Christmas is a celebration of what is guessed to be the approximate birth date of Jesus Christ. It is an important occasion in almost all civilised societies for both Christians and Non-Christians alike.
In Australia the number of people who describe themselves as Christians has fallen from 71% of the population in 1996 to only 52% twenty years later in 2016. I have been a non-believer – although a much more tolerant one – for my entire adult life so I am gradually acquiring more companions. Christianity, in fact, faces the prospect of being a minority belief – part of the ‘counter-culture’ – in Australian society. But while formal adherence to Christianity may be fading the ideas that underlie it remain, by-in-large, an important positive force in our society. Christmas remain important to many of us – both the secular and the religious.
I lack empathy with multiculturalists and those from other religions who see the widespread respect paid to Christmas as something offensive to atheists and non-Christians. Given my early Christian upbringing I still feel comfortable celebrating the message of hope, forgiveness, friendship and kindness that Christmas brings to us. I have a long-standing respect for the values that the man Jesus Christ espoused. The birth of a baby indicates the hoped-for possibility of living in a better world. The materialism associated with Christmas does make me reflect – do we devote to much time to the emotional impact of Christ’s birth and not enough to his life? But most of us enjoy giving and receiving gifts. One can be too puritanical about such matters. Most of us enjoy some of the incidentals of Christmas – carols being sung, food and wine being imbibed and homes being brightly decorated. At the very least these are a valued part of our cultural traditions.
The idea of hope associated with Christmas and the belief that the world can be a better place because of the birth of a boy is a beautiful parable. I do not believe that to appreciate the beauty of this notion that one, in fact, needs to accept the idea that the young boy is the ‘son of God’ or our ‘saviour’. It is enough to think about our prospects for renewal and for trying to live a life that reflects Christian values of kindness and forgiveness even if not of Christian theology. It is these values that Jesus taught throughout his life that are important to us as well as the symbolism of his birth.
No religion – Christianity included – should ever be seen as having the last word on anything. One of the great advantages of living in Australia is its openness and the freedom of choice it offers with respect to religion. But the wisdom of many religions, freed from their bigotry, can guide us towards living happier, more fulfilled lives. Whether you are thinking about what job you should take, what partner you should live with or how you should deal with the neighbours and with outsiders, the message of Christianity has something to teach us all. God might be irrelevant in all this – we are after all human beings – but the core message of Christians and the hope of Christmas is not.