Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Let the festivities continue!

One of the anniversaries I missed in July last year was the passing of the Doctrine of the Trinity Act 1813 (also known as the Unitarian Toleration Act - there is a pdf briefing by today's Unitarian Church here). Until that date, British citizens who subscribed even to most of the tenets of the Established Church except for the three-personed God were liable to prosecution for blasphemy and in danger from the mob. Joseph Priestley, the independent discoverer of oxygen, was one such - though his support for the principles of the French Revolution did not help.

I'm grateful to Boyd Tonkin in the Independent for the information about the 1813 Act in an article prompted by the granting of religious status to Scientology for the purpose of wedding ceremonies. (As I understand English law, this does not automatically mean that Scientology is to be regarded as a religion in all spheres of administration, though no doubt their lawyers will seize on it as a precedent.) Mr Tonkin plots an unsteady but relentless progression to religious toleration from 1689 to this year's Supreme Court ruling. (I would suggest that there was an earlier significant move in Cromwell's official re-admission of the Jews in 1656.) His conclusion is that it is better to allow wacky religions to proliferate than to live in a state dominated by one church. Leaving aside so-called Islamic republics, there are still states where a particular Christian doctrine dictates the bounds of legislation.

So thanks to a dissenting Whig politician I can safely assert that Yuletide is not just for Christians. It is in practice as much a family festival as a religious one, and I am glad that I was able to see all of my immediate family at the end of last year. The United States hived this aspect off to Thanksgiving, but they also pumped up the commercialisation of Christmas inspired by Charles Dickens and Henry Cole.

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