~ Wonderful Advent reflection ~ The Economist is feeling apocalyptic The banning of the C-word The Spectator Christmas double issue. Irreverent Private Eye And how about some dazzling forecasts/thoughts/radical ideas/reflections/resolutions for 2005? We would love to hear your latest ideas. ~ Wonderful Advent reflection ~ Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them. PSALM 126:5-6 1. The Economist is feeling apocalyptic in sensing that "The end of the world" is nigh. Apparently born-again Christians believe that an event called the Rapture is coming soon. This is when Christ will return and whisk believers away to join the righteous dead in heaven. There are many apocalyptic tracts in the Bible giving credence to this thought. Men have been making the same appeal since before the birth of Christ. Apocalyptic belief renews itself in ingenious ways. New apocalyptic creeds have even sprung from those sticky moments when the world has failed to end on schedule. End time beliefs endure for endless reasons and social scientists love to set about this question with earnest study of the people who subscribe to such ideas. Properly, the apocalypse is both an end and a new beginning. In Christian tradition, the world is created perfect. There is then a fall, followed by a long period of moral degeneration - and this culminates in a decisive final between good (the returned Christ) and evil (the Antichrist). Good wins and establishes the New Jerusalem and with it the 1,000-year reign of Jesus on Earth. Norman Cohn, a British historian, places the origin of apocalyptic thought with Zoroaster, a Persian prophet who lived between 1500 and 1200 BC. The ancient Egyptians and some earlier civilisations had seen history as a cycle, which was for ever returning to its beginning, in which "all things would be made perfect". This basic drama shapes all apocalyptic thought. The apocalyptic narrative may have helped to start the motor of capitalism. A drama in which the end returns interminably to the beginning leaves little room for the sense of progress which, according to the 19th century social theories of Max Weber, provides the religious licence for material self-improvement. Without the last days, in other words, claims the writer, the world might never have had 65 inch flat-screen televisions. Science treasures its own apocalypses, but the writer claims that the modern environmental movement lacks a sense of redemption and is therefore destined to remain in the political margins. Futurologists have noted an exponential acceleration in the pace of technological change. The "knee of the curve" thinking is gaining credence as a sort of last-days set of circumstances in which, in the near future, the pace of change runs quickly away towards an infinite 'singularity' as intelligent machines learn to build themselves. In conclusion: the apocalypse is the locomotive of capitalism, the inspiration for revolutionary socialism, the bedrock of those who, like The Economist, champion the progress of liberal democracy. Perhaps deep down, says the writer, there is something inside us all yearning for the New Jerusalem, a place where, as a beautiful bit of the Revelation puts it: "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away." 2. The banning of the C-word - CHRISTMAS Mark Steyn found out when he went to the town in America called 'Santa Claus' that Merry Christmas had not been allowed. The pressure has led to many schools and organisations in America banning all religious symbolism for fear of legal action and instead employing bland generic terms such as "holiday tree", "winter concert" and banning hymns such as "Silent Night". In Italy this Christmas, apparently, towns and schools have banned displays of the nativity as they might offend Muslims. Little wonder, then, that Tony Blair has sent half of his cards with the traditional'Merry Christmas' greeting and the other half with the watered down 'seasonal greetings'. Mark Steyn concludes that the elevation of the right not to be offended into the bedrock principle of democratic society will, in the end, tear it apart. His cheery endnote is: "Merry Christmas to all". 3. The Spectator Christmas double issue. Perfect with warm mince pie and glass of port to hand. The Jolly spirit of "Christmas Merry-Making" is highlighted with a selection of seasonal news, reviews, opinions, weather reports and poetry from Christmas of The Spectator, from its foundation in 1828 to the end of the 19th century. For instance an entry in 1837: "It is quite surprising how one's wants increase at Christmas time, and what a tide of generosity suddenly sets in: the most close-fisted folks relax their grip, and yield to the genial impulse. Gay-coloured scarfs, embroidered reticules, and all the supernumerary items of female attire, suddenly become necessary articles of dress; and smart caps and bonnets look irresistibly becoming. Velvets and satins are the only wear; their rich hues carpeting the counters, and the parterres of artificial flowers blooming on every side, make Waterloo Houses fairy bowers..." wonderfully pre- p-c- days! Then in 1861 on the death of The Prince Consort (Albert): "Christmas was as dismal and silent as that most melancholy of eras - a London Sunday...The same tone was, we think, perceptible in the expression of grief for Prince Albert... the weather being excessively cold, London kept itself in-doors, and succeeded, consequently, in assuming an aspect of woe-begone misery which rather exceeded than fell short of the occasion. It is nevertheless a defect in our social organisation that we should observe the day of a great funeral and Christmas-day in precisely the same manner." Wonderful vignettes. 4. As ever, irreverent Private Eye, seeing off the Blunkett jokes once and for all: Q: Why is Mr Blunkett like a high-speed train? A: Because he went on the 'fast-track' and hit the buffers! Q: Why is Mr Blunkett like a stuffed goose? A: Because he got well and truly trussed up for Christmas! (my own here!) Q: Which member of the PCC likes to pull a cracker? A: Mr Blunkett (geddit?) I feel this is as far as we go for Christmas/New Year for now. Now to you - with your illuminating thoughts and views. Every blessing and have a fab New Year.