Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Lamp

David Warren

In his column of November 29, 2009, which was the first Sunday of Advent, David Warren had these words of wisdom. They can be found on his web site here, in a more original form.
Another year has passed, in the liturgical calendar, and it is again "Christian New Year." Let's begin by simply mentioning the fact that today, Sunday, is the first in Advent. And I mean: mentioning it, because it is politically incorrect.

Even so traditional an arbiter of public fashion as the White House now sends out greetings on Muslim occasions that are extremely pointed. To mark Eid, for instance, a devout spiritual message and special video were provided this year, containing a specifically Muslim declaration from President Obama, together with a reminder from his Cairo speech of how hard he is working to make sure Muslims everywhere are able to fulfil all their religious obligations.

By comparison, the Jewish Passover and Christian Easter were tossed off together with a generic statement emphasizing multiculturalism. "They are both occasions to think more deeply about the obligations we have to ourselves and the obligations we have to one another, no matter who we are, where we come from, or what faith we practice." Like I say: a toss-off.

Now, Jews still outnumber Muslims in the U.S., and Christians outnumber both by an extremely wide margin. Indeed, among Arab immigrants in the U.S. alone, there are probably still more Christians than Muslims. (Precise figures are not collected by the U.S. census; only estimates can be obtained.) Moreover, explicitly Christian greetings from the White House were a commonplace through previous centuries of the American experience, when it was understood that the U.S., like Canada, was a "basically Christian" country. Our people still are, our governments aren't.

Up here in Canada, even more explicit Christian greetings were a commonplace until little more than a generation ago. Our prime minister plays his "ethnic cards" much closer to his chest and, for the most part, leaves individual members of his government to deliver the well-wishing to their respective denominational constituencies. The same politically correct syndrome is at work, however, known to everyone in the public replacement of greetings like the traditional "Merry Christmas" with the sterile and therefore slightly offensive "Season's Greetings." In both countries, self-appointed legal vigilantes from "civil liberties" lobbies are constantly at work, identifying and challenging any public display of Christian religious identity. On the other hand, organizations like CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), which has an Ottawa office, busy themselves with similar interventions to ensure that Muslim identities are strongly asserted.

Without question, I will receive complaints from one or another of these vigilantes for simply spelling out what everyone knows to be true. I will be told, at least in e-mail, that, in effect, any pro-Christian assertion, or even a defence of existing Christian interests, is by definition a manifestation of bigotry. There will be supplementary anti-Christian and, invariably, anti-Catholic diatribes, too. I am used to this.

In the name of a redefined "tolerance" -- a virtue itself originally inferred from the explicitly Christian injunction to "judge not that ye be not judged" -- a campaign of progressive intolerance towards the Christian majority has become a feature of contemporary public life, throughout the "Western" -- i.e., originally Christian -- world. The bureaucracies of the European Union, too, have gone to tireless lengths to strip visible Christian symbolism out of public life across Europe, on the same grounds: that toleration today demands "zero tolerance." Not merely the anti-Christian tone, but the malicious inversion of the meaning of the word "tolerance" would have shocked our native-born ancestors only two generations ago. Many alive today are simply befuddled by the scale of this revolution in public life, and of the general inversion of societal values they have witnessed within their own lifetimes.

Elsewhere in the world, in many countries where they are minorities instead of majorities, Christians are actively persecuted. From what I can learn, this is the case in most countries where Christians are a minority. It is not as if our Western "secularization" were a response to some planetary trend, to soften public expressions of religious sentiment, for the sake of peace and quiet. To the contrary, especially in the Islamic world, but even in predominantly Hindu India, state sponsorship of religious identity has been dramatically increasing.

Against this background, it is incumbent upon Christians, everywhere, and as ever, to ignore intimidation. As the old parable goes, do not hide your lamp under a basket, but use it to cast light all around. Do not hesitate to make an example of yourself, or if need be, to be made an example of.

So let me return to where I began, with the beginning of Advent, the new liturgical year. It is a time of renewal, even if it is called that in pulpit clich├ęs; a time to consider whether one is going to live next year, the way one lived last year. An appropriate moment to make resolutions and intentions; a hinging moment, to be sealed with prayers.

To my fellow Christians, and indeed to my fellow religious of all faiths and all sincere and humble callings: Let us not be intimidated by the tyrants of this world!

David Warren

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