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
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
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
"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."