Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Reconciliation

At this time of year, which to Christians - and many other people - is the season of Peace and Goodwill, it is particularly important to stress the things which unite us, and to hold out the had of reconciliation and friendship wherever this is possible.

Obviously because it is the Christian season of Christmas it is natural that those people who share that faith will refer to the message of Jesus but I have also observed that members of other faiths will also send Christmas messages. This year I have received three messages from Muslim friends and one from a Hindu friend wishing me and my family a happy Christmas and most years I have received similar messages from Jewish friends. I take all those messages in the friendly spirit in which I know they are sent.

Unfortunately it seems that most years someone decides to score a point by accusing a Christmas message which refers to Christianity of being divisive.

It is very important to make the point, because they are often wrongly blamed for it, that this attack almost never comes from a Muslim. Outside Brunei, and apart from the minority of extremists, most followers of Islam - in which Jesus is the second most revered figure after Mohammed - have absolutely no problem with Christians celebrating Christmas and do not see this as an attack on themselves.

Usually when someone is accused of being "divisive" for mentioning Christianity the attack comes from an atheist who doesn't like any religion and has seized on multiculturalism as a convenient stick with which to beat Christianity as a first stage before going on to try to wipe out public celebration of any religion.

Incidentally, when it comes to mentioning the holidays of other faiths, politicians are damned if they do and damned if they don't in the eyes of atheists. If a Christian politician only sends messages on the Christian holidays he or she is certain to be accused of being sectarian and divisive. But almost every time I have retweeted or shared on Facebook a goodwill message from a Christian politician in celebration of a festival of another faith, such as an Eid, Diwali, or Ramadan message, I get a comment from an atheist accusing him or her of hypocrisy.

And if you are Prime Minister and send messages celebrating both your own religion and those of others, it's ten to one that you will be BOTH accused of being divisive for the messages celebrating your own religion and of being a hypocrite when you send a message celebrating those of others. David Cameron has been the target of both those kinds of attacks in the past three months.

I write more in sorrow than in anger to respond to a particularly egregious attack which has been posted against both David Cameron and the Archbishop of Canterbury today by someone whose views I used to respect and who describes himself as a member of the Anglican church.

Peter Oborne has written a piece in the Middle East Eye today which alleges that

"Britain's Christmas message lacks the Christian spirit."

He appears to think that the Christmas message from David Cameron and Christmas day sermon from the Archbishop of Canterbury failed to hold out "the hope of reconciliation."

Oborne accused both David Cameron and Justin Welby of being "selective" yet he himself seems to have been far more selective in the words he chose to make that case than either of them were.

I've already quoted in full on this blog Archbishop Welby's Christmas message published on 20th December, but let me draw attention again to its' first two paragraphs:

"This year has been an extremely tough one for so many people and communities in this country. In particular I think of our Muslim brothers and sisters who’ve felt pressured to defend themselves in the wake of horrendous attacks carried out so outrageously in their name.

I think too of the fear among Jewish communities, and among Sikhs, Hindus and those of other faiths. No one in this country should have to feel fear and anxiety as they try peacefully to live, pray and worship in their faith tradition. All who feel that fear will be included in my prayers this Christmas."

The entire message continues in that vein, calling for tolerance, reconciliation, and encouraging people to reach out to those who are hated, feared, or seen as different.

Similarly, David Cameron's Christmas message celebrated the fact that Britain has been "a successful home to people of all faiths and none" and, as I inferred above, it is wrong to assume that he only attempts to engage with those of the Christian faith by looking at his Christmas message in isolation without recognising that he also sends messages commemorating the major festivals of other religions.

The message of Christmas should be one of peace, reconciliation and freedom from persecution for people of all faiths and none. Tragically, there are people of all faiths and none who are being persecuted for their views: this must stop, whoever is doing it (and equally tragically, there are people of all faiths and none among those responsible for persecution.)

Making out that people who are calling for such reconciliation are only interested in protecting some victims, when a less selective reading of what they have said makes clear that this charge is unfair, will not help achieve peace on earth or any other worthwhile objective.

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