisation is threatened, and not just by the abomination he singled out. It may even seem to be on the way out.
But God works in mysterious, and often miraculous, ways. Many a time throughout its existence Christianity has appeared moribund – only for a miracle to occur and breathe new life into it.
If things look bad now, go back 700 years, to the year 312. Christianity was fighting a seemingly losing battle for survival, with Christians not just marginalised but routinely murdered in all sorts of horrific ways. Christianity’s continuing existence even as a small sect, never mind its emergence as the world’s dominant religion, looked like a pipe dream – barring a miracle. But a miracle wasn’t to be barred.
As Emperor Constantine the Great was preparing for yet another martial clash, he stood at the Milvian Bridge across the Tiber, contemplating his order of battle. Suddenly he saw emblazoned upon the sky a burning cross and the Greek words Εν Τούτῳ Νίκα, usually translated into Latin as in hoc signo vinces and into English as ‘in this sign thou shalt conquer’.
This led to Constantine’s conversion, and a few decades later Christianity became the official religion of Rome, which is to say of the civilised world as it was then circumscribed. God had brought another miracle to the aid of his Word.
I walked across Ponte Milvio in the outskirts of Rome just three days ago. It is now pedestrianised, though there were few pedestrians about. There were quite a few joggers though, worshipping the human body the way it had been worshipped before 312. Pseudo-classical statues of various saints adorned the four corners of the bridge, but none of them was Constantine.
In fact, I couldn’t even find a plaque commemorating the event of 700 years ago, though I did find a board describing the history of the bridge in every structural detail. One detail conspicuously omitted was any mention of Constantine’s conversion – this in a city where the likes of Antonio Gramsci and Palmiro Togliatti have streets named after them.
My joy at treading the bridge was thus leavened with sadness, but also with hope. Christianity needs a miracle to survive, but miracles do happen. Only when we stop believing this will 25 December truly become any old holiday.
Merry Christmas – and God bless you all, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Taoists, Hinduists, Buddhists, animists, agnostics and even atheists.