By Sidney H. Beard
Christmas is coming! The hour for celebrating the advent of Him who came to establish Universal Peace and Goodwill is again at hand!
Our annual epidemic of spasmodic altruism and of reckless generosity will once more become apparent, and a numerous portion of the human race will soon be busily engaged in strenuous efforts to manifest beneficence towards all and sundry, by bestowing gifts where they think such may be needed and also where they know them to be quite superfluous.
And it is well that these symptoms of benevolent intention – transient and strictly anthropocentric though they may be – should become evident.
For they disclose the fact that our hearts are inclined to beat true to the Christmas-tide Ideal, even though our spiritual perception has become so defective that we do not apprehend the tragic pathos of many things that are taking place in our midst, or realize the superficiality of our religious sentiment, the worthlessness of much of our humane dilletantism, and the illogical limitation of our compassionate outpourings.
But, in these days of progressive thought and growth of humane sentiment, ought we not, as a Nation, to pause and consider whether the prevalent method of celebrating the incarnation of our Messiah, is not, in some respects, as unreasonable and unspiritual as our conventional mental conceptions concerning his message and his life-work.
He came to redeem the world from transgression and suffering, by revealing Truth and the blessedness of obedience to the Divine Will; to proclaim the supremacy of Love and Gentleness, Spirituality and Mercy.
Yet the anniversary of His birth is signified by obtrusive manifestations of disregard for the Creator’s intention that we should eat of the fruits of the Earth and exist as non-carnivorous beings (as evidenced by our physical structure); also by the infliction of pain and death upon untold millions of God’s creatures, in order that their corpses may constitute an unholy banquet for the thoughtless multitudes of Christendom.
He came to preach a religion of Peace and Harmlessness, and to herald a Golden Age when amity should reign in place of enmity, and the groaning of Creation should cease.
Yet his professed followers make ruthless war upon almost every sub-human race which cannot escape their murderous hands. Instead of manifesting beneficence towards their earth-mates – as might have been expected – they regard it as their prerogative to exploit, or rob, or kill any fellow-mammal whose shape or mode of mental communication happens to differ from their own. And especially is this so at Christmastide.
Without pausing to consider whether these less fortunate inhabitants of our planet – who were apparently in possession before men came to share their tenancy – can feel pain, and suffer just as we do ourselves, or whether they possess any rights as sentient and intelligent beings, they send laden bullets into their vitals, plunge knives into their throats, and drive pole-axes through their skulls with callous indifference and heartlessness.
From every part of the world, during the coming weeks, will vast numbers of these victims of human tyranny and barbarity be conveyed by cattle boat and train to the centres of ‘Christian’ civilization.
And their sorrowful journey, often accompanied by the indescribable horrors which overtake such living freights at sea when storms arise, will be followed by brutal executions, by the outpouring of rivers of blood, by groans of terror and despair, by cries of anguish, and by agonizing death-throes.
At our ‘model abattoirs,’ at Deptford, the animals who are condemned to be butchered in order to make a Christian holiday, will literally quake with fearful anticipation as they see their companions taken from their side, one by one, and dragged to a cruel death at the hands of brutalized and over-worked executioners.
With staring eyeballs and despairing hearts, will they watch the awful process of killing and disembowelling, as it goes on before their very eyes, knowing that their turn is soon coming. And every cry of agony which reaches their ears as the axe descends in the wrong place, or crashes its way through some eye or nostril, as often takes place, will awaken an awful response and dread within them.
And these barbarities will be enacted in Christian England in the year of our Lord, 1903, and will constitute a part of the Christmas celebrations.
And these bloody sacrifices which so disgrace our religion and our humanity, and which are offered up on the unholy altar of degenerate human appetite – the modern Moloch – will involve the death of millions of sentient victims, who love their lives and dread the knife just as we do.
