Brian Monteith: Take a moment to think of persecuted Christians
Well that's another Christmas done and dusted. I hope you all had a good time and were able to either be with family and friends, and if not, to be able to speak to them or share some time with other people.
One doesn’t have to be especially Christian or even religious to take something out of Christmas – even though it is a Christian feast, a celebration of Christ’s birth, although the timing has little to do with when he was born.
For a start it’s a time to think of other people rather than just yourself. It’s not about the gifts you receive but those that you give. It’s not about your pleasures, much as we seek to enjoy ourselves through indulging in food and drink and hopefully doing very little, it’s about sharing pleasure, helping those that have less than you – maybe in your family, maybe a neighbour, maybe somebody you don’t know and will never see or meet again.
That we celebrate Christmas by thinking of others is a gift in itself, given to us by the Christian faith that we can immerse ourselves in, whether we are Christian or not. When I worked in PR during the 80s and 90s, my Muslim clients who had Bangladeshi or Indian restaurants had no difficulty in being part of the Christian celebration and asked me to help them with Christmas menus, Christmas wine selections, would bring out the tinsel and send respectful Christmas cards.
Of course, people have railed against, and are still affronted by, the commerciality, but I can sure you it is nothing new, it has always been there.
From my own experience I’m not sure it is any worse now than it was when I was younger. You can forego all that spending, the over-indulgence the hedonism – you can make Christmas what you want it to be – but it is no better for what is spent on it.
The simplest celebration, the most basic shared moment of just thinking about someone else – be it through Jesus or not – has at least the same validity as gold plating your Christmas; indeed it will have more value if you have invested more of your soul into it.
With those thoughts of how Christmas has, over the centuries, become a shared festival, sometimes in danger of losing any religious connection at all, I thought this Boxing Day I would mention the plight of Christians beyond our shores. I am thinking of Christians that are persecuted around the world for just being, well, Christians. I don’t mean they are persecuted for being missionaries trying to force their Christianity on others, I mean the Christians in Arabia, Africa and Asia who are persecuted for simply existing, for being private Christians.
I am thinking of the Christians in Iraq and Syria who have been murdered, tortured and driven out of their homes. I am thinking of the Christians in parts of Nigeria or Egypt who have been slaughtered, such as those burned alive in their churches or blown up while praying.
Let’s not pretend these events do not happen – they are regular occurrences where religious extremism and intolerance takes hold. There were times in the past where atrocities were visited upon Christians by other Christians simply because they held to a different interpretation of the Bible, or Christians persecuted other faiths because they were different.
We now look on that past aghast at such behaviour and recognise it as being contrary to Christian teaching. Nevertheless, that past does not justify persecution of Christians now.
Whether we consider ourselves Christian or not we should take a moment to think of Christians the world over who are persecuted for their faith and wish to be on their side, as we would for any minority here in the UK.