Tuesday 25 October 2016

Rediscovering the real meaning of Christmas

Published 09/12/2015 | 02:30

‘Christmas is the simple story of the birth of a child who brought hope to the world’
‘Christmas is the simple story of the birth of a child who brought hope to the world’

Christmas is sometimes greeted with the same enthusiasm as the arrival of a difficult relative. A solicitous neighbour was well ahead of the game in asking me, in mid-November, if I were ready for Christmas. Her voice rang with compassion rather than delight, as if I were getting ready for the builders or impending surgery.

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This is a time when the secular and the sacred rub shoulders.

The secular centrepiece is the office party, where a year of repressed lust is discharged among hapless colleagues.

From September, children are mercilessly targeted by purveyors of merchandising surrounding the latest film release. The increasing pile of must-haves leaves parents struggling to choose between a range of almost unaffordable superfluous additions to the lives of their children.

Children will have to face a barrage of questions about what they got. There is a story about a child who announced, "I hope I get lots of toys from Santa Claus," and was reminded that, at Christmas, he should think more of giving than of getting. He replied, "Sorry, I hope Santa Claus gives me lots of toys".

What wins through for many people is the opportunity to think beyond the daily round to the mysterious simplicity of the story of the birth of a child bringing hope to the world. It is not just a religious story but one that appeals to the hearts of all of us.

Last year, I attended a midnight service at the University Church. At the entrance to the church was a homeless gentleman who sat on the pavement surrounded by an array of tinsel, Christmas tree lights and candles. It was discovered after the service that the usual Christmas Eve collection was unusually low; most of the intended offerings had been placed in the gentleman's hat - not just pennies from Heaven but pounds.

This formed the basis of the celebrant's sermon on Christmas Day on the real meaning of Christmas. Happy Christmas to all.

Philip O'Neill

Oxford, UK


Depoliticise planning

Now we know where such programmes as 'Callan's Kicks', 'The Savage Eye' and 'Irish Pictorial Weekly' get their inspiration.

The revelations in the 'RTÉ Investigates' programme on Monday night clearly demonstrates once and for all that the rezoning of land or other related decisions that currently rests with local politicians should be immediately transferred to an academic body comprised of experts in the fields of planning, environmental and social affairs.

This body would be charged with making decisions that would be in the best interest of the area and its population, with due regard to the common good. The present Government had political and electoral reform as one of the planks in its platform for government, but what has transpired since the last election has been little more than tinkering with the electoral system.

It his high time for a root-and-branch examination with a view to meaningful reform. If that old albatross, The Constitution, is an impediment to this end, then let's change it.

The Irish electorate have a great propensity for cutting of their nose to spite their face when it comes to referendums.

If the electorate do not accept this, then they have no one to blame but themselves. It must be acknowledged that our enlightened electorate rejected the abolition of the Seanad and made the job of politicians carrying out inquiries in the public interest almost meaningless, which has led to the current debacle.

Paul Connolly

Address with Editor


Deep truth vs deep nonsense

There was something depressingly dreary and predictable (even "New Agey") in Patricia Casey's snipe at the rigours of science in her article (Irish Independent, December 7).

US scientist Carl Sagan noted that "at the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes - an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive, and the most ruthlessly sceptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense."

And I'm afraid that Ms Casey's article is discernible as "deep nonsense", if only by the fact the instances of scientific fallibility cited were, she indicates, exposed as pseudoscience or "spoof" by the processes she derides and, thus, never formed the basis of realised science. That is to say, the science on which she, I, and all your readers base their daily lives.

It included the electrically powered, silicon-endowed laptop on which her article might have been typed as she sipped a cup of coffee from a Nespresso machine before she emailed it through cyberspace to the Independent's servers; the antibiotic that has staved off that nasty winter bacterial bug (not to mention flu vaccines); and the heavier-than-air jet (dealing with jet-streams, rotation of the earth and relying on geosynchronous satellites for navigation) powered by gravity-countering thrust that will bring the diaspora home for the holidays.

I wish Ms Casey had applied the same standards of openness and critical scrutiny (as suggested by Sagan) to her own credulity before blithely accepting another's opinion as "gospel".

Of course, science is fallible, scientists are human after all, but such is the nature of scientific experiment that through testing, falsifiability, repeatability, blind-testing (and the general argumentativeness of scientific begrudgery) it is one of the few human ventures that one may be assured is self-regulating.

Ray Leonard

Blessington, Co Wicklow


Let the vote-buying begin

Considering that they seem determined to do what Oliver Cromwell failed to do, that is to eliminate all traces of the Catholic faith from the minds of the Irish people, it's surprising that the Labour Party agreed to pay a Christmas bonus to social welfare recipients.

I would have thought that any mention of anything connected with religion to these people would be like asking them to take poison.

But then with an election approaching, the temptation to use tax-payers' money to buy votes is probably just too much to resist.

Fine Gael has now also been presented with an equally tempting opportunity to do the same thing along the western seaboard with the windfall from Storm Desmond.

Handing out free money to those too tight-fisted to insure their homes against storm damage will surely reap rich rewards on election day.

Frank O'Connor

Blarney, Co Cork

Irish Independent

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