Miscellaneous – including Ann Widdecombe and more on ‘divine right of kings’.

With a couple of longish essays still being worked on, just a brief post of ‘bits and pieces’.

First, I’d intended quite a long examination of Ann Widdecombe’s TV presentation ‘Are you having a laugh?’ in which essentially she complained about comedians making fun of Christianity.  But in the end I thought the Bible says it better

…it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom but we preach Christ crucified (a crucified Messiah), a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and Christ the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

In other words, we are preaching a somewhat counter-intuitive message which at first sight people will find either scandalous or funny; if we want respect for such a message we need to earn it, not just take it for granted or expect it as of right, nor complain when some people joke about us.  Be humble among our non-Christian neighbours….

On the ‘crumbling cathedral’ issue I’m wondering was I a bit polite – I mean, a supposedly ‘Christian country’ runs a national lottery almost all of which is anti-Christian in implication (appeal to greed, trust in chance…) and the supposed national Christian Church is seeking to profit from the gambling!!  Do we really have to politely pretend there is nothing wrong with this picture??

Looking through the ‘Stats’ bit of ‘Blog Admin’ I came across some anomalous ‘search terms’; and I’ve been wondering whether someone was really searching for those things or if they were trying to comment on the blog but being unused to blogs had put the question in the wrong window or something like that.  Two of these seemed to deserve a response anyway…

First, “What has Rameses to do with Church and State?”  Answer, not a lot – but my blog is ‘mostly’ about church-and-state issues, not ‘exclusively’ on that topic, and other things that interest me like the Exodus date will crop up from time to time.

Second, “What happens to the ‘divine right of kings’ when you kill into it?”  I assume that means when somebody usurps the previous king and kills him, or when a king is defeated in battle.

Basically, most kings and similar rulers have wanted their subjects to believe they either are divine (see Emperors of Rome and Japan) or that they otherwise have divine backing so that the subjects mustn’t dare object and especially don’t plot to kill them!  Such divine right has of course its own limitations – ‘divine emperors’ are usually only demigods rather than full gods, while others by claiming divine right risk that the priesthood of their religion will interfere with the ruler in the name of the gods in question.  When one country defeats and takes over another, the assumption will be that ‘the gods’ favoured the winner who thus has the divine right.  Usurpation is tricky; a really strong usurper won’t be challenged anyway on grounds of sheer brute force, a weaker usurper will probably have to do a lot of propaganda to satisfy their subjects that the usurped king had either forfeited his divine right or never had it in the first place….  That kind of thing could be seen throughout the ‘Wars of the Roses’ particularly when Richard III usurped the throne of his young nephew, and then when Henry Tudor in turn usurped Richard.

In the kind of case I was putting in the original blog on ‘divine right of kings’ I was really cutting through all that as irrelevant to Christians.  We don’t accept the ‘divine right’ claimed by non-Christian kings because we don’t believe in the god(s) in question.  We also reject the idea found among many kings of ‘Christendom’ that they are ‘anointed’ kings like David and Solomon, because the position of God’s anointed king over his people is already eternally filled by the resurrected and very much alive Jesus himself.  For Christians the ‘divine right’ doesn’t actually exist in the first place, except for Jesus himself, so you can’t ‘kill into it’ as the question implied.

But what about Romans 13    “There is no authority except from God, and those in charge are divinely constituted, so that the rebel against the authority is resisting God’s appointment”.  Isn’t that the ‘divine right of kings’?  Well, sort of – for a detailed explanation of the text see a forthcoming post on Romans 13; actually a two-parter because I believe in context, so a post about Romans 12 will come first….

Marcus Brigstocke – whining about Christmas….

During her programme on comedy and Christianity, ‘Are you having a laugh?’  Ann Widdecombe interviewed comedian Marcus Brigstocke; a clip was shown from one of Brigstocke’s performances.  In it he said

I respect a person’s right to have a religion, but just how much do these people want from us?  Christmas starts in October and approximately two months is lights, songs, special meals, promotions, adverts, decorations, trees and nativity plays in thousands of our schools.  So my question is, how much more do you Christian campaigners think you might need from us before you stop your ******** whining?

