19 April 2007

Slaying the Dragon

St George and the dragonIf someone mentions St George, what do you think of?

Most likely, a dragon.

However, ahead of St George's day next Monday, the think-tank Ekklesia claims that the saint's image has been distorted over the centuries and instead of a dragon-slayer who backed the crusades we should reclaim the 4th-century image of George offering hospitality to a refugee, defending the marginalised, and challenging the persecution policy of the Emperor.

The report's authors suggest that any associations with racism and arrogant flag-waving should be replaced with a hopeful vision of "Englishness" as global and outward looking, inclusive and hospitable. St George's Day would then become a national "Day of Dissent" celebrating the English tradition of rebellion against the abuse of power, as exemplified by the pro-democracy Putney Debates, the equality-seeking Levellers, the anti-slavery abolitionists, the women's suffrage movement, conscientious objectors and peacemakers, anti-racism campaigners, human rights activists and those struggling against debt and poverty.

While the historical composite image of St George sounds very attractive and the idea of dissension certainly sits well with this country's Protestant culture, I'm not convinced that you can simply rebrand something just because you don't like what it has become. Then again, I suppose it has taken Mr Blair less than a decade to alter fundamentally many of the nation's centuries-old traditions and institutions, so there might be a chance of transforming George into "a post-Christendom saint" if we were to adopt some of Ekklesia's recommendations, such as making St George's Day a national public holiday in England and embarking on a renewed focus within churches on the history of Christian non-conformity.