The Christmas season is upon us, which means it's that special time of year for the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State to make sure no wayward city council will allow a whiff of frankincense on government property. They must send out direct-mail fundraising letters asking "Help Us Crush a Creche at Christmas!"
The Christmas season is also that time of year when the business world implores us to consider the material as more important than the spiritual, all in the spirit of "the holidays." So we celebrate the arrival on Christmas Day of iPods and DVDs.
This year, there's a new twist. The nativity scene has become commercialized -- but in a way you would never imagine.
Reuters reports that an angry Italian priest persuaded the makers of the energy drink Red Bull to withdraw an animated advertisement on Italian television that has a fourth Wise Man arriving at the scene of the nativity to add a case of Red Bull to the frankincense, gold and myrrh. Father Marco Damanti, from Sicily, denounced their cartoon as "a blasphemous act" and said he had received a prompt reply promising to discontinue it.
"The image of the sacred family has been represented in a sacrilegious way," Father Damanti told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. "Whatever the ironic intentions of Red Bull, the advert pokes fun at the nativity and at Christian sensitivity." The priest also objected to the company's regular slogan, "Red Bull gives you wings," illustrated at the commercial's end by flying angels singing Hallelujah.
You can find the ad on YouTube, and while the Fourth Wise Man shtick is vulgar huckstering, the angels singing at the end is sort of sweet, if you overlook the fact that they're singing glory to God for the manufacturing of Red Bull. But then, it's hard to judge the ad in its entirety without an Italian translator. For all I know, it's possible that when the Virgin Mary speaks in the ad, she's saying, "I'm going to need an energy drink after those twice-a-night feedings."
It's interesting that Red Bull would run the ad in Italy and not in the United States, which suggests they can sense which markets are more amenable to the "ironic intentions" of advertising. It would not be wrong to state that many Europeans view Christianity like a faded old painting -- it looks nice and induces nostalgia, but it doesn't have much modern relevance.
But it's not just commercials that are using the nativity story for non-religious purposes. The London Telegraph reports that the BBC has provoked Christians by announcing plans for a "contemporary" nativity play "featuring Mary and Joseph as asylum seekers instructed to report to the nearest passport office." To add to the gimmickry, it will be performed on the streets of Liverpool, featuring pop tunes from the Beatles, like "Let It Be" and "Lady Madonna."
The play doesn't culminate in the birth of God made flesh but in triumphant Liverpool pop tunes. BBC's press release boasted: "This unmissable hour-long event will open with the iconic image of a star that shines high in the sky above Liverpool -- and it will culminate with the nativity scene brought to life, as thousands of voices sing Liverpool's greatest pop songs together."
In other words, BBC still believes that arrogant John Lennon quote from the sixties that the Beatles are bigger than Jesus. But why a star shining high in the sky? Didn't Lennon's "Imagine" tell us there was no heaven?
Unsurprisingly, this "Liverpool Nativity" wouldn't be fully "contemporary" without an extra dose of political correctness. The character of Herod is changed to a female named Herodia, "a paranoid government minister in a fictional state desperately clinging to power who orders a crackdown on immigration. In the midst of the turmoil, Mary discovers she is pregnant and must fight to protect both Joseph and her unborn child."
It certainly doesn't matter to the BBC that Mary and Joseph were not illegal aliens in Bethlehem but were reporting for the Roman census. The point must be that anyone who opposes contemporary illegal immigration is metaphorically comparable to an ancient mass-baby-murdering tyrant.
Anglican traditionalist Tony Kilmister of the Prayer Book Society insisted, "This is not the sort of thing that Christmas needs. The story is loved and revered by Christians around the world. There is a dignity to it that will be lost. Adding political correctness of this sort is harmful and quite uncalled for."
Someone should be seeking asylum, all right -- to put the BBC in a straitjacket and leave it there. Then again, maybe this is precisely the kind of seasonal silliness that causes the Christian faithful to shut out the noise and contemplate the real nativity scene and its eternal promise.