Saturday, 8 December 2007

Councillor calls for scaled down Christmas in the interests of inter-faith understanding

Cllr. Paul Crofts, the Independent Socialist Councillor for the multi-faith/racial Castle Ward in Wellingborough today called for Christmas celebrations to be scaled down in order to avoid offending people of other faiths. He said: “We now live in a diverse society and we have to be sensitive to people of all religious beliefs. Christmas is now too dominant and many people of other faiths are unhappy at this. We must listen to them and ……….”.

Have you read stories like this before? How did you feel at the time - confused, incensed, upset, concerned about “political correctness gone mad” or the dangers of "multi-culturalism"? This is the reaction that such reports generate – and this is what is mostly intended!

Of course, I would never say this, but that's not the point. It is almost expected (even hoped for?), that people like me will say such things. And for a moment you actually believed it didn’t you? It fits within our widely-held stereotype of a “mad”, “politically correct”, “left-wing”, “loony” politician. It re-enforces prejudices and hostility to those of us who oppose racism, injustice and inequality. Even more important though, it re-enforces hostility to those people of other faiths and traditions who are allegedly seeking such change (when they are not).

The reality is that no-one within any mainstream faith tradition, as far as I am aware, has called for the “abolition of Christmas” or anything of this kind. No one who supports and understands genuine multi-faith, anti-racist, community cohesion work would ever say such a thing. Indeed, I (for one) have spent most of my life promoting the recognition and celebration of more festivals, from different religious (and other) traditions, not less – even though I am an atheist. I want people to have more fun together, live and learn from one another - not to hate or fear the “other”.

It must be recognised, however, that some people have made insensitive and wrong decisions around these issues in the past. Birmingham City Council’s “Winterval” (instead of “Christmas”) festival some years ago comes to mind, and some schools have allegedly stopped performing the nativity story in the na├»ve belief that it may “offend” Muslims. All these initiatives may have been well-meaning, but they are often based on ignorance and misunderstandings about other faith traditions and show a depressing lack of awareness of what living in a diverse, multicultural, multi-faith, society is really all about. Everyone should be a winner - its not about people giving up things, but about respecting an valuing everyone. But the expression “The road to hell is often paved with good intentions” comes to mind.

Watch out over the next few weeks for media stories of this kind. Be warned and duly sceptical. Do not believe everything you read in the press – but watch how easily ordinary people will believe the stories (just as you did at the beginning of this one?). Watch out for the accusations of “political correctness gone mad”, but remember that Jesus Christ may well have faced similar accusations during his life as well. Now that story might be worth telling!

Happy Christmas, Eid, Diwali, Hanukkah or just "seasons greetings".

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