Wednesday 8 December 2010

At last! Man stands up against... um... what, exactly?

The Archbishop of Canterbury is mad as hell, and he's not going to take this anymore!

Yes, Dr Rowan Williams has used an interview with the Radio Times to take up arms and defend Jesus's birthday from the War On Christmas. As the Daily Mail reports:

The Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday defended Christmas against attempts to suppress it in case it offends people of other faiths. Dr Rowan Williams said those who try to ban Nativity plays and carol singing do not understand how people of all religions love the Christmas story and respect its message.

Of course, you'd be worried if the head of the Church of England didn't stick up for his congregation's second-favourite* religious festival. But of course neither he nor the Daily Mail has got any evidence that Christmas needs defending. There's just a vague mention of:

"secular campaigners and public authorities who marginalise Christianity"

No names are named. No examples are given. We don't even get that greatest of Fleet Street Christmas traditions, a mention of Winterval. But that doesn't stop Dr Williams, who usually comes across as a relatively sensible, rational individual, complaining about:

"The weary annual attempts by right-thinking people in Britain to ban or discourage Nativity plays or public carol-singing out of sensitivity to the supposed tender consciences of other religions fail to notice that most people of other religions and cultures both love the story and respect the message."

The Mail, in both headline and copy, implicitly criticises the Archbishop for not defending Christmas sooner. Perhaps he didn't feel the need to before, given that absolutely nobody in Britain is trying to ban or discourage Nativity plays or public carol-singing out of sensitivity to the supposed tender consciences of other religions. But it seems the drip, drip, drip of Winterval bullshit has finally got to him. As the Mail points out:

Several Christian leaders have stood up recently for the religious nature of Christmas. Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, said attempts to ban the mention of Christmas in public were part of a secular drive to push Christianity from public life. Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said Britain appeared to have become ashamed of Christmas. And on his visit to Britain in September, Pope Benedict spoke of his concern at attempts to discourage Christmas celebrations.

Better-read (not to mention simply "better") media-watching blogs than mine, such as the excellent TabloidWatch, often attract comments along the lines of "If you don't like the Mail etc why do you read them? Just ignore them". But as the also-excellent Press Not Sorry pointed out recently, tabloid tall tales all too often influence real world behaviour.

When it gets to the point where even Lambeth Palace and the Vatican are standing up to criticise something that doesn't actually exist, you know you're in trouble**.

*My secondary school RE teacher always maintained that Easter was #1 for Christians. I'm happy to be corrected by any theologians out there.

**And yes I'm aware that Flying Spaghetti Monster types among you might find that last paragraph a little ironic.


The Daily Telegraph has now joined in with the fun. For its headline the paper makes up a quote from Dr Williams, claiming that he said "stop political correctness taking 'Christ' out of 'Christmas'" when he never said even mentioned the P and C words. And it even manages to score where the Mail failed:

"In recent years some councils have been criticised for attempting to minimise the Christian message of the Nativity. Birmingham launched a “Winterval” celebration, combining multi-faith and secular elements with Christmas."

Do I need to point out (yet again) that more than a decade ago (so not very recently) Birmingham City Council publicised a three-month series of winter events under the banner of Winterval but made no attempt to "minimise" Christmas? Do I need to repeat the statement from a Birmingham official who pointed out that during Winterval:

"There was a banner saying Merry Christmas across the front of the council house, Christmas lights, Christmas trees in the main civil squares, regular carol-singing sessions by school choirs, and the Lord Mayor sent a Christmas card with a traditional Christmas scene wishing everyone a Merry Christmas".

Do I need to point out the irony of a newspaper publishing an article complaining about Christmas being "marginalised" but then having a little blob at the end pointing out that quotes are featured in a story contained in the "Christmas edition" of one of Britain's biggest-selling magazines?

Apparently I do.

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