You may know I have a thing about whingeing Christians. Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey's reappearance to sponsor 'Not Ashamed Day', the launch of a campaign encouraging Christians to be Out and Proud about their faith in the face of "well-meaning political correctness, multiculturalism and overt opposition to Christianity", has prompted me to post about something that came under my nose the other day.
The local churches in this area tend to swap newsletters. We don't as such, because we have a parish-wide newsletter that gets delivered to shops, institutions and homes, but we do get the magazines produced by the others. One headed a piece 'For the first time ever, the Christmas tree in the White House will be called a Holiday Tree this year. The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning Commentary' and there follows a considerable number of words attributed to Mr Stein, the right-wing US Jewish commentator and sometime comedian saying how, as a Jew, he has no objection to the Christian Christmas and rather approves of it as a sign that the American nation has not abandoned God, because we screw up when we do.
It was the bit about the White House Christmas tree that caught my attention. Was this really true, or was this another instance of Obama-bashing rumour-mongering by the US Christian Right? You only get one guess. According to Snopes, this rumour has been circulating since mid-2009 and has apparently kept going this year. This year, as last, the Obamas received the Christmas tree in a horse-drawn wagon emblazoned with the words CHRISTMAS TREE (bit of a giveaway, that) while a military band played 'O Christmas Tree'. Get the message? It's a story that neatly encapsulates the absolute conviction many US Christians have that Mr Obama is hell-bent on subverting the Constitution, banning Christianity, nationalising people's underwear, baking their babies etc. etc. It also helps British Christians work themselves into a frenzy about how the world is turning against them, and how everyone kowtows to the Muslims instead (when Christians moan about being 'treated unfairly', what they really mean is 'those Muslims get special treatment, what about us?').
But it's worse than that. This particular church is not full of frothing fundamentalists, but presumably they don't mind carrying a piece by Ben Stein because they haven't checked who he is - if they had, they'd have discovered he is a pro-life evolution-denier who once declared 'science leads you to killing people'. In fact his views are interestingly varied, but you can't say he is an uncontroversial figure.
AND not all the words quoted are even his. The second column-and-a-half is described, again, by Snopes as an anonymous coda which began circulating and being attributed to Mr Stein in about 2006. Though our local version misses out the offensive and untrue stuff about Dr Benjamin Spock, which you can read in the Snopes article, should you want, it does compound the error by adding 'My best regards, honestly and respectfully, Ben Stein' at the end. But I don't doubt that it's just been lifted wholesale from some website, or received in an email, without actually being checked.
None of this, for heaven's sake, took a lot of digging out; it required just a few minutes with Google, and a basic scepticism of the claim that Christianity is being systematically marginalised and 'pushed around'. Anyone could have found out very easily that virtually nothing in the article is true; anyone to whom it might occur that there could be any doubt about it, of course.
Sadly British Christians are now all too willing to believe this dishonest rubbish without checking, because it fits in with their own sense of being marginalised. It's claptrap. I continue to marvel, as an ordained priest of the Established Church, at the colossal degree of privilege I enjoy even on the most informal levels. A trivial example: a shop in the village is being redeveloped. I called in yesterday to find out what was happening. As I asked I could tell the foreman was a bit suspicious until I pointed out I was the vicar (sic) whereupon the suspicion cleared and we got into a conversation about his church- and school-going habits of years ago. It was assumed (rightly I like to think) by this non- or at least inactively Christian person that as parish priest I have a legitimate reason for wanting to know what's going on in the community I'm responsible for. This is the real world rather than the one imagined from the newsdesk of the Daily Mail, or Bishop Carey's study for that matter.
Thankfully some important voices in the Church of England are not going unquestioningly along with this. The Bishop of Croydon simply swept all the Not Ashamed! nonsense aside on Channel 4. 'I hardly think that we're a beleaguered minority. We're everywhere'. Quite.