Forty years of effort by the American Civil Liberties Union to eliminate God from the public square have led to a resurgent, evangelical and politicised Christianity in America. By “politicised”, I don’t mean that anyone who feels his kid should be allowed to sing Silent Night if he wants to is perforce a Republican, but only that year in, year out it becomes harder for such folks to support a secular Democratic Party closely allied with the anti-Christmas militants. American liberals need to rethink their priorities: what’s more important? Winning a victory over the kindergarten teacher’s holiday concert, or winning back Congress and the White House?
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In Italy this Christmas, towns and schools have banned public displays of the Nativity on the grounds that they “may” offend Muslims.
Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. But who cares? The elevation of the right not to be offended into the bedrock principle of democratic society will, in the end, tear it apart. That goes for atheists threatening suits against New Jersey schools and for Muslim lobby groups threatening fatwas against The Telegraph. On which cheery note, Merry Christmas to all.
Continuing on a Christian note, The Economist has an article on Monasteries of the Christian east: Where mammon meets God that quotes a professor at The University, on the positive effect of prayer,
Peter Brown, the doyen of religious historians at Princeton University, gives a striking account of what early eastern monks thought they were doing. They “did not abandon the world, in the sense of severing all connection with it. Rather, in the imagination of their contemporaries, they transformed its wild edges. They ringed a careworn society with the shimmering hope of paradise regained. Having drained from themselves all hint of the dark passions that ruled the world, they validated the world by constantly praying for it.”
With ideals as lofty, and as other-worldly, as that, the eastern monks were willing to make whatever compromise was necessary with the expediencies of Earthly power to keep themselves in business. It was an act they more or less pulled off, until the 20th century threw them off balance. In a sense, however, modernity has taken the eastern monks back where they started. Their liturgy has always emphasised plucking new life out of death: redeeming the lifeless and demon-infested world of the “desert” and making it bloom like Eden.
In the rich, urban monasteries of late Byzantium, mired in power games, such language may have had a hollow ring. But think how it sounds on Anzer island in the Solovetsky archipelago. This is where, after an epidemic in 1929, prisoners were tossed into a mass grave, below a church named Golgotha where a tree grows naturally in the shape of a cross. In a place so drenched in suffering, the language of death does not have to be hammed up or invented. It is difficult to believe that anything can now bring light and life to such a spot. But, if anything can, it may be monastic prayer.
The ACLU’s short-sightedness, our loss.
For decades, Israel has distributed the trees free of charge, particularly to the ex-patriot community of Christian leaders, journalists, diplomats and others.