Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Real "War Against Christmas"

Of all the battles fought in the so-called "cultural wars," the most ridiculous one is the so-called war against Christmas.  What exactly is this war, anyway?

It's not a war against religious observances; no laws have been passed to stop these, and they took place this month as they have taken place for literally thousands of years, in the United States and around the world.  Nor is it a war against shopping.  Granted, more of that takes place on the Internet now than it does in bricks-and-mortar stores.  But take place it does, in lean and fat years. And it certainly isn't a war against decorations.  I live in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, yet it takes very little effort to find holiday displays in and outside of many houses nearby.

Ah, "holiday."  There's the real rub, isn't it?  This "war" isn't a war about the holiday, or much of the activity surrounding it.  It is at best a war about words.  It's a war about the modern tendency to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."  But why should Christians feel threatened by it?

"Happy Holidays" is a phrase of inclusion.  It presumes the inclusion of Christmas; that's why it's frequently used in connection with displays that feature a variety of Christmas symbols, even ones that are specifically religious.  It simply recognizes the fact that America is a nation of many religions, and not just one.  It embraces not only other contemporaneous spiritual celebrations, such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, but also a secular holiday, New Year's Day, that everyone celebrates. What is it about inclusion that is so offensive?  Tolerance and diversity are supposedly the foundation of the free society in which we all live, and from which we all benefit.

Well, of course, the problem is that a segment of our society does not see the foundation of our society that way.  They see that foundation in purely tribal terms.  Skin color.  Gender. And, of course, the religion that was the religion of the nation's majority for a long time.  I think the word in this war of words that most deeply offends them is was.  Being white, male and Christian was at one time a badge of power.  That is no longer the case--or, at least, not as true as it used to be. And that's the fact that bothers the "Merry Christmas" people the most.  Force people to say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays," and white male Christians will be on the comeback trail.  If there's a war that's being fought against Christmas, these are the people who are prosecuting it--the ones obsessed with words.

But winning that war wouldn't put them back in the saddle, even if it were winnable.  Even if it were possible to dictate the words of others, it wouldn't stop the demographic changes that have and will continue to take place in this country.  It would just take us further away from the real meaning of the word "Christmas."

Christmas is a holiday about giving, not taking, in its most fundamental religious elements, and even in its secular ones.  It is not a holiday about building oneself up.  It is a holiday about sharing what we have, and, in the process, reshaping the world in accordance with G-d's wishes.  It is not a holiday about seizing power.  It is a holiday about relinquishing it in accordance to the wishes of a Higher Power.

Pope Francis, who may be presumed to know a thing or two about Christianity, clearly gets this.  But Donald Trump does not, and neither do many of his followers, even among Catholics.  Another person who gets this:  the woman who recently resigned from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rather than perform at Trump's inauguration.  The supreme irony of this is that evangelical Christians, four out of five of whom voted for Trump, do not regard Mormons as "real" Christians, because of their specific beliefs as outlined in the Book of Mormon.

Evangelical Christianity is not particularly noted for its ability to accept criticism or criticize itself. This is a quality that has gradually undermined whatever spiritual authority it once had (during Abolition, for example), and has reduced it to the point where American evangelicals have replaced Jews as the most reflexive supporters of Israel, even though that support is undermining Christians in Jerusalem.

Regardless of what your faith may be, we need to stop worrying about words, and a great deal more about deeds.  Never in the whole history of the world have wealth and technology been more powerful, and yet human suffering has also never been more widespread.  And words are, more often than not, misused to mask the sources and the extent of this suffering (see, e.g., the subject of "fake news").  If you are a Christian, and care more about what God thinks about that claim than you do, you need to find the power of your faith in action, and not speech.  You need to get over yourself, and get on to serving others--not on your terms, but theirs.  You need to make Christmas a holiday in which the words "Merry Christmas" stand for something other than a claim to secular power.  You need to make those words stand for love made visible.

Oh, and Happy Holidays to you all.

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