We have made our peace with Hallowe’en, with our own interpretation of the pumpkin! We decided that having happy children coming to our door was an opportunity, not a problem, so we take turns giving out sweets and congratulating costume-makers. These kids are our neighbours, as are their parents.
But many Christians will criticise, perceiving the event as a celebration of evil. As a society we love attaching labels. The most striking current example is the US election, now almost upon us. I have been astonished by the degree of vituperation; the amazing tribalism.
The Brexit campaign was not that edifying either.
On both sides of the water we seem gripped by a fear of the ‘other’. We look for excuses to exclude. A wall to keep out the Mexicans is the least of it. Since the Brexit vote Britain has seen a sharp rise in racist attacks. At a recent concert I could not bear to sing ‘Land of hope and glory’: I am ashamed to belong to the land in question. There has been a recent surge in applications to move to Eire.
There is a lot of fear in the books I receive for assessment. The evangelical world – the aspect of the Christian faith with which I am most familiar – has any number of bogeymen: liberals, Muslims, anyone who questions that the Bible condemns gays. Readers may remember the hostility shown to charismatics. Fear is a habit.
The power of disapproval remains strong. Sometimes I have to defend my choice to worship in an Anglican church. When, a few years ago, my company published a book offering a Christian view on environmental matters, one of our sales team (our American sales team, to be fair) refused to carry the title on the grounds that environmentalism was anti-Christian. When I turned down a book arguing that the World Council of Churches is demonic, I received a barrage of abuse from the author and her husband. Christians are good at condemning.
Fear and hatred should be given no place. It is a favourite tactic amongst politicians to redirect public attention to the enemy without, as a means of distracting voters from the government’s own deficiencies. A juicy external threat is a great opportunity to unify the masses (those Mexicans again). Christians have adopted the tactic. It is common amongst us to think of ourselves as the persecuted minority, Lifeboat Church – the blessed few bobbing above the waves of iniquity. A spiky little quatrain summarises the matter well:
We are the chosen few
You are the many damned
There is no place in heaven for you
We can’t have heaven crammed.
I would rather be known for what I affirm, rather than what I decry; for what I love, rather than what I fear. I extend this conviction to the books I recommend to my colleagues. I look for the positive, the encouraging, and the genuine. Jesus chose to spend time with people such as the woman of Samaria, who had three strikes against her (female, Samaritan and a lifestyle many would question). The theme runs right through Scripture: we are to welcome the stranger, to stand up for justice, to see beyond the category to the individual. The gospel priorities are clear. Jesus did not spend his time rooting out heresy, and neither will I.
I have no problem with strong argument, with passion, with conviction. There is a place for debate and shrewdness, for humour and subtlety. I love the work of Andy Bannister, whose wit and bracing intellect absolutely fillet Messrs Dawkins & Co in The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist. I don’t require serpents to metamorphose to doves. If someone is talking tosh, then it is a service to the rest of us to point it out.
But please, send me books that exalt the truth. The more we value what is good, the weaker and shabbier will become the appeal of the alternative.
Tony Collins is an editor with Lion Hudson plc and founder of the Monarch and Lion Fiction imprints. He is author of Taking My God for a Walk.