Thursday, June 10, 2010

Foetus of Nazareth

Ultrasound Jesus poster from Church Ads. Photo by Rex Pictures

Mmm, it's June. The eggs and hot cross buns have all been eaten. Mothers' Day is over with. It must be time to start thinking about Christmas. Every year the Christian churches get all fretful about the loss of the 'true meaning' of our favourite gobfest. It may come as a surprise to you to learn that 'true meaning' according to some does not involve,

- Dragging an ugly and ridiculous tree into your house and covering it with sparkly things to make it look less ugly and ridiculous.

- Spending a quarter of your annual income on 1) toys that will be broken within twenty-four hours 2) items of clothing that will never see the inside of a washing machine 3) huge hunks of dead animal, most of which will be thrown away. (There is a reason turkey only ever gets eaten at Christmas - after a year, you've just about forgotten how dreadful it tastes.)

- Dreaming about snow if you live in a hot place or going to a hot place if it's snowing where you live.

No, fellow heathens, the 'true meaning' of Christmas appears to be something akin to pre-natal care. According to one's beloved Guardian newspaper, the poster above is the brain,er,child of ecumenical charity and is backed by some of the major Christian organisations in Britain.

I'm guessing the campaign is like a very long Advent Calendar, except without the chocolate, or when a mother zoo elephant is going to give birth and she gets followed around by TV crews for six months beforehand. Every week you get to chart her progress via a breathless half-hour episode in which vets wield four-foot-long thermometers and look at their computer screens a lot. And at the end, when the baby elephant finally arrives after surviving several near still-birth experiences, you get to submit a name for it. Hang about, this baby already has a name. And there's no chocolate. Bored now.

But wait. The ad has provoked controversy. We like controversy. Apparently the ad has been perceived by some as having an anti-abortion message. This has been leapt upon with great glee by pro-lifers who've just saved themselves a lot of money. John Smeaton from The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child said,

"The advert is saying that Jesus was alive as a person before he was born. They have a halo round his head and you don't have a halo around the head of a blob of jelly or a cluster of cells. This is not a cluster of cells but a human person and it just happens to be the God man Jesus. It is about the humanity of the unborn. That is a very, very powerful statement that will strike a chord with the general population."

Well, from the look of those little flailing fists I'd say it looks like the baby is punching above its weight already. Maybe that's how they worked out it was a boy as the area where the indicator for boyness is usually found seems to have been omitted from this particular ultrasound. I'd have to agree with Mr Smeaton that it is uncommon to see a halo around the head of a blob of jelly. You certainly wouldn't expect to see one anywhere near John 'Prezzies' Prescott for e.g. I don't know that I can go along with the rest of his reading though.

Let's see what the people who made the ad have to say. Maybe it will become clearer.

"We wanted to convey that Christmas starts with Christ. That this baby was on the way. Then we thought that the scan was a way of conveying that: it is modern currency in announcing a modern birth. We put a halo on it because theologians speak of Jesus being fully human and fully divine."

Or perhaps not. That statement was from Mike Elms of Now, it's a long time since I was last at Sunday School but aren't we putting the cross before the crib a bit here re the whole divinity thing? And in any case, isn't the Messiah meant to come back fully grown? We're not expected to go through that whole Frankincense and Myrrh palaver again are we? I thought the born-again business was only for sad, desperate people with nowhere else to go. It doesn't seem a fitting re-entry for a Messiah.

Christianity managed to avoid mention of all that unseemly sex imagery by inventing the virgin birth. has gone one better and invented the motherless birth. The new Messiah will apparently spring straight from celluloid. So last millennium if you ask me. Shouldn't 'He' be arriving digitally? And surely, in the twenty-first century, we've a right to expect a genderless Messiah.

Messianic machinations aside, the big disappointment is to discover my public-participation gestation thesis has been blown out of the water. Apparently the posters are only going to be on limited display. According to Elms,

"People are entitled to talk about it, but when the posters are put up, from the 6 till 20 December, it will be seen in context and its real message will become clear."

Context? Please tell me Roman Polanski isn't involved.