Yes, great as these figures may seem, by millions will they be massacred, to make toothsome though unnatural and injurious food for the carnally disposed devotees who will throng our Churches and Chapels on Christmas morning and sing with thoughtless enthusiasm about:-
“Peace on Earth and Mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”
Truly, a sorry sort of Peace and Mercy is this which prevails amongst us;
And an equally dubious type of Reconciliation, which permits unchallenged such violation of a physical law of our being – for we are created frugivorous – and of the moral law of ‘Love’ – for this holocaust of suffering is totally unnecessary.
And the Angels are supposed to look down upon it all with holy joy, and to enter into the spirit of these Christmas ‘festivities’; to watch with complacence the terrible scenes enacted in the slaughter-yards of Chicago and Kansas, and a thousand other cities and towns throughout Christendom.
And there are doubtless many amongst the unreflecting multitudes who could even bring themselves to imagine that these celestial ones enter into sympathetic relations with those who perambulate the streets of our provincial towns, during the few days preceding Christmas, when the frightful slaughter is over and the butchers’ shops are crammed with fat-laden carcases which have been hideously decorated with garlands and flags: that they share the hilarity of the gaping crowds of ghoulish human beings who gloat over the coming banquet and feast in anticipation upon the bloated corpses that obstruct the pavement, or stare with imbecile pleasure at the sightless eyes which protrude from ghastly heads that have been ruthlessly flayed.
Surely the measure of delusion which enables us to consider such a celebration as this to be acceptable to the God of Love, and in harmony with the real spirit of Christianity, might almost justify the decoration of our Churches with offerings in the form of slaughtered animals.
Why, from a sense of aesthetic squeamishness, stop short at mere holly and mistletoe? If the living Temple of God may, in honour of the Advent, appropriately be made a receptacle for such offerings, after the blessing of the Almighty has been duly invoked, why not these other Temples?
Why should such a suggestion as this seem sacrilegious? Is the Temple which is “not made with hands” of less account than that constructed by human labour of inanimate stone? Or is the one dedicated to Idol-worship and the other to God?
Is there any case for wonder that our spirituality is at such a low ebb; that we are floundering in a slough of materialistic agnosticism and nescience; that we are in bondage to disease and the fear of death; that the barrier which separates us from the spiritual world is an opaque wall instead of being a transparent veil; that the angels and ministering spirits of the higher spheres, either cannot, or will not, visit and commune with such a carnal race of beings; that genuine spiritual experience and conscious realization of the Divine Presence and Influence, are so rare amongst us that such things are scarcely ever mentioned in our Churches, our homes, or by our religious teachers; and that one of our most eminent Churchmen has even publicly declared his conviction that he saw no hope for religion save in a new revelation?
Has Christianity had a fair chance amongst us – even supposing that it had not been emasculated and misrepresented?
Need we be surprised that so little headway has been made against this flood-tide of carnality which is sweeping so many of our contemporaries into the maelstrom of a merely sensual life, or into untimely graves?
Handicapped as it has been ever since the dawn of the Dark Ages, by the dominance of priestcraft, bigotry, misconception, and the purblindness of many official representatives, could it have been expected to bring about the evolution even of such saints as it has produced?
And what might it not have done for our poor sin-cursed world if this ‘rock of offence,’ this ’cause of stumbling,’ had not obstructed its operation?
Followers of Christ! It is our privilege to labour for the humanisation of Christendom; to plead for a more rational conception of the Christian life; to proclaim the fact that obedience to the Will of the Supreme Law-Giver is essential to human welfare and happiness.
Let us, when this waning year is passing, and the New Year is being ushered in, unite in dedicating our time and strength, as far as our social obligations will permit, to this high endeavour!
And if the coming year should prove to be the last one of our present life upon this Earth, it may, if we are faithful to our convictions and ideals, be the most fruitful year we have ever spent.
(Published as The Christian Festival when it came out as a tract in 1903.)
From The Herald of the Golden Age of December 1903