Christmas is the high point of Cultural Christianity. It creates joy and confusion; joy to our culture and confusion to Christians.
Cultural Christianity is a reality that would be helpful for both Christians and non-Christians to accept if not embrace. It is seen in the famous atheist Richard Dawkins’ love of singing Christmas carols. He is not for a moment saying he believes in Christianity or any of the ideas the carols are expressing – but that he enjoys the festival – especially its music. Celebrating Christmas is part of his British culture.
Cultural Christianity goes much further than simply singing carols. It is what most Australians mean when they indicate they are Christian. They are not Muslims or Hindus, Jews or Buddhists; they are, as were their parents before them, Christians. That is their heritage and tribe – seen in their choice of names and food, their monogamy and their holidays.
Indeed, Cultural Christianity lies at the basis of Australian civil life. I tire of the mindless anti-Christian chanting that we are a secular society, which practices the separation of church and state. Neither is actually true.
We have a secular government but the society is considerably more than its government. Removing Christianity from our culture requires revisionist history and a wholesale reconstitution of the way Australians live. Even limiting government to the secular matters of society came, in part, from a Christian understanding dating back to Jesus famous, and at the time radical, line of giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s.
We do not have the separation of State and Church that is so passionately advocated in America. There are those who would want to remove the symbols and reality of our relationship but historically and legally church and state are intertwined. The symbols of opening parliament with Jesus’ prayer, of Christmas and Easter as public holidays are part of our historical settlement between church and state. The Defence of Government Schools case before the High Court in 1981 demonstrated that the secularity of the Australian Constitution is that our government does not promote one religion as opposed to another, not that it only promotes ‘no religion’.
However, there is such a thing as Christian Christianity – it’s not just a matter of interpretation. Christianity is based in the reality of the Son of God: his incarnation, words and works, crucifixion and resurrection, and promise to return to judge. All this may be false or it may be true – but either way Christian Christianity is committed to the belief and propagation of these ideas.
Cultural Christianity is not the same as Christian Christianity. As with Professor Dawkins, Cultural Christians don’t have to believe in Jesus to sing carols any more than they have to believe in Santa Clause to sing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Christian Christianity is quite different. Christians do believe in Jesus and do know the difference between the historical reality of Jesus and the mythical nonsense of Santa and the reindeer.
Christian Christians can appeal to Cultural Christians to put Christ back into Christmas but it will not make any real difference, they will still be Cultural Christians. However, Christian Christians cannot put Christ back into Christmas because without him they have no Christmas.