Taking Christ out of Christmas


Although I have been travelling around England recently, I’ve been following the ongoing dispute about the Church of England’s attempt to promote prayer by commissioning a 54-second film – a cinema advertisement, so to speak, for The Lord’s Prayer. The  was designed to be shown before the new Star Wars film. At the last minute the cinema chain stopped the film from being shown – even though it had been approved by the relevant advertising body. It gave as a reason that it ‘might be offensive to some people.’

I despair at the state my country has got itself into. Just coming up to Christmas, who on earth would find a short piece about Christian prayer ‘offensive?’ It might be better to show the ad and then let those who are so offended reveal themselves.

Yesterday I was in Leicester, and right opposite the back door of our temple is the Town Hall. The imposing brick building has the very largest, flashing, green neon **Merry Christmas** sign I have ever seen. Leicester has, as many will know, the largest population of Hindus in the country, outside London. As far as I know, not one Hindu has ever begrudged this overt celebration of Christmas. Hinduism is a broad and diverse collection of religious strands, and is inclusive, appreciating all attempts to serve and know God.

Those who recognise that the same God is being worshipped, despite the differences in names used by the worshippers, will acknowledge  and appreciate the paths of everyone, giving them freedom to express their deepest feelings of faith. And those who recognise the importance of religion, generally, in preserving morality and order in society, will welcome the range of human emotions that comes along with worship, particular the celebration of festivals. It is very sad that we seem to have taken the wrong turn in our understanding of freedom of religion and expression.

To make these cinematic religious matters slightly more complex, the short film Sanjay’s Superteam, by Toy Story makers Pixar, is now being shown in some cinemas just before their new film The Good Dinosaur. The short film features, in cartoon forms, Lord Vishnu, Hanuman and Durga. While I’m delighted that the names and forms of the deities are being broadcast, I am troubled that we seem to be relentlessly diminishing the religion that has been the foundation of much good in this country. The problem is that intolerance toward Christianity in the name of preserving the peace will be followed by more intolerant behaviour in the future.

It is understandable that people look for new forms of religious expression as they tire of old forms. The path of Bhakti seems to be attracting the attention of seekers everywhere. Krishna is mentioned by the bad character in the trailer for another superhero movie: X-Men Apocalypse. The anti-hero introduces himself by saying: “I have been called many things over many lifetimes, Rama, Krishna, Yahweh…”

There may be many more occasions where Bhakti makes an appearance in popular culture. Certainly, there is a great variety of rich culture to be mined in the search for new forms of spiritual expression. I do feel, however, that religion itself must be protected, so that even the concepts preserved by those faiths do not disappear from our conversations. That would be a sad world. Merry Christmas.










Filed under Journal

6 responses to “Taking Christ out of Christmas

  1. Govinda das

    Nice article. The Daily Mail pointed out the hypocrisy of banning Christian adverts while allowing adverts promoting alcohol and violence.


    Srila Prabhupada gave the proper conception of the secular state. Religion should be protected.

    “Anyone, if he is professing himself that “I am Hindu,” then it is the government’s duty to see whether he is actually executing the Hindu principles of religion. That is secular state. If you are calling himself a Muslim, then it is government’s duty to see that whether actually you are following the Muslim principles of religion. If you are a Christian, it is the government’s duty is to see that you are following the Christian principle of religion. Not that callous, “You can do whatever you like.” No. Kṣatriya’s duty is to see. The king, government’s duty is to see.
    Similarly, if one is claiming that he is a brāhmaṇa, it is the government’s duty to see whether he’s strictly following the brāhmaṇa principles: śamo damas titikṣā ārjavam, whether he is strictly following how to become self-controlled, how to remain always pure, clean, śuci. ” (SP Lecture, London, 1st September, 1973)

    • Very good points Govinda, thank you. The difficulty for any government comes when they don’t have any working definition of religion. In the case of the UK, there is actually such a definition in use for charitable organisations whose purposes is to establish and support religious practise. The Charity Commission of the British government has outlined a schedule of criteria which constitutes a religion. My main issue is that we have been gradually moved to a position where religion itself – even the ‘establishment religion’ of the country – is seen as a threat in that some may find it ‘offensive.’ Terrible state of affairs and one to which the tendency of some to be almost perpetually offended has contributed.

      • Govinda das

        Interesting stuff.

        “…gradually moved to a position where religion itself – even the ‘establishment religion’ of the country – is seen as a threat…”

        Gradual is dangerous, it goes unnoticed. Like boiling the frog. A confrontation would be preferable. It would unify and energize the theists, and put religion in the spotlight. I assume the Christians are happy with interest generated from the advert ban. A very successful advert!

  2. Yajnavalkya dasa (ACBSP)

    Thank you for this article. It raises very important points, especially the point of appreciating other theistic faiths.

    Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura writes in his book, the Caitanya Shikshamrita: “It is improper and detrimental to argue over the differences [in various religions]. If one goes to another place of worship, one should think, ‘The people here are worshipping my Lord, but in a different way; because of my different training, I cannot properly comprehend this system of worship. However, through this experience, I can deepen my appreciation for my own system of worship.'”

    Srila Bhaktivinoda does add a caveat, however: “Devotees do not accept as real religion those religious systems that are filled with atheism, skepticism, materialism, pantheism and impersonalism. They know them to be false religions, anti-religious movements, or perverted religions.”

  3. Yogasiromani

    Srila Prabhupada’s interpretation of what it means for a state to be secular is not being practiced anywhere in the world at the moment. The regular understanding of secular refers to religion being a private matter. UK and most of Western Europe has secularised, in the latter sense of the word.

    It is perhaps not so much of a problem to offend the sensibilities of adherents of other religions, than it is to offend the sensibilities of those with no religion. In UK, that is emerging as a majority position, and hence it is understandable, that public display of religion, Christian or otherwise, is seen as problematic.

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