Nativity scenes

“The things that we love tell us what we are,” according to an aphorism of Saint Thomas Aquinas, flashed before me the other day, and in a public place. (Also: “Whatever is received is received according to the nature of the recipient.”) The simplicity of these sayings bespeaks their author, who was unlike the modern philosophers, who sneer at anything that can be understood.

And what we love, we can defend.

I love a crèche, even one that is rather tacky, though I draw a line to exclude those designed to subvert the Catholic faith, such as recent displays at Madame Tussaud’s, and in the Vatican. They were said by some to be “in bad taste,” but that is not my objection to them. It is inaccurate, because such displays are satanic, and in our continuing Age of Enlightenment, the satanic is fashionable. The idea of “taste” itself has been twisted, to reflect the “coolness” factor, which once was exactly what good taste rejected.

Perhaps this begins farther back, with a misunderstanding of Horace. He did not write, de gustibus non disputandum est, which was an older Latin adage. (“No accounting for taste” is the English parallel.) But if he had, he would have sung it mordantly; which is to say, with bite. The pagan Romans strike me as obsessed with good taste, and its correlatives. It was a decadence in them from the beginning, and it reveals their “inferiority complex” towards the artistically self-confident Greeks. From the earliest Christian art, through Baroque, to nativity scenes, the Catholics never suffered from this.

Saint Francis of Assisi would never have thought of it, when designing his crèche. The intention was to convey the “infancy narrative” in terms any child could understand. The plan is still working.

A Crucifix that looks like it will drip on your shoes: this is Catholic, and as an Anglican I sometimes thought such items a little “over the top.” But I’m not an Anglican any more. Verily, I have come to think that Christianity itself may be in bad taste, and that Christ showed this by his own dripping. It is in the worst possible taste to explain this, which is why I often try.

But again, taste comes only tangentially into the heads of the proprietors of shopping malls; if anything does get in there. They all had nativity scenes through Advent — their Christmas shopping season — until quite recently. These helped put people into the “Christmas spirit,” of reckless spending, reconfiguring guilt for doing bad things, to guilt for not buying enough stuff for your “loved ones.”

Today that is trumped by “the spirit of the age,” and businessmen will endanger their own sales statistics to conform with the coolness that the satanists demand. By the Catholic Herald I was just apprised of the latest ban in Scotland. Messrs Thistle Shopping Centre in Stirling “prides itself on being religious [stet] and politically neutral,” they announced, in having their crèche removed; a reminder that Pride is a mortal sin.

And Messrs Facebook blocked a picture of Santa Claus, kneeling at the crib of Baby Jesus, on the grounds that it was “violent or graphic content.” There is no accounting for sanity among such people. We are increasingly under the keystroke of Internet censors who are — if I may use a colloquial expression — batshit insane. Happily, they still get sporadic resistance; but not the more powerful and constantly escalating resistance that could put them out of business.

When a department store in this town cancelled the crèche in its most prominent display window — as quietly as it could, twenty years ago — a friend noticed, and wrote to the boss. When he received the usual slimy, boilerplate reply, he chopped up his “Hudson’s Bay” credit card, and mailed the pieces back. He was able to persuade many friends to do likewise.

I do not dispute the right of the capitalists to make their own corporate decisions. But we have the right to drive them into bankruptcy, and should use it more robustly.