Christmas Carols Misrepresent Reality, Says Reality-Misrepresenting Bishop

Christmas is coming, as we’re probably all aware. One thing that always tends to make me think at this time of the year, as an atheist, is what to do about Christmas Carols. On the one hand, they’re a staple part of any Christmas period, they’re a bit catchy. On the other hand, they speak about the worship of a deity I don’t believe in,, and they tell stories that are entirely nonsensical. Well, this week it seems my views are shared by an unlikely source – the Bishop of Croyden.

Nick Baines (who’s often described as Rt Rev, but seeing as I’m not in his club I’m not sure I need to follow the club rules. If he was in the KKK, I’d not call him a grand wizard…) has criticised the unbelievable nature of the stories put forward in Christmas Carols. And he’s a Bishop. So, what problem does he have with Away in a Manger and it’s ilk? In his book Why Wish You A Merry Christmas? he explains:

“How can any adult sing [Away in a Manger] without embarrassment?”

He goes on:

“I always find it a slightly bizarre sight when I see parents and grandparents at a nativity play singing Away in a Manger as if it actually related to reality. I can understand the little children being quite taken with the sort of baby of whom it can be said ‘no crying he makes’, but how can any adult sing this without embarrassment? I think there are two problems here: first, it is normal for babies to cry and there is probably something wrong if they don’t; secondly, are we really to believe that a crying baby Jesus should be somehow theologically problematic? Or, to put it more bluntly, is crying supposed to be sinful?”

So. it seems, THAT’s the bit he finds unrealistic – a non-crying baby Jesus. So, son of a god, heals the sick, walks on water, turns water to wine and rises from the dead – all fine; wakes up in a shed as a baby and doesn’t cry – preposterous nonsense? Got it. He does have problems with other carols, with his main point seemingly to be:

“If we sing nonsense, is it any surprise that children grow into adults and throw out the tearless baby Jesus with Father Christmas and other fantasy figures?”

His point, I have to assume (given that he’s a Bishop) is that nonsense should not be sung. No, instead it should be read solemnly from a book with no verification of authenticity or veracity. That’s the brand of nonsense needed to help children decide which un-proven figure associated with Christmas they discard when they become rational adults, and which one they suspend that rationality to continue believing in.

Other choice quotes from the Bishop included:

Once In Royal David’s City has Jesus as “our childhood’s pattern” — even though we know almost nothing of his childhood apart from one incident when he was 12 years old and being disobedient to his parents — and invites children to be “mild, obedient, good as he”, which means what, exactly? This sounds suspiciously like Victorian behaviour control to me.

Which is an odd take from a man who believes in the 10 Commandments and the scriptures – which is of course merely a form of ancient behaviour control. There really are some great setups in the article as the Mail reported it, for example:

By ‘romanticising the festival and commercialising our culture’ Christmas has become ‘tame, fantastic and anaemic,’ he said. ‘Bring back the reality.’

The reality? As in, that a child was born to a virgin and a deity, performed miracles at will, was crucified and rose from the dead then transcended bodily into heaven to sit in judgement over all mankind for all eternity – that reality?

Still, as with the vicar we covered a few weeks ago, who disliked secular funerals, it seems all this has been taken entirely out of context. Writing on his blog, Nick explains:

Last Sunday the Telegraph published a story about my new book and gave it the remarkable headline Traditional carols are ‘nonsense’, says bishop. The story then ran across the media, bringing me a host of abusive emails and an awful lot of invitations to do interviews with TV and radio. Of all the stories in all the papers (including the original one from the Telegraph), only one actually involved a journalist calling me to ask about it. So, I was interested to see that the other papers seem to have simply lifted the words of Jonathan Wynne-Jones from the Sunday Telegraph and reproduced them – sometimes without even changing them – and in every single case without checking sources and looking at what I actually say in the book.

So, how does he explain his comments?

Does anyone seriously think it doesn;t matter if our kids grow up unable to distinguish between God and Santa Claus, angels and fairies, Jesus and Cinderella? At the very least this is an educational point – it doesn’t even get close to the question of what you believe about the Christmas story. So, I think the Christmas story should be told in a way that makes it real and allows it its integrity.

