The low key arrival of Advent tends to impact mainly on religious programmes.
Some of last week’s discussions on The Leap of Faith (RTÉ Radio 1) were particularly topical. Presenter Michael Comyn started with a beautiful Christmas piece by Mendelsohn, and then got into an exploration of attitudes to Advent and Christmas.
Fr Desmond O’Donnell wanted the Church to abandon the word ‘Christmas’ in favour of ‘Nativity’. ‘Christmas’, he said, used to capture the deep reality for believers that ‘God walked in our shoes’, travelled the human journey like we did, but now it was all Santas, bells and nice dinners – a lovely experience but not describing the reality that it used to.
I suspect the two words in question will continue side by side, and that we’ll live with the paradoxes of faith and commercialism. We do ambiguity quite well.
Rev. Dr Ian Paul, the Dean of Studies at St John’s College, Nottingham, was certainly concerned about the excesses of commercialism at this time of year, including what he called “absurd luxury Advent calendars”. He cited a bizarre Advent promotion, a set of 24 small bottles of special whiskey, costing £12,000!
Another Advent calendar, promoting food products, led up to the final panel revealing a sausage roll in a crib – offensive to both Jews and Christians. “Is there anything sacred anymore?” he wondered, though he had doubts about Christians getting outraged as sometimes the resultant free publicity was the whole point of a provocative campaign (though none of this is so crass as the ‘Advent for Choice’ initiative currently being promoted on Twitter by pro-choice campaigner Ailbhe Smith’).
Dr Paul was also concerned about the personal debt incurred by many as a result of this commercialism. Comyn asked him if he wasn’t being ‘a bit big brothery’, but Dr Paul said he just wanted to ask questions about values in life. Mind you, asking questions can get you into lots of trouble these days – ask George Hook!
Also on the values theme, Lord David Alton has been a long time pro-life campaigner, and argues reasonably and calmly at all times. He was interviewed by Wendy Grace on Spirit Radio’s Morning Show last Friday and manage to make convincing arguments in a most rational manner.
He spoke of the “extraordinary toll of life” in the UK since abortion was widely legalised – over eight million deaths. The law, he said, becomes ‘normative’, so that people eventually assume that what’s legal is right. If we assumed it couldn’t happen here as it did in the UK, we needed to wake up and ‘smell the coffee’.
As the culture changed the next step was the oppression of free speech, and he instanced recent examples, such as the Catholic commentator Tim Stanley being ‘no-platformed’ at an Oxford college when a planned debate on abortion was shut down.
He referred to damning reports from UK health authorities about abuses in abortion clinics, including the discovery of baby bodies in an open trash can – surely a telling image for our times and the disregard for human dignity. I can smell the coffee already.
Another reasonable man, David Quinn of this parish, featured in another interview, Tuesday of last week on the Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk), prompted by the publication of his new book How We Killed God (and other tales of modern Ireland). It was a cheerful interview and I got the impression that it was enjoyed by both interviewer and interviewee.
Much of it focused on Quinn’s marriage to a Protestant woman and two of his personal journeys – from insurance to journalism and from drifting Catholicism to a more committed version. He felt there was no need for civil law and Catholic moral law to be aligned in all cases, though he made an exception of abortion as it was a matter of life and death.
His opposition to same- sex marriage came from his views on the nature of marriage and parenting. Kenny seemed to get Quinn’s point about gender balance in marriage as he recognised a tendency towards gender quotas in society, for example a desire for more women in politics, but the pro-ssm arguments seemed to contradict that.
All in all it was a positive exchange, though I did manage a wry smile when Kenny said, “we’re always looking for two sides in a debate”. I beg to differ.
Pick of the week
Fern Britton Meets… Barbara Dickson
BBC 1, Sunday, December 10, 10am
Singer Barbara Dickson talks about how her conversion to Catholicism helped her overcome many obstacles and how faith is a key part of her life.
EWTN, Monday, December 11, 10am
David Kerr speaks with Bernadette Smyth founder of the Northern Ireland based pro-life group Precious Life.
CHOIRS FOR CHRISTMAS
RTÉ lyric fm, Wednesday, December 13, 1pm
A flavour of the Christmas spirit as Evelyn Grant plays a selection of the entrants to Ireland’s biggest choral competition.