OK Marcus, I know your tongue will have been a bit in your cheek and your conversation with Ann showed that you are a quite reasonable person when not in on stage mode.  I expect a comedian to exaggerate a bit – and yes, I found your rant funny (though the fun is wearing off a bit after repeated replays to make the above transcript!).  But hang on a minute… how much of those months of agony (and I don’t enjoy it much myself!) is actually to do with us Christians to begin with?

Most Christians in my experience only want to be doing Christmas as such for the month of ‘Advent’ leading up to December 25 itself, and Advent is more than just Christmas anyway.  For those who follow the ‘Christian calendar’ there’s plenty else to do for the rest of the year, including the much more important celebration of Easter.  Though less common, many others do not accept the dubious calculations which led the dubiously established Roman Imperial church to the December 25th date and we don’t feel a particular need to specifically celebrate Jesus’ birthday at all, though we’re usually polite enough to go along with those who do.  And actually in less overtly ‘Xmassy’ ways all Christians celebrate all year round the deep implication of Christmas as the incarnation of God in human form.

The massively extended (over-blown?) celebration that you protest about, Marcus, is really, as your mention of ‘adverts and promotions’ suggests, more to do with a commercialised festival which took off in the early Victorian era, perhaps particularly from the writings of one Charles Dickens, and has now almost taken over from the original religious feast.  It has increasingly taken on a life of its own and apart from using the name ‘Christmas’ (and even that often reduced to the anonymous ‘Xmas’) barely refers to the Christian beliefs at all.  Consequently far from campaigning for it, most Christians actually find this manifestation of ‘Christmas’ a problem.

For this modern materialistic winter festival the true god is ‘Father Christmas’; this figure is ultimately pagan, and is also prefigured by the ‘Spirit of Christmas Present’ in Dickens’ Christmas Carol.  There is confusion with the genuine Christian festival earlier in December of St Nicholas, a 4th Century Bishop famous for some spectacular gifts, but the modern ‘Santa’ has become a completely separate figure with a fairy story legend which makes him a kind of Scandinavian demigod as he allegedly lives at the North Pole with his elves.

Ironically Santa is one of the few religious beliefs on behalf of which you (even you, Marcus) may still be more-or-less officially persecuted in our fairly tolerant country.  If you are invited to visit a junior school and entertain the children, try telling a class of nine-year-olds that Father Christmas doesn’t exist, and see what happens.  If you get out alive… well, it may not be quite that bad, but it could still be an adversely career-changing move for a comedian who does a lot of work for children’s TV!  (Several teachers in recent years have suffered such persecution for misjudging whether their classes had already grown up enough to abandon belief in Father Christmas).  And see how the adults will rush in like the 7th Cavalry to repair the ‘damage’ you have supposedly done by telling the truth to the kids, with ‘special lessons on the meaning of Christmas’ to reinforce the Santa lie.  Most of those adults will have no serious Christian beliefs, and of course they won’t – unless insane – believe in Father Christmas at all!!

So Christians aren’t really responsible for much of the Christmas palaver you are whining about, especially the way it now starts in October (or even, I sometimes feel, in October of the previous year!).  I suppose the staging of nativity plays can’t be so easily disclaimed; though these days there is a considerable element of tradition and custom (“This is the ‘done thing’ at Christmas”) rather than serious faith on the part of teachers.  This is basically because of the many years when most of Europe was formally Christian.  Because this blog deals regularly with that issue I’ll not go into it again in detail right here, just say that according to the New Testament Christianity should not have had that special place in the state.  Mind you, much of the pattern of modern schooling derives from days when the churches provided education for people because the state in those days didn’t; you should at least give the church credit for that, and indeed for being the lead educator in many modern third world countries where un-or-other-believers can’t be bothered.

Christians I think have a right to campaign for their faith; as you, Marcus, have a right to oppose us and make fun of us.  If we are doing things biblically we won’t be seeking special privilege in the state, just humbly seeking to share things that have truly helped our lives.  And we are often dismayed by the modern ‘Christmas’ as much or even more than yourself.

See also a separate post on this blog about the Widdecombe programme….