It was one of those extremely rare moments when I found myself agreeing with John Howard. Asked what he thought of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore's reported plans to make Sydney's Christmas celebrations low-key and generic, the Prime Minister slammed them as "silly", "ridiculous" and "political correctness from central casting".
Out of sensitivity for a multicultural society, Moore was reported to have said she did not want the celebrations "to push any one religious belief".
In fact, Moore had said nothing of the sort. Quite the contrary: The council is increasing its Christmas celebration spending this year by 50 per cent. The words were spoken by Jeff Fisher, chief executive of fast-food chain Oporto following news that the chain had banned a nativity display from its franchise in Hornsby in northern Sydney. Media had put the words in the wrong mouth, but Howard's assessment of them remained true.
Every Christmas it seems we go through this farce. Last year, Stonnington Council in Melbourne removed the word Christmas from its celebrations and prevented speakers at a carols night from quoting the Bible. Some kindergartens and daycare centres have stopped having Christmas parties, instead having end-of-year or fairy parties.
All this, it seems, is being done to include Australia's religious and cultural minorities. This is supposed to foster social harmony and tolerance.
But it doesn't. It does exactly the opposite. When Channel Seven's Sunrise recently ran an interactive segment on the issue, a common theme in the responses of viewers legitimately aggrieved by this emasculation of Christmas, was anger towards minority groups - especially Muslims - who were cast as cultural warriors against the majority.
Muslims may not celebrate Christmas but it is ridiculous to suspect they are behind this absurd trend. Jesus is a revered, prophetic figure in Islam and, accordingly, we are the least likely to be offended by other religious groups celebrating his birth. An anti-Christmas campaign is more consistent with aggressive atheism than any Islamic imperative.
In fact, I know no member of any religious minority, Muslim or otherwise, who asked for or even wants this. In my experience, religious minorities are far more concerned that their right to religious expression is respected and protected. That, surely, is a right belonging no less to the majority than to minorities.
Driving Christmas underground only erodes this treasured Australian norm and that is far more troubling to me than any Christmas celebration. I find the idea of restraining religious expression substantially more offensive than I find any nativity display. The impoverishment of Christmas is done more on behalf of religious minorities than by them.
This is where political correctness loses the plot: What purports to inspire tolerance instead inspires hostility and intolerance. Diverse, vibrant and tolerant societies are created by allowing eclectic cultural and religious expressions, celebrations included, to flourish. You don't achieve that by surrendering a culture, replacing it with bland meaninglessness.
Denying the Christianity in Christmas or, worse, doing away with it altogether helps no one. This is not multiculturalism. It is anti-culturalism.
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