Sue Blackmore comments on a debate from last year over whether or not it is consistent for non-Christians, especially Atheists, to attend things like Christmas Carol services. The rumpus was caused by Richard Dawkins admission that he was going to go Carol singing, and the protestations of Christians against the notorious atheists doing so. She asks her readership what she should do; to sing or not to sing?
Dr. Blackmore wonders about differing perceptions of carols, from the innocent and relatively irreligious “Holly and the Ivy” to the ramifications of singing of Jesus “no crying he makes”. Far be it from me to rain on anyone’s parade but I would rather choke than listen to “Away in a manger”. I love Christmas carols; I have CDs of Christmas carols from some of the finest choirs in Western Europe – but please, no more of that song!
Perhaps Sue should refrain from attending simply on the basis of taste.
On the wider issue, I sympathise with the notion of cultural Christianity. So many of us were brought up, baptised, confirmed and communed (?) in one of the Christian denominations. We may have no faith in them, regarding them as quaint fairy stories or vulgar, dangerous hypocritical centres for extraordinarily reactionary politics – but there are some aspects which cause us nostalgia.
Christmas carols are one such: I hated going to mass, which was just one series of obsequies after another, but many fine pieces of music are Christmas carols. It is not hypocritical in the slightest to enjoy them.
Albert Mohler comments that, “The thought of Richard Dawkins singing any carols with explicit Christian content is difficult to hold — unless the Oxford professor intends to sing of a faith he does not profess.” I have to ask, why wouldn’t we sing about a faith we don’t profess? It’s no different from reading Tolkien because the writing is masterful, or watching fantasy or sci-fi films or singing certain nursery rhymes to our children.
Singing a song doesn’t require one’s heartfelt belief in every aspect of what the author is trying to celebrate. We might sing along to modern pop songs and consider the lyrics to be meaningless trash (which they are, in the case of most modern dance, enunciated by vaguely mechanic Germanic women). I think it’s utterly silly to have any hang-ups about singing Christmas carols.
The cultural aspect to Christianity is independent of Christianity itself, and if you removed Christianity entirely, something similar would continue to exist: a celebration where people get together and go out singing. Indeed the ‘carol’ was a type of popular music long before it has the established religious connections of today, so why not go out and sing along? The lyrics don’t mean anything.
As that advert said, “There’s probably no God, now stop worrying and go enjoy your life.”
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