Tuesday, 29 December 2015


I'm sorry that I'm a bit late wishing a very happy Christmas to anyone who is nice enough to read my blog!

We're in Germany for Christmas.  My son has had a wonderful time learning to skate on a rink outside the Cathedral in Wetzlar.

I took him inside the Cathedral to have a look at the nativity scene. I assumed that it would be reassuringly cute.  It wasn't.  Bits of rubbish were strewn around it, some filthy baby clothes, and a dirty nappy.  The dirty nappy really was taking it a bit far - it was properly disgusting.  There was no explanation, but I guess it was supposed to resemble a refugee camp (there was also barbed wire, and a Red Cross sign).  On reflection, I still think it was unnecessarily revolting, but it did at least give us a jolt.

It was in stark contrast with the smooth Christmassy-ness of David Cameron's Christmas message. He nodded to our Christmas duty to remember the poor with his comment that 'Throughout the United Kingdom, some will spend the festive period ill, homeless or alone,' and he thanked those who try to help these vulnerable groups.  It was a comment dangerously close, I thought, to thirteenth- and fourteenth-century attitudes to the poor and homeless.  Miracle collections and devotional texts of the period make it clear that the poor are to be pitied, and valued - not on their own terms, but for two quite other reasons: they provide a reminder of Christ's suffering, and they provide an opportunity for Christian charity.  In other words, they're useful because they make everyone else slightly better Christians - there's no need to try to improve their condition, because they fulfil a crucial function.  The welfare state gives us now a radically different vision from this - but there's always a lingering sense that inequality doesn't matter too much, so long as we all remember the less fortunate at appropriate moments and get a nice glow of self-righteous virtue as a result.

Maybe I'm being too harsh on Cameron and his vision of 'Christian Britain' - his goverment hasn't entirely destroyed the welfare state after all.  But I think his comments about the less privileged are just too comfortable: it's not enough to say that we should all thank those who work for charities, and assume that we'll say the same every year for the next century.  Christmas is a time for warmth and celebrations, but it would be good to think that it could also be a time to shock us into something more.

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