More people might come to church if Christians would drop “fairy tale” tidbits like the Nativity story.
That’s the belief of a minister in Cairns Church in Milngavie, Scotland.
According to Scotland’s Herald, Rev. Andrew Frater wants Christians to “move on from the ‘fanciful, fairy tale’ Nativity story and ‘disentangle the truth from the tinsel.'”
The report said Frater believes telling the traditional story of the birth of Jesus “had the effect of keeping people with doubts about their faith away from the church, as the Nativity was too easily dismissed.”
He wrote in the newspaper: “This year I’m promising myself to be more theologically honest. No more going home with fanciful, fairy tale assumptions destined to make Good News seem incredible.”
He said Christians should “look for the symbolism in the Nativity.”
Focus on “missiles and housing and unemployment” instead, he advised.
The virgin birth, he said, leaves people “hung up.”
According to a 1998 poll of 7,441 Protestant clergy in the U.S., the following ministers said they didn’t believe in the virgin birth:
- American Lutherans, 19 percent
- American Baptists, 34 percent
- Episcopalians, 44 percent
- Presbyterians, 49 percent
- Methodists, 60 percent
Yet another poll, in 1999, surveyed 103 Roman Catholic priests, Anglican priests and Protestant ministers in the U.K. That poll found 25 percent did not believe in the virgin birth, according to ReligiousTolerance.org. A 2004 survey of ministers in the Church of Scotland found 37 percent don’t accept the virgin account.
If the Bible stories are interpreted literally, Frater said, people are accused of “no longer being Christian” if they express any doubt.
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“Too much serious stuff is going on in the world for folk in my position to even risk the possibility of sounding remote, irrelevant or both,” he said. “For me, it’s time to travel beyond the literalists’ landscape; time to acknowledge that Luke and Matthew were not newspaper reporters. Although facts were for them significant, they were also secondary.”
Frater’s skepticism has a long history. In the 12th century, Maimonides, one of Judaism’s most famous philosophers, rejected the concept of biblical miracles. Levi Ben Gershon, another prominent rabbi of the same period, rationalized biblical miracles, such as the stopping of the sun during Joshua’s battle with the Amorites, as indicating a swift victory.
Orthodox Rabbi Louis Jacobs in his 1999 book, “Beyond Reasonable Doubt,” wrote that the Hanukkah miracle of burning lamps was simply a creation of the Jewish leaders of the time to illustrate the need for the Jewish people to keep alive the spirit, or flame, of Judaism.
Christianity also has its historical and contemporary skeptics. German Rationalists of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, such as Karl Friedrich Bahrdt, suggested natural effects and biblical sleight-of-hand by Jesus and the disciples to explain the miracles of feeding the multitudes, walking on water and the resurrection.
Recent Christian philosophers and church leaders have also expressed doubts about the miracles of the Bible. In 1998, the Rev. John Spong, Episcopalian bishop of Newark, New Jersey, wrote, “The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.”
In a 2006 interview, Spong claimed “hell” was an invention of Christian leadership to control the laity.
In Scotland, Frater’s comments were drawing resistance from religious leaders.
“Rev. Frater’s offering of a Christmas without angels, a virgin, a bright star, awe-struck shepherds, a jealous dictator and lowing cattle reminds me of my early attempt at soup, it looked OK but after 10 hours boiling it had zero nutritional value,” said Rev. David Meredith, mission director for the Free Church of Scotland.
“Just as children complain about their yogurt, ‘mum, I don’t like the bits,’ so this is an offering of inert, gelatinous, non-offensive niceness.”
He warned it is “non-belief” like that that has produced “hundreds” of Scottish churches with “For Sale” signs on them.
The Catholic Church’s response, from a spokesman to the paper, was similar.
“Far from alienating people the Nativity and story of Christ’s birth draws them in and reminds them of the enormous contradiction at the heart of Christ’s ministry: a king born in poverty and obscurity whose life changed the world.”
Most times, the attacks on Christmas are more direct. The Biblical Record said 2015 has seen at least four attempts in the U.S. to censor “Christmas.”
The report said the Alliance Defending Freedom told Baptist Press that situations have been raised this year in New Hampshire, Virginia, New York and Tennessee.
“Every year, we see several of these challenges pop up around the country. We see efforts to censor the inclusion of religious songs in school Christmas programs or to take down a nativity scene included in a Christmas display at the town hall,” ADF senior counsel David Cortman said. “Thus, every year, it is necessary for ADF and citizens across our nation to continue to take a stand for Christmas and to work to ensure that its religious origins are not white-washed from the celebrations.”
Among the situations, the report said, in New Hampshire, the elementary School Administrative Unit 29 (SAU 29) required the sponsor of an annual community Christmas tree lighting to remove the word “Christmas” from flyers and in Salem, Virginia, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center banned the display of Christmas trees and the singing of religious Christmas carols in the center’s public spaces.
In New York, a Brooklyn principal in her first year on the job made headlines for apparently banning Santa Claus, religious symbols including stars and angels, the Pledge of Allegiance and Thanksgiving. Officials later blamed a misinterpretation.
Meanwhile, calling the Nativity a “fairy tale,” the atheist organization Freedom From Religion Foundation continues to press for the removal of Nativity scenes or other Christmas symbols in public places, the London Telegraph reported.