As mature men and women, and heads of families, we must strive to have a deeper understanding as to what we believe in and why we practise our Christian Faith in the manner in which we do, so we can intuitively pass the Christian Truth on to those who will follow us.

If we merely subsume culture thoughtlessly we run the risk of believing in unfiltered popular culture rather than reflecting on the well-constructed and long held articles of Faith, and confusing the next generation.

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When John F Kennedy was running for Presidential Office in 1960, there was considerable debate as to what the election of the first Catholic President might do, or not do to the political scene of the United States. Some said that a vote for Kennedy would be a vote for bringing in a rule of the United States by the Pope – that Kennedy would be a mere puppet of the Pontiff. Others proposed ideas reminiscent of the Reformation – trying to emphasize that almost a Spanish Inquisition would be brought about. People, quite intelligent people, were creating and perpetuating myths. Kennedy’s response to the diatribe was to issue this poignant remark: If somebody harbours delusions, I think that should disqualify them from office, regardless whether the delusions are religious. Letting someone who thinks the god Jehovah will bail him out serving in public office is like letting a man who believes in Santa Claus run a Toys ‘R Us. The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” 

For some readers the jump from Kennedy to Christmas may seem a leap too far. But bear with me; what I am discussing in this article is the discomfort of thought, and the setting up in its place of the ease of myth, when thought demands too much of us. What I wish to examine is how the knowledge of culture and Faith being passed on by adults to future generations, has now become that which is learned by mere passing on of comment, and culture, however spurious or misinformed – rather than by thought and reason.

What I wish to examine is how the knowledge of culture and Faith being passed on by adults to future generations, has now become that which is learned by mere passing on of comment, and culture, however spurious or misinformed – rather than by thought and reason.

In a Western World where Church numbers are diminishing – at Christmas time at least we see a mushrooming of lights and decorations on our suburban streets. Anyone coming into our suburbs would assume that there is such a level of religious fervour by way of the overt extent of the celebration of Christmas that there is far from a crisis of Faith. It looks beautiful to drive down an avenue of houses decorated in lights. But stop your cars, get out and look deeper at the bright light show that you see. Very few if any of these light shows have at their central core – the Christmas Story. Maybe the creators of these home displays would like to illustrate the real focus of Christmas, Christ – but our hardware stores do not sell Nativity scenes in lights, but rather they sell, and we see: reindeer, trees and Santa Claus. The myth that we then are passing on to our children is one of a beautiful but soulless-spectacle – of elves and presents, and magical sleighs. What we are forming our children to ‘believe in’ is the God of the light-show, firework, or the God of entertainment. The human person wants to believe in something – but is it better to believe in a tooth-fairy, who demands nothing of us – rather than God and Church, Who and which might want us to have a change of heart, to rethink our lives? We naturally want to celebrate, but we don’t want to scratch deeper, because it may uncover something disturbing about who we are, and how we live. Santa Claus only demands that we be good for the festival of presents – but Santa Claus never tells us what he defines as goodness.

What we are forming our children to ‘believe in’ is the God of the light-show, firework, or the God of entertainment.

In the mini-series, Philosophy a Guide to Happiness, Socrates, according to the modern philosopher, Alain de Botton, is said to have taught us that we need to question what our society believes in. Alain de Botton, illustrated that Socrates would walk often to the central market place of Athens, and randomly ask the people he met, (more often than not, the ‘important’ people), what exactly they believed in. To his surprise, says de Botton, Socrates came to the conclusion, that although the ‘important’ person of Athens could spout useless facts – what they could not do, was define important ideas, such as: ‘love’, ‘peace’, ‘guilt’, ‘virtue’. The so-called leaders of society, did not know what they believed in when asked; yet the average Athenian followed these leaders, assuming that where authority lay, so must also wisdom.  One of the greatest forms of authority in our modern world – is public opinion. But this is a very dangerous supposition, that it must be right if everyone is thinking and doing it.

It is critical also to pass on to future generations something of substance that they can fall back on in times of crisis; some form of principle that can shape their character to give them a moral paradigm to operate from

A few days ago I opened a reputable newspaper to see a discussion being carried out about when is the right time to take down Christmas decorations. The discussion was spilling over on to the newspaper’s website, which I followed with interest. The final conclusion with a majority being of nine to one, was that Christmas decorations should come down on Boxing Day – the day after Christmas Day. The argument of the majority ran, like this: that Christmas Day now being over – one should quickly un-clutter the house and get ready for New Year. I suspect a good proportion of people reading this essay, will have family and friends who think and act likewise. I can also quite understand this, if one does not believe in Christmas being a religious season. But what I fail to understand is that these very same people who will joyfully sit in their homes, singing the “Twelve Days of Christmas”, do not know what they are in fact singing about – the twelve days after Christmas Day that culminate in the Epiphany, the entry of the Wise Men at Bethlehem. It is quite simply inane. Christmas is a season – not a day. But on the other hand, one can’t blame these people if there has been no intergenerational transmission of culture from older generation to the younger. If we assume that a good proportion (not a majority) of our families are either broken or blended – political correctness is the operative culture, so as not to create ill will, or ask big questions, at family gatherings – and what larger family gathering than that at Christmas? Everybody wants a good time – without bringing God into it. The grandparent who stands at the table, calling their family guests to join them in prayer prior to commencing the traditional Ukrainian Christmas banquet – may in fact be met with the echo of his or her own voice, as descendants have forgotten how to pray – or grandchildren have never actually been taught how to pray – and their attendance at this banquet has been guaranteed by a mercenary understanding of Christmas – a good feed, and an ample amount of good presents; for example, if you don’t attend Christmas Eve dinner you will not receive the presents. One is reminded of the current cultural phenomenon here in Australia, where wedding guests, are now not told the location of the Reception in their Invitations, as doing so would mean that they do not attend the wedding ceremony. So now in order to have the guests attend the wedding ceremony the location of the Reception is announced only at the ceremony. A heightened form of hedonistic and materialistic culture.

One of the greatest forms of authority in our modern world – is public opinion.

So scratch the surface – and ask yourself – why do you actually celebrate Christmas? I suspect that for different generations the rationale will be different.

The trappings of Christmas, for the most part, are harmless and add to the occasion. But life is far too short to live lives of emptiness. It is critical also to pass on to future generations something of substance that they can fall back on in times of crisis; some form of principle that can shape their character to give them a moral paradigm to operate from.

Too often, as both Socrates and Kennedy alerted us to – in order to avoid the discomfort of Truth, we selectively celebrate a myth in order to live a lie. Humans are frequently mimetic – and in a world interconnected by the World Wide Web – do often what the majority does. But why live a lie or accept half a life, when there exist large whole Truths to cling on to, that give not only life, but offer us life to the fullest?

Postscript: After reading a draft of this essay to my 13 year old son, Timothy told me that the local Christian radio station decided to stop playing Christmas carols after Boxing Day, but Fortnite, a popular computer game was offering gifts for every day of the twelve days of Christmas.

Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania

This article was published in The Church and Life Newspaper

 

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