A. A. Milne had Christopher Robin saying his prayers in his popular children's books about the teddy bear, Winnie the Pooh, but he was writing for a readership that was much more culturally homogeneous than exists for authors today. In England in the 1920s, there was almost no one who dared to whisper during this long-established and almost universally-practised bedtime ritual, and those who did whisper probably felt guilty about it. However, in modern times, the native English have largely abandoned their traditional religion and the large immigrant communities take their diverse alternative faiths very seriously, making life much more difficult for the authors of children's books.

In today’s culturally diverse communities, and with the whole world linked by electronic communications, authors are more than ever conscious of the need to avoid causing offence. Some societies have traditionally proscribed three topics because of their tendency to promote discord: politics, sex and religion. Children are not interested in politics, and sex has no place in children’s books outside of specially commissioned textbooks, but simple religious observance of the Christopher Robin variety might seem innocuous enough. It is best avoided however, because there are dangerous people who even take offence at the largely secular and commercially-promoted representations of Father Christmas.

Much of what is now regarded as traditional Christmas celebration is derived from the ancient feast of the winter solstice. The celebration at a date in December with a fir tree derives from these earlier times and Father Christmas is a fairly recent addition, but these pagan appendages, as well as re-enactments of the central nativity scene, are equally condemned by Islamic extremists and have had to be abandoned or adapted in recent years from fear of causing offence. The recent massacre in Istanbul was said to be a protest against the Christian celebration of the New Year, presumably because of the international calendar’s Christian origin.

Throughout most of the twentieth century, in spite of two world wars, there seemed to be a slowly growing tolerance of other religions. Religion seemed to be receding as a cause of wars, and conflicts arose mostly from political differences. This trend was sharply reversed with the advent of Al Qaida and its successor, ISIS. Laws have had to be enacted, limiting freedom of speech, in order to avoid giving offence to people of other religions, and some Christians have been prevented from wearing crosses. Authors, too, must exercise caution if their books are to be widely accepted. The heirs of A. A. Milne might just get away with their little Abdullah Hussein genuflecting towards Mecca, but to be quite safe, the modern children’s author is wise to avoid altogether the religious minefield.



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