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Saturday, 25 December 2010

What’s in a name?

The lane from chez nous in rural Wales leading up to the nearby village

Greetings, and a happy Christmas, all! No, I don’t balk at using the word “Christmas”. What, as the Bard asked through Juliet, is in a name? That which we call a festival by any other name would be as merry – potentially, anyway.

I’m no apologist for Christianity. I recognise its role in Western history and what it has brought, culturally, to our way of life and the language we use. I also recognise that, without it, other influences would have come to bear, but humankind would still have built its moral code, because a moral code comes not from a religion, but from humanity.

That people attribute their moral code to their Christianity or their Islam or their Hinduism or whatever is entirely up to them, and that may be the top layer, as it were, of the articulation of what is their code of ethics and mode of living.

Beneath it, though, is that thing humanity. It was the human in us that devised the religion that in turn codified our outer persona, the one we present to the world, the principles we live by. Most people are probably essentially good, but with flaws. Some are essentially bad, but are so because of their belief in religion’s edicts and diktats.

Some, of course, are just bad. I have a few politicians in mind, but let’s not go down that road, tempting though it may be.

That said, if people find comfort in a belief system and don’t wish to dictate how others should live their lives, I’m OK with that.

So I’m no apologist for Christianity, but it’s given its name to the midwinter festival that punctuates the seemingly relentless darkness and (in the UK at the moment) coldness and misery of winter, and brings us hope of a new season on the way. Bit of a laugh in the UK, of course, where we don’t seem to get proper summers any more, but there you go.

I’m not one to go about saying “Happy holidays!” or “Happy Yuletide!” It would make be seem a bigger prat than I already am. So it’s “Merry Christmas and happy New Year!” That’s the expectation, and those who know me know that I use the term “Christmas” as a descriptor. Saying the word doesn’t make people believe more in the mythology.

I leave it to my learned blogging colleague George Broadhead, secretary of this blog’s parent, the Pink Triangle Trust, to tell us the true origin of Christmas, though.

Atheists, agnostics, Humanists and other unbelievers are sometimes asked why they celebrate at Christmas time, or are even accused of being hypocritical for doing so.

The answer is that they celebrate at that time for the same reason as the early Christians – because everyone else was already doing so, and had been for centuries before the birth of Christ.

The last two weeks of December had long been a time of celebration throughout the ancient world in the northern hemisphere. It was associated with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day, after which one could look forward to Spring, to crops, regeneration and new life.

Almost all the customs of the Festive Season pre-date Christianity: the giving of gifts, decorating the house and tree, putting up holly and mistletoe, and eating the flaming round plum pudding – the most obvious solar symbol of all. And the familiar crib scene originated in ancient Egypt.

Among the Romans, the Festival of Saturnalia, which began on 17 December, involved the hanging of greenery and laurel leaves, the lighting of candles and the giving of presents. Like the present Festive Season, theirs was a season of goodwill.

In the third century AD there was great rivalry between Christianity and Mithraism, especially among the soldiers, upon whose support the Roman Emperors depended. Eventually, early in the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine decided in favour of Christianity but, during the rivalry, the Christians could not afford to appear killjoys in December when Mithraic soldiers were celebrating the triumph of Good over Evil.

The 25th of December may be attributed to the fact that in the year AD 274, at a time when the Roman emperors were trying to replace the ancient Roman polytheism with sun worship, the Emperor Aurelian declared 25 December to be the Sun’s official birthday.

So those who have no religion (47% according to the British Social Attitudes Survey, January 2010) need have no qualms about celebrating at this time of the year if they wish.

And with that, here’s hoping for happy holidays, happy Winter Solstice, happy Christmas, happy whatever you want to call it to all of Pink Triangle’s readers, and we all hope you have a great New Year.

We’re putting our feet up for the rest of the holiday and will be back with a few choice entries early in the New Year, by which time we may have sobered up a bit.

Friday, 24 December 2010

How the BBC ‘offended’ Christians

Yeah, but wheres the halo?
I’ve been watching The Nativity on BBC1. Not bad as these things go. I like TV drama, and I don’t really care – when a drama is based on myth – which myth the said drama is depicting.

Note the word “myth”. Were it about, say, the ancient Greek pantheon or the stories in the Bhagavad Gita I’d probably still enjoy it – if it were well enough written and performed. The Nativity is OK – not brilliant, but watchable. So I committed four half-hours to watching it.

Now it seems that some Christians don’t like it. That may surprise you, until you learn that it’s because the so-called Virgin Mary is “portrayed” as a whore.

I happened on a Christian website called The Way the other day, and on an undated page one Amanda Hopkins writes a short post beginning: “Christians have reacted angrily to a BBC production which portrayed the Virgin Mary as a prostitute.”

She cites the Daily Express. Whether that was her only source, I can’t say, but just hang onto the word “portrayed” for a moment.

Now see what the Daily Express said on 19 December: “The BBC has angered Christians with a TV drama in which the Virgin Mary is branded a prostitute and sex cheat” (emphasis mine).

I fly no flag for abominable rags such as the Express, but it got it right – in that regard anyway, since we’ll for the moment put aside the notion that the BBC angered Christians, when it was they who chose to be angered (and then it was only Stephen Green and his nutcase Christian Voice outfit).

So you see the sleight of phraseology here. The Way says the production “portrayed” Mary as a whore; the Express says that, within the drama, she was “branded” such. And that’s the way it was: characters branded her a whore and spat on her and threw stones at her.

