The Christian faith, when broken into its constituent parts, is a little weird. I’ve never been shy of the fact that as someone who believes in Jesus and his teachings, I’m taking a walk on the weird side. Christianity, the culture and all its trappings that have grown out of the Christian faith is a whole lot weirder again. It has a whole micro culture of music, art, literature and language that can be hard to understand from the outside.
Perhaps I’m sucked in by clickbait and trending topics, but I often read stories of enraged Christian activists decrying some very niche issue as the next step towards Armageddon.
This week was one of those where I wondered if I’ve missed something.
My Facebook and Twitter had a more than generous portion of Christianity versus the world today. Today’s chosen enemies were those bastions of evil, the fifth and sixth horsemen of the apocalypse: the National Trust and Cadbury’s Chocolate eggs. This put me in an awkward position. I’m a Christian who’s employed by National Trust and can eat a whole Dairy Milk egg in the time it takes to drink a single cup of Yorkshire Tea.
Here are some of the responses I had to what has been abhorrently labelled #EasterEggGate. If you want to fight against a real issue, choose the use of gate at the end of a contentious issue – #gategate.
“It’s the erasing of Christianity from society.” What right do we Christians feel that we have to govern the business practices of Cadbury and NT? Both run their events to raise money for their business plan – they have the right to call their eggs and egg hunts anything they want. They never were and never will be faith-focussed organisations. They are corporations; one charitable, one not so much. I’m much more concerned with Christianity being erased from society through cuts to disability support or the exponential need for Foodbanks. Call them ‘Tinfoiled Calorific Chocolate Chicken Foetuses’ for all I care. Easter was never supposed to be about them anyway.
Some of course will say that John Cadbury was a Christian, and in the words of one prominent figure, this “spits on his grave”. He was indeed a Quaker Christian who, as a Quaker, didn’t celebrate Easter. He didn’t half make some money off it though.
Cadbury of today is a very different beast, owned by Kraft and no longer the company it was. To suggest it’s somehow a Christian entity because it’s founder was is like saying that Manchester United is a Christian organisation because one of its founders was a Christian. People have faith, not corporations.
Of course, all of this is wrapped up in the myth that Christian countries exist and that we are a Christian country. I’ll give way to the fact that many of our laws and traditions are based in an historical Christianity, but that is very different to saying ‘we are a Christian country’. Being something historically doesn’t make us something now. Go back far enough and Richard Dawkins is from a Christian family.
Sure, our head of state is also the head of the Church of England. Anglicanism is the established Church, but a nation is much more than its institutions. A nation’s identity is in its people much more than its institutional structures and the reality is, we are a much more complex nation than a Christian one. We are a tapestry of all and everyone.
This is scary for some people, and I understand that. The move from being the dominant religious force towards being one of many faith groups is often mistaken for persecution. The sharing of power feels like the loss of power, but others having the same rights as you doesn’t remove your rights. Others receiving the equal rights to opinion and belief, and freedom from having the opinions and beliefs of others forced on them, is often mistaken for the oppression of the previously dominant group. Yet, in spite of the fact that UK Christians are incredibly free, perhaps amongst the most-free in the whole world, most of the trouble starts when we act like we deserve even greater privileges.
The sooner we realise that God cares little about the cultural tropes – like chocolate eggs and Christmas trees – of nations, within imagined borders laid down by centuries of war, and much more about communities and individuals pursuing Christian traditions of charity, hospitality, kindness, acceptance, forgiveness and reconciliation, the better. These are traditions that can’t be erased from a flyer or a cardboard box. If you want to hold on to the Christian heritage of the United Kingdom, then hold onto these things.
If you want us to be known as a Christian nation, we won’t be defined as one by the labels on an egg box or the flyer for an event, but by how much our culture reflects Jesus’ teachings and in how we treat one another. Let’s start by not fighting over the egg box when what’s inside is the important thing anyway. Hmmm, Dairy Milk.