Friday, December 08, 2006

Funny thing about Christmas

Let's put my cards on the table, I'm not a Christian. In fact, at the moment, I'm not really anything. If you pushed me I'd say I was an agnostic with leanings towards Wicca and Buddhism - but that's just right now. My Mum is a Christian, my Dad is an ex-Christian (yes, that does make home life interesting sometimes). I studied religion for my BA and more recently I've researched issues surrounding equality and diversity in the UK. So, when the head of HR at my work announced that we couldn't call our work do a 'Christmas party' I flipped my lid. Luckily, unlike in the situation I blogged about below, I only went mad internally.

It has been a topic of conversation, on and off, around my office ever since. In fact, I chatted to one of our union reps the other day and she said it had been the thing that people had come to her about most often recently (which considering they've just rewritten our contracts and every HR policy is quite a feat).

From my understanding of legislation, the crux of it is than no one should be treated less favourably or harassed on the grounds of their sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability... and just recently age. They all have slightly different bits of legislation but the underlying principle is the same.

correctness' overkill where religion is concerned. It seems to be the bit of the whole diversity thingy-me-bob where sense goes out the window and every little bit of life must be stripped of its religious content. Since I live in an, at least nominally, Christian country this normally has the impact of wanting to Unfortunately, I think this has caused a particular 'politicalde-Christianise all our holidays and other traditions. So Christmas becomes 'the festive season', Easter is 'spring-time' etc. for fear of offending anyone of any other faith (atheists don't seem to get considered in the reasoning).

To me this is a total load of bunkum. Is anyone, of any religious persuasion, offended by someone else expressing their own religious beliefs? I think 99% of the time the answer would be no... and the other 1% need to undergo a good talking to by their religion's leaders. Thankfully, some of the religious leaders of the Christian and Muslim faiths in Britain did get together this year and formed the Christian Muslim Forum. They issued at statement back in November, to try and cut short any discussion this year along the lines of 'is Christmas offensive to Muslims?' (although I think their statement could be equally applied to all other religious faiths).

I really like their statement, and the open letter to local councils that followed it (although sadly this was too late for Lambeth Council). To quote from the statement:

'We believe that our open and democratic society should promote freedom of religion in the public space rather than negatively restrict its observance.... We believe that any attempt to privatise and hide the celebration of religious festivals promotes frustration, alienation and even anger within religious communities. Such negative approaches devalue religion and undermine the positive contributions that faith communities bring to society.'

In their letter to Councils they explain that society has a choice between two ways of handling religious diversity: equality of affirmation or equality of invisibility. At the moment the trend seems to be towards equality of invisibility. Wouldn't it be better to work towards equality of affirmation? To celebrate or give everyone the opportunity to celebrate the range of religious affiliations that are present in a community?

Anyway, I'll be sending the Forum's statement to our head of HR and her boss for consideration of our policy towards religious diversity and I encourage you (whoever is reading this) to do the same.


Eleses said...

It's just more secular and religious persecution. 70,000,000 Christians have been murdered since Christ. 45,000,000 of them in the 20th. century around the world!

Lex Ham Rand said...

Fascinating - such a different angle here in the US. No state religion here, but a significantly larger proportion of our population who believe in evangelical Christianity.

We've been in the "holiday" spirit for years and years - some call it Chrismakwanzaakah....although this year some retailers have been starting to use "Christmas" again.

Heather said...

Good point. nice for you as a non-Christian to take it up, because if you do so as a Christian you feel like a jerk with a chip on your shoulder who doesn't care about peopl e of other faiths. Whole festival of Christmas has been taken over by secularisation anyway - eg films like Love Actually - Christmas is a time for telling the truth, even if the truth is that you're in love with your best friend's wife... Nothing to do with being a celebration of the birth of Jesus, more to do with shopping. apologies if this post makes no sense... i currently have concussion. Happy Christmas!