But such is the myopia of so many Christians and others of the Bewildered Herd that they can’t separate the doings of characters from the intentions of a television network. I left a comment pointing out the misleading nature of the intro, but, predictably, up to the time of writing this it had not been used, yet some that came after had been used.

Chances are that, if there was such a girl who gave birth to the guy who was eventually portrayed as the Messiah, she’d have been bonked by a Roman soldier or passing goatherd. One pundit a few years ago put forward a similar theory, anyway, in a docudrama on TV about Mary.

But it does raise an interesting question: what if she had had a bit of nookie on the side and then found she had a bun in the oven? She would lie about it, probably say she was raped.

And then the entire Christian world would turn out to have been based on one teenage girl’s lame and pathetic excuse for not having kept her hand on her ha’penny when some hunk in a tunic happened by and gave her the wink.

“It was the Archangel Gabriel, Joe, honest. He says I’m carrying the Light of the World in my womb.”

“Oh, all right, then.”

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Ratzo goes unchallenged in flagship news prog, NSS not too pleased

The National Secular Society is not a happy bunny today. Understandably, it’s up in arms over the fact that Ratzo the Vile is getting an unchallenged slot tomorrow – Christmas Eve – in Radio 4’s flagship Today programme.

It’s actually in that programme within Today called Thought for the Day, a slot that allows people with weird views to rabbit on about invisible entities, sky fairies and what other people should be doing with their lives.

Ratzo – hot on the heels of his controversial visit to the UK in September – recorded his slot yesterday in the Vatican.

The Daily Mail quotes the NSS’s Terry Sanderson as saying: “The Pope has a lot of questions to answer about the failings of his church and its guilt in covering up child abuse.

“I doubt whether any of this will be addressed in Thought for the Day and nobody will have the opportunity to ask him for clarification.

“Rather than giving the Pope an uninterrupted platform, why won’t he be invited to take the 8.10 interview slot on the Today programme with [anchor] John Humphrys to ask the awkward questions that the Vatican constantly sweeps under the table? Instead we’ll just get the usual whitewash and the Pope rewriting history.”

But, then, the BBC’s director general, Mark Thompson, is one of the more prominent members of the Bewildered Herd – and a devout Catholic to boot. He had a cosy little visit to the Vatican in February, where it’s believed this dodgy little deal was born.

If any ever doubts that religion gets privileges, this ought to put them straight. One of the most controversial figures in the world gets to speak in what is often a hard-news programme and not one question will be put to the evil bastard.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Another Tory is gay – but it was an open secret

So Tory MP Nigel Evans is gay, eh? It comes as no surprise, because I’ve known it for some time. And his constituency party in Ribble Valley, England, have been telling him to jump out of the closet for quite a while, it seems.

The thing is, dear old Nige used to vote against gay law reform. He voted against the lowering of the age of consent, although he did get better when it came to votes on such things.

Some years ago, when I was editing the print edition of Gay & Lesbian Humanist magazine, we came by an online claim that he was among several MPs who were gay, who were voting against gay equality, and who were still in the closet. He was one of them.

As I recall, the website either withdrew the entire claim or subtracted the names. I didn’t use any names, either, in the news story I wrote – a decision based on journalistic judgement.

But there was Nige.

I sat in his flat in Swansea a few years ago as a radio reporter, shoving a microphone under his nose and wondering about him, able to see a bottom corner of his bed through the living-room door, across a corridor and through the open bedroom door. I was wondering at the time whether he shared it with a wife, a girlfriend or a boyfriend.

He was spouting antigay stuff as a county councillor at the time (this was before he got an MP’s job), and there he was: gay.

Well, at least he got better, voted in the right way, and has now decided to come out of the closet – something that is likely to happen today.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The alpha and the omega

This may surprise you, but I’ve already selected next week’s four-part BBC drama The Nativity on my DVR. I watched that Passion thing, too, the other year – the one with Joseph Mawle as JC.

I like dramas. Whether they’re based on facts or myths or entirely made up from scratch, it doesn’t matter. The Passion – JC’s personal omega, if you like – was not challenging and, like the curate’s egg, good in places. Mawle was good.

I suspect The Nativity – his alpha – won’t challenge me, either, although it is written by Tony Jordan of Ashes to Ashes and Hustle fame. So good form.

But will it be mawkish and Christmas-card-ish, or will there be something new brought to it? Who knows? Suck it and see.

I suspect I’ll end up preferring this video below, which is amusing. Not sure whether it’s sincere or a piss-take, but it’s a hoot, and tells the story of the supposed Nativity in emails, social networking and other forms of online communication – including trying to book tickets to Bethlehem.


Sunday, 12 December 2010

Poor Christians! Always getting it in the neck – or not!

Christians and Christmas, as we know, are under attack. The forces of political correctness, evil militant atheists.

Well, one of my favourite comics, Marcus Brigstocke, has been having a go at those who think Christians are being badly done to. Have a look at the video below.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Author of Springer has become a creationist!

Stewart Lee has converted to creationism. I kid you not. This creator of Jerry Springer: The Opera, this stand-up comedian and writer who had ridiculed religion for as long as I’ve been aware of him, believes in God. And he’s praising “militant atheist” Richard Dawkins for it (oh, the quote marks there are not quoting Lee, but the usual suspects for whom anyone who questions religionists’ claims or demands facts is a militant, rabid atheist, out to get them).

Anyway, take a look at this very short video below. It will explain all!