“No one wants to be the Grinch” but Polly Toynbee, reluctantly, takes up the mantle

Well, cheery as ever, the Guardian put out this opinion piece by Polly Toynbee about the Samaritan’s Purse shoebox appeal. The Guardian does, every year, try as hard as they can to be as miserable as possible about Christmas and where better to look than an Atheistic Humanist who both hates Christmas and the Christ it celebrates.

What has particularly exercised Toynbee is the ‘pernicious, hidden agenda’ of Samaritan’s Purse. This so-called hidden agenda is so out of sight that Toynbee had to dig deep into the recesses of buried archival materials to uncover the truth. Ever the sleuth, she uncovered the sinister agenda by going onto the Samritan’s Purse website and quoting it directly. How would anybody ever know the shocking agenda without such intrepid investigative journalism?

And what is pernicious about it? The shoeboxes are sent with some Christian literature and Samaritan’s Purse – an overtly Christian organisation who do not exactly hide their faith nor pretend they are doing anything other than what they are doing (being, as it is, on their website) – offer stories of Muslim people who have converted to Christianity. This, Toynbee avers, is ‘anti-Muslim proselytising’ that is ‘gift-wrapped Islamophobia.’

Now, I’m not a Franklin Graham fan. I do not share his politics nor his admiration of the current US president. But Toynbee makes a logical leap when she insists that Franklin Graham’s public comments about Islam (which you can judge for yourself – I don’t quite share his views on that either) mean that the Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes are being used as ‘anti-Muslim proselytising.’ I’m struggling to see how ‘ a missionary book of Bible stories, The Greatest Gift, with “the 12 Bible lessons offered by many of the churches distributing shoeboxes”‘ amounts to ‘anti-Muslim proselytising’. I can concede it might amount to proselytising (though that is up for debate) but what is anti-Muslim about it? Perhaps she assumes anything that implies Islam is not true is anti-Muslim? But then, if that is what she means, she must beware the glass house she stands in as a vice-president of Humanists UK (formerly the British Humanist Association) who regularly tell all religious people – including Muslims – their faith is nonsense and a pack of lies.

Toynbee pillories Franklin Graham for being ‘anti-gay and anti-same-sex marriage’ whilst simultaneously ignoring the fact that the poor Muslims she hopes to defend against this horrible proselytism would essentially share Graham’s view. But, that aside, it is hard to see what is likely to be ‘anti-gay and anti-same-sex marriage’ about The Greatest Gift. It would be an odd evangelistic technique, to say the least, to send a load of anti-gay literature to some people who almost certainly already agree with it. It’s not a standard starting point for gospel engagement. As somebody who lives and works with Muslims, that they might agree on the principles, if not the consequences (Toynbee really ought to compare what the NT says ought to happen to how the Qur’an deals with the issue), no Muslim will be won to Christ because they accept Jesus’ teaching on gay marriage. Of that, I’m fairly sure Franklin Graham would be aware.

It is here that Toynbee’s own ‘pernicious, hidden-agenda’ becomes quite clear. For the anti-gay and anti-same-sex marriage views of Islam are entirely overlooked in the article. So there is, perhaps, an anti-Christian bias at play. What is clear is that, for Toynbee, the issue is proselytism. This is one of the central tenets of Secular Humanism. Religion should not proselytise but should be kept private (except for humanism, of course, which may encourage whomever it wants to adopt its core beliefs).

So angry is Toynbee at this covert evangelism listed all over the Samaritan’s Purse website, that she has written an opinion piece in a national newspaper to convince everyone that they should not accept this affront to Secular Humanism. In other words, one of the pillars of secular humanism – to which Toynbee ascribes and promotes through Humanists UK as a vice-president – may be voiced publicly to convince others of the verity and righteousness of humanism. Toynbee may evangelise the nation with her creed but Evangelicals may not proselytise with theirs.

As far as I can see, there are three differences between Samaritan’s Purse and Polly Toynbee. For one, Samaritan’s Purse proselytise and allow others the room to do the same; Toynbee wants to proselytise and stop anybody else from doing so. Second, Samaritan’s Purse are entirely upfront about their intention to send Christian literature abroad on the grounds of their faith; Toynbee hides the fact that she is proselytising in exactly the same way. Third, Samaritan’s Purse are still sending Christmas gifts to children in a show of love; Toynbee sends no presents and dogmatically stops others from doing so in the name of her beliefs.

Humanists UK claims Samaritan’s Purse are being duplicitous. As far as I can see, they publicly promote their Christian ethos on their website and they make clear literature may go out. What is duplicitous is pretending – in the name of helping poor Muslim children – that this attack is motivated by anything other than a hatred of whatever they perceive is tinged with religion. Humanists UK could, of course, send their own shoe boxes without any literature if they so desire but, alas, they prefer to stop children receiving the Christmas gifts they might get without replacing them with anything else. Merry Christmas indeed!