Barnaby Joyce declares war against that religion called atheist extremism and "pseudo-intellectual Gucci fleas".
I like genuine agnostics. They don't get bent out of shape by other religions; they are just thinking about it and them and how and whether they all stick together. Whatever blows your hair back is good to go for them. They may be ambivalent, but at least they live and let live.
My war is always against that religion called atheist extremism, that sneaky sect. Its advocates' belief in nothing is more affirmed and uncompromising than just about anyone else's belief in anything. Oh, they are all so proper and stuffy and impossible at drinks, which, at this time of year, revolve around an institution that apparently they are in mortal combat with. They say ''greetings for the season'', which has about the same warmth and credibility as ''greetings, earthling''.
They send Christmas cards but abhor the mentioning of Christmas in them. What is the point - as if there is any other time of the year that you arbitrarily send out dozens of cards. The purchase of their yuletide folded cardboard comes with the notation ''seasons greetings'', which is, as I have noted before in this column, the salutation to be given to stuffing inserted into the cloaca of the Christmas turkey. My office colleague now informs me of yet another cryptic politically correct annotation, ''happy holidays''. Surely they let something slip saying ''holidays'', which is derived, of course, from ''holy day''. Maybe ''happy days of pleasure'' would be more politically correct and could come with a very interesting picture for the mantelpiece. They insist on changing BC and AD to BCE and CE, which is what? Banco Central del Ecuador and a Colonoscopy Endoscope?
Yes, this sect's followers make their way on to your veranda then hold a righteous court of sneering indignation about the crib in the park. You can hear yourself muttering under your breath, ''I wish you would go drown yourself, you pseudo-intellectual Gucci flea.'' They write letters to complain about the incorrectness of carols at the school and picket the Christmas tree. To not insult their religion, you must no longer follow yours. They yearn for the fallacy of a vacuum and they demand that you join them in that philosophical void.
The solution, of course, is that they should all just remain at work while the rest of us go on holidays, and we can double the pleasure by knowing that, when we return, they can go on theirs. This doubles the time away from each other.
I have recently returned from Taiwan, a trip paid for by the Taiwanese, and they appear, in a predominantly Buddhist country, to be more understanding and tolerant of Christmas than some sections of Australia. They also appeared to have no problems with Christ's relevance to the notation BC or AD, Augustus Caesar's relevance to August, Julius Caesar's relevance to July or Thor's relevance to Thursday, points which Christians have been dealing with for a millennia or so without too many revolutions.
The Taiwanese have probably come to the conclusion that a ceremony that celebrates a person who said such things as ''blessed are the peacemakers'' and implored people to look after the poor and cured lepers is probably not too much of a threat to the corruption of children.
Anyway, Christmas is here and I hope we borrow a little from the person who kicked it off. The timing at the end of December has more to do with the celebration of the pagan festival of Saturnalia rather than when Christ was actually born. Those politically incorrect early Christians had the good sense to roll with the customs rather than to rage against them.
In borrowing from the ethos of the person from which the term Christmas was named, this time of year means more than drinking litres of Crownies with anyone you can tackle after 4pm every day for a week. Looking out for the lonely is always a good place to start, maybe even being brave enough to buy some newspapers, some glossy glamour magazines and stroll up to the hospital and see if you can find someone who is not surrounded by family and friends. That was the trick we used in Vinnies; if they wanted to talk, they did, if they didn't they took the paper and said, ''Thanks, Merry Christmas.''
Barnaby Joyce is the Nationals' Senate leader and the Coalition's spokesman for regional development.