‘Tis the season of shameless reblogging. So here’s a post I did on December 11th, 2007. I leave it unrevised, its social location intact.
Recently the Catholic League in the US idiotically called for a boycott on the film version of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass (it turns out there is nothing to boycott - all the scathing offence of the novel, its prophetic critique against idols and ecclesiastical corruption, has been removed). Well, now I am calling for a boycott on Nativity Plays, and I will be picketing Richard’s church this Sunday morning. Or is it the following Sunday morning? What the hell, I’ll picket both Sunday mornings!
Why? Because the children in Nativity Plays are corrupting our grown-ups. Parents and relatives watch little Johnny with a towel over his head, and little Billy in his dressing gown carrying a shoe box - the traditional sartorial iconography for shepherds and kings - and little Mary playing, er, Mary, cuddling a dumb doll, and they go, “Ah, isn’t it sweet!”, as they take their photographs for the family album.
But the Christmas story isn’t sweet! It is bitter - very bitter. The crib and the cross are cut from the same wood. The Nativity Play is a Passion Play. The message of Christmas is the same message as Good Friday: when God appears, church and state try to kill him, though Pilate and Caiaphas succeed where Herod fails. And those who recognise the Messiah are the least likely ones: at his birth, shepherds (despised by Israel’s Religious Right for working on the sabbath and travelling through Gentile regions), Iraqi astrologer-priests (not only leaders of another faith but representatives of Israel’s Babylonian conquerors); and during his ministry, apostates (like the woman of Samaria), quislings (like Zacchaeus), the filthy (like the woman with chronic menstrual bleeding), and those (supposedly) bearing divine judgement (the blind, lame, leprous = HIV-positive).
Is this the message grown-ups take away with them from Nativity Plays? Is it heck! For Christian parents too Nativity Plays send soporific signals that Christianity is a “nice” religion, turning out obedient children (Jesus ran away from home when he was twelve) and loyal citizens (Jesus was condemned as a dissident) rather than non-violent revolutionaries. The church rants and complains year after year, with boring self-righteous regularity, that our awful secular society has forgotten “the reason for the season”, as if a cheap marketing rhyme will lead to repentance, when it should well know that judgement begins in the household of God.
So boycott Nativity Plays! Unless they are scripted by Quentin Tarantino and the ending is changed to reflect the reality of what Mother Church has done: Mary takes the child and hands him over to Herod.