BBC Radio Leicester Thought for the Day
© John Denney 9 November 2005
A guest speaker at a conference said, “I am a Jew. You are Christians. The difference between us is that I don’t go to synagogue on Saturdays, and you don’t go to church on Sundays.” There’s a measure of truth in his remark. Church-going – in England at least – is generally in decline. England is becoming a post-Christian society. You can’t assume that the man in the street knows anything about Christianity these days.
There’s a whole generation of schoolchildren whose schools dropped a daily Christian act of worship, so they don’t have the common core of Christian knowledge that used to be our right. They don’t know many hymns; they don’t know the Bible stories of Abraham and Moses and Samson and David & Jonathan, and Daniel and Jonah, and all the others. They have only the haziest idea of who Jesus is, and why we celebrate His birth at Christmas and His resurrection at Easter. They can’t recite the Lord’s Prayer. A few years ago, at a carol service, a man said to me, “This Jesus – he was some kind of monk, wasn’t he?” The everyday understanding of 17 centuries of British Christianity has almost evaporated within a generation.
At this time of year, there are plenty of official bodies ready to do their best to close down Christmas. Birmingham tried to rename Christmas “Winterval” a few years ago. Waveney Council in Suffolk is withdrawing funding for the Christmas lights because Christmas excludes people of other faiths. Lambeth council has apparently issued a decree that all references to Christmas be avoided. The Inland Revenue has said staff should not take part in “Operation Christmas Child”. And the Home Office is seeking to withdraw support for the annual service in St Martin in the Fields for the families of murder victims, unless the service is made non-Christian.
Why? They say they fear the celebration of our Christian heritage will upset people of other religions, most notably Muslims. But Muslim and other faith leaders repeatedly say that the celebration of Christmas causes not the slightest offence. What offends them is the fact that Britain is becoming a faithless country.
In all history, there has never been a nation that has survived without the people sharing a common basis of religious faith. Our heritage is a Christian one, and we let it slip from us at our peril. It’s up to you.