Yes, people do seriously think it doesn’t matter. I, for one, am happy for people to put equal stock in the reality of the nativity as they do in the reality of Santa. And it is an educational point, I agree – it’s a failure to instil in people a basic application of critical thinking that leads to them unquestioningly accepting fairy stories. Like the Bible.

I am just not prepared to encourage people to live in a fantasy world, but doing my job as a Christian bishop in calling people back to the original story.

Personally, I think there’s an inherent contradiction in any sentence where someone claims their job isn’t to encourage people to live in a fantasy world but instead to teach them the realities of the story of Christ.

Grasp it – and then celebrate hard and fully. I’ll be belting out the carols and watching the nativity plays along with the rest of them. But I will also be living in the real world and engaging my brain.

If only that were the case, Nick. If only.

  1. #1 by Michael on December 9, 2009 - 14:57

    Just DONT get me started!
    Bishops should have their false faith machine-gunned out of them. They know it is bollocks. I like carols. There! I said it. I also like Santa. I like the sound of “Jingle Bells” as it is not religious in any way. There are others too which have fuck-all to do with the non-existent Bejebus. That Bishop probably harkens back to the days were you could beat children quite openly and be applauded for it. He is possibly one left foot away from turning into a peado-catholic priest as well. Sod him. Who cares what he says? Just because he has a pointy hat for his pointy head. Kids need fantasy in their infancy, that is why they make up invisible friends and animals. It is a necessary state for evolving. Unlike the Bishop who has kept his invisible friend well past the age of five.

  2. #2 by Gittins on December 9, 2009 - 16:18

    So what he’s saying is a non-crying baby Jesus is ridiculous because Jesus only got his magic powers after puberty like the X-men?

  3. #3 by Marsh on December 9, 2009 - 17:22

    I believe the Jesus = Wolverine argument is the one he puts out in his book, yeah…

    Religious Characters as X-Men – that could almost be one of our Questions of the Week!

  4. #4 by Mike on December 9, 2009 - 21:12

    Which deity would you have in your elite crime-fighting team? (although you know some Christian’s going to answer and say something missing the point like “Yahweh is perfect, we do not need any other deity in any crime fighting team” or else something creepy like “Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, he’s my superhero!!”)


    If you could worship any superhero, which one would it be?

  5. #5 by Stu on December 9, 2009 - 22:50

    Anybody reading this will probably have seen/read Dan Dennetts’ lecture ‘The Evolution of Confusion ( – if you haven’t then watch it ASAP),’

    This idiot really takes the biscuit! This is obviously an attempt to get the flock to stick to the script. You point out one ridiculous thing and that diverts attention away from the main issues – the faithful then know that their bish is really an intelligent man who thinks long and hard about his faith in the current climate of doubt.

    This is ,of course, absolute bollocks! If he did think hard enough he would be up Richard Dawkins’ arse quicker than a winged horse to paradise wouldn’t he? Or is it just hypocritical disingenuousness?

    Which brings us back to Dan Dennett. If 6 priests (at least) were prepared to speak about lying from the pulpit then there’s no way this liar believes the stuff he is saying. Or he is indeed a cretin!

    My superhero worthy of worship is superman – for Bills’ reasons.

  6. #6 by Sel on December 10, 2009 - 09:26

    By having God in your crime fighting team you’d actually get 3 for the price of 1 being a trinity and all that – including a ghost! – is that fair? I think not

  7. #7 by Michael on December 11, 2009 - 12:35

    Don’t people already worship superheroes? Look at the amount of merchandise shipped for every superhero movie. It is enough turnover to make the Vatican blush. Buzz Lightyear is back. He is ok, but not really worth worshiping. But Buzz = Jebus even more. Think about it. In the movie Toy Story, all the characters only ‘come to life’ when no-one is watching. Isn’t that the same with God? And more so Jebus! Every christ bot has a toy Bejebus somewhere in their house or around their necks. Do they come to life when no-one is watiching? They would not be anywhere near as useful as Buzz. Especially as they are nailed ‘welded’ to a cross. Superhero Toy Story Bejebus would always be falling over- unless he could pogo himself across the carpet, but what does he do when he gets to his destination? Fall over and land on his skiny boney-nosed face. “You’re useless beardy”. Bit off topic maybe.

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