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A Return Salvo in the War on Christmas By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Church of England’s Bishop of Rochester, who hails from Pakistani converts from Islam to Christianity, is defending Christmas in Great Britain. Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali challenged secularist British bureaucrats who imagine the holiday will somehow frighten Britain’s non-Christian minorities.

“It is certainly true that there is a relatively small number of organizations, publications, and people who would like to see Christmas made a matter for private celebration,” the bishop wrote in an op-ed right before Christmas. “Their numbers are small, [but] they have had a disproportionate influence on legislation and on the life of the nation in the past 40 years or so.”

The bishop lamented that, in the name of British multiculturalism, a “thoughtless bureaucracy,” driven by a “desire to be politically correct” has clamped down on the Christmas spirit in government agencies and in the schools. “Without the guiding influence of the Christian faith it is impossible to think of Britain as a nation,” the bishop observed. “We owe our ideas of monarchy and the rule of law to it, not to mention our commitment to justice, equality, dignity and liberty. British institutions, values and customs have all developed under Christian influence. The long tradition of welfare provision and of the struggles against slavery and poverty would be unimaginable without it.”

British-born bishops are themselves, like the bureaucrats against whom Nazir-Ali warned, often prone to apologize for traditional British culture and Christianity. But the Pakistani-born bishop, no doubt contrasting British freedoms with repression in his own native land, is not shy about defending political liberty and the historic Christian faith.

Providing a brief history lesson, the bishop wrote that the Enlightenment's “most important themes, such as the inherent dignity of each human being, the fundamental equality of all, the primacy of conscience-and the importance of an ordered society, were all derived from Christian ideas.”

In contrast, “Britain is again faced with the challenge of a totalitarian ideology, one which also rightly or wrongly claims to be rooted in a religious tradition,” the bishop warned, referring, of course, to radical Islam. “We know that the values of inherent dignity, of equality, of liberty and of safety arise out of the Judaeo-Christian tradition and we ignore this tradition at our physical, social and international peril.”

The effort to clamp down on Christmas is part of a larger secularist effort to eviscerate all Christian influence from the public arena, the bishop insisted. But the empty space left by a de-Christianized Britain will only inhibit Britain’s ability to defend its culture and ultimately its security. “There is little time to lose if Britain is to survive.”

“I want us to affirm the connection between Christmas in the public square and those enduring truths that lie at the heart of this nation's life,” Nazir-Ali wrote. “I pray fervently that it is not too late.”

Apparently not averse to controversy in behalf of his Christian convictions, the bishop also spoke out over Christmas about Muslim women wearing the veil in Britain.

“It is fine if they want to wear the veil in private," he told a British newspaper.  "But there are occasions in public life when it is inappropriate for them to wear it."  Nazir-Ali even said there are some situations in which the government should be able to prohibit the veil. “Given that we are facing an unprecedented security situation, legislation needs to be introduced that allows officials to remove the veil," the bishop said.  Britain is estimated to have 1.6 million Muslims. 

Not quite as provocative as Nazir-Ali, the Archbishop of York also criticized multiculturalist fetishes in his Christmas sermon. John Sentamu, a native of Uganda, has similarly shown an appreciation of traditional British culture that is not commonly found among British elites themselves. 

"The history of this great nation and the experience of two world wars teaches us that nationhood is made of contributions of all, and not claims; active participation and engagement, not rights; what we offer willingly, and not what we demand," the archbishop preached in his cathedral. "Together we can make a Britain in which many minority ethnic people will feel it is their dwelling tent too - without making the indigenous population feel that this is no longer the Britain of their fathers."

Sentamu, who has a young man experienced the ravages of Uganda under the monstrous Idi Amin dictatorship, concluded: "I believe we should talk more about the common good and values that have shaped this nation and less and less about multiculturalism and cultural diversity."

In contrast to comments by Sentamu and Nazir-Ali, the British-born Archbishop of Canterbury employed his Christmas sermon, and a newspaper editorial, to complain about the Israeli security barrier against Palestinian terrorism and to fault Western governments for endangering Middle Eastern Christians. Archbishop Rowan Williams seemed reluctant to actually name the Islamist persecutors of Christians in the Middle East.   Instead, he faulted a vague “extremism.”   

Naively, Williams wrote in his op-ed, “It's not that these Christians are being actively persecuted by Muslim governments on the whole. It's a matter of rising tides of extremism which governments are as keen to check as anyone.” 

Nice try, Rev. Williams. But the regimes of Saudi Arabia and Iran are among the world’s most vicious towards non-Islamic religious minorities, Christians above all. And even the most “moderate” Middle-Eastern regimes give special status to Islam and curtail the freedoms of Christian minority groups. The policies of Western governments are indeed not always helpful to Christian minorities. But neither are Western regimes, nor Israeli policies towards the Palestinians, the ultimate cause of Christian suffering in the Middle East.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is not among the worst. But he shows some of the typical guilty-ridden desire of leftist Western clerics to apologize for their own culture while refusing to criticize the abuses of other cultures and religious movements. Unlike typical left-wing Western clerics, the Pakistani and Ugandan born bishops in Britain have lived in the real world, beyond the insulated cocoons of Western campuses and church social parlors. They know that Christian-inspired Western culture, for all its failures, represents hope for hundreds of millions around the world who live under dictatorship and needless, state-imposed poverty.

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Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

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