Summary of First Thursday discussion, December 4th 2014
The weeks in the run-up to Christmas seem to be more and more overwhelmed by commercial advertising and consumerism. The latest development is Black Friday, a recent import from the USA [not a late celebration of Black History Month, but the day when the shops hope to begin to make a profit on the year’s trading, so their books go “into the black”]. Retail business depends on this Christmas buying fever to stay profitable, so it is unlikely to decline in the future.
Should the Church continue to try to “insert” a religious sense of Christmas into the frenzy? Or should we recognise that pagan winter festivals existed long before the Church tried to “baptise” them into celebrations of Christ’s birth? So what has happened is that they have once again broken free from the Church’s control. [The Church could instead revive the old practice of keeping Advent until Christmas Eve, and then celebrating Christmas and Epiphany until the Feast of the Presentation, or Candlemas on February 2nd! But that is unlikely to be very popular with most congregations!!]
Does what has happening to “Christmas” show that society’s values have moved away from any Christian standards, and now only value purchasing power and consumerism? What is our identity as human beings? Only to be consumers [“I shop therefore I am”?]. But belief in God implies that human life has meaning beyond what is only material. [Not that religious faith implies that material things are unimportant- the Biblical idea of creation says that the physical world is valuable, and that material well-being is part of God’s purpose for all people. But such material prosperity needs to be held within a framework of justice- otherwise it becomes destructive].
Since the 1960s Sunday schools run by faith communities are no longer a part of most people’s culture in the way they used to be. But day schools still have “Values” as a part of their curriculum, (enforced by OFSTED). Is it possible to have values if there is no belief in anything “supernatural”, or is there a “Natural Law” which can be discussed and taught? This is perhaps one of the most important debates for society at the present time.
And where is the place of faith communities in this? It is sometimes said that the traditional pattern for faith development was Believing, Behaving and Belonging- in other words, Beliefs were taught, which led to good Behaviour and finally a sense of Belonging to the faith community (though perhaps “Believing” was more a matter of accepting what society believed without too much question- so more like “Belonging” than a matter of personal commitment). Today perhaps that traditional pattern has to be reversed: Belonging comes first, then Behaviour and finally Belief. In other words, people are welcomed to share in an open faith community where they can explore changes in lifestyle and the underlying beliefs involved. Perhaps such a faith community can still be valuable to many people.