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What do you mean, no Santa?

20 December 2013

Perennial: this year's vicar-denies-Santa shock, in The Times

Perennial: this year's vicar-denies-Santa shock, in The Times

CHRISTMAS came early for the Daily Star. Its front-page splash last Friday concerned the primary-school assembly at which Canon Simon Tatton-Brown suggested that Santa Claus did not, in fact, exist, and told the children stories of St Nicholas instead. On the inside, tagged with "Exclusive", the story dominated a two-page spread, pushing away into a corner "Docs' 148 hospital blunders", with the majestic headline: "Yo ho NO . . . Santa's not REAL. Fury over stories to weeping children."

"A vicar was blasted last night for telling tearful schoolchildren 'There is no Father Christmas.'"

The Times, undeterred by the Star's exclusive banner, ran the same story on the same day, with rather more detail and lovely quotes from a woman called Linzi Merritt, who, I presume, was the original source of the story: "We wouldn't just walk into the church during one of his services and tell everyone Jesus isn't real. Loads of kids went home crying - it has ruined Christmas for them. Not only has he spoiled Father Christmas for them, a lot of them are now questioning the existence of the tooth fairy as well.

"It's the older children who have suffered the most because their parents can't really talk their way out of it like the parents of younger children can."

This is fascinating, and should really upset the National Secular Society. Clearly, she thinks that school has a duty to brainwash children, indoctrinate them, and protect them from the knowledge of the real world in favour of myths. Why should it matter what these myths are? Yet I have seen no protests on the matter.


THERE is a corresponding uproar in Sweden, meanwhile, over proposals that school classes be allowed to attend religious services at the end of term, or the traditional Advent services, which outings were all banned earlier this century. Obviously, children could always attend with their parents: this row is about collective worship.


BACK in England, the Mail picked up on the case of Karen Holland, sacked by her Sikh employers at a Londis shop in Hemel Hempstead, for taking Hallowe'en off to attend a Wiccan ceremony. She won £15,000, though only £9000 of this was for sex and religious discrimination. Not that she thinks of herself as religious, as other religions are: "It's not like looking into being a Muslim or being a Catholic. It's not like going to church on a Sunday. It's a draw. It's a pull. It's a way of life. A total way of life," she said.


THEN there was the Scientology story, in which a couple of devoted Scientologists won from the Supreme Court the right to be married in their chapel, since the court agreed it was a place of worship. This was given legs because it had, apparently, tax implications. In The Guardian: "The local-government minister, Brandon Lewis, said: 'I am very concerned about this ruling, and its implication for business rates.

"'Now we discover Scientology may be eligible for rate relief, and that the taxpayer will have to pick up the bill, all thanks to Harriet Harman and Labour's flawed laws.'"

As far as I can discover, this is nonsense, but it deserves to be remembered as part of the increasing assimilation of the British understanding of religion into an American model. In fact, now that I come to think of it, I am myself licensed to conduct weddings in the state of California through a ministerial accreditation I bought over the internet about 20 years ago. Take that, L. Ron Hubbard! We got there first!


IN THE Sunday papers, there was a great deal of indignation about the segregation by sex of Muslim students at meetings on university campuses. Universities UK, the group that had issued guidance permitting this, has now withdrawn its earlier line. The story made the front page of the Daily Mail, and drew a magnificently scornful response from Matthew D'Ancona: "Voluntary segregation? Pull the other one. Hobbes teaches us that fear and liberty are consistent - but only in the sense that 'as when a man throweth his goods into the Sea for Feare the ship should sink, he doth it neverthelesse very willingly, and may refuse to doe it if he will.'

"I do not believe that the gender segregation under discussion is freely practised in any meaningful sense."

SPECIFICALLY Christian stories? For that you had to go to Archbishop Vincent Nichols, writing in The Guardian to denounce the Government's policy on spousal immigration. "Support for family life is a cornerstone of British society and, in fact, of the Catholic tradition. This victimisation of a group of British citizens is an indication of how far we have moved from these principles and values."

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