Christmas Warriors II

I am following up “Target Jesus” and “Christmas Warriors.” I want to respond at length to a commenter on “Target Jesus.”

Miki wrote,

I do feel like ,as a Christian, I’m being shoved into a little box. Where for hundreds of years Christianity was recognized as part of the national identity, now its as if we have become lepers to a small portion of the country so we must be bound, gaged and shoved into a small dark space out of the way. I’m not comfortable with that. I’m not for squashing anyone one elses religious freedoms because I dont want mine curtailed. That is the true problem here. Of course Christians are not quietly going into the closet without a struggle. Why on earth would you think they would?

I appreciate that the writer expressed her (or his) feelings honestly. She is getting into the true motives behind the Christmas wars, and I’d like to go into this a little more deeply.

I do feel like ,as a Christian, I’m being shoved into a little box.

The box you’re in is made up of your own ideas about who you think you are and how you think the world should be. It isn’t real.

Where for hundreds of years Christianity was recognized as part of the national identity,

We haven’t had a “national identity” for “hundreds of years.” In fact, many social historians don’t think we had much of a “national identity” until after the Civil War. I think you are imagining something that didn’t actually exist.

Thomas Jefferson wrote this in his autobiography, regarding the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786):

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.” The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.

In other words, in 1786, the Virginia legislature chose to keep Christ out of this document so as to respect the rights of the “Mahometan” and “Hindoo.”

It is true that the overwhelming majority of Americans have been Christian, but not being Christian never excluded anyone from being American. There have been Jews in North America for 350 years, for example, and Jews supported independence and fought in the Revolution. There have been Buddhists in America since the 1840s; today Buddhist Americans are getting themselves killed in Iraq.

This country is not the exclusive property of Christians. It never was.

“…now its as if we have become lepers to a small portion of the country so we must be bound, gaged and shoved into a small dark space out of the way.”

This is delusional. Christianity is the dominant religion. The amount of Christian-format television and radio broadcasts continues to grow; if you’ve got cable, you can watch Christianity on TV 24/7. What other religion in this country has television programming carried nationwide on cable?

Can you name a way that Christianity is being repressed, other than attempts by Christians to repress non-Christians? For example, trying to get Christian prayers recited in public school classrooms would be forcing non-Christians to observe Christianity, which many find annoying.

I’m not for squashing anyone one elses religious freedoms because I dont want mine curtailed.

How is your religious freedom being curtailed? How is it that you are prevented from believing and worshipping as you wish? Do you have any concrete examples? I’d really like to know, because I am not seeing anybody get in the way of Christian worship in this country. Well, except for other Christians.

What I am seeing, however, is that Christians are trying to use intimidation and sometimes the authority of government to force everyone else to kowtow to Christianity. News flash: This will not win you popularity contests.

Of course Christians are not quietly going into the closet without a struggle. Why on earth would you think they would?

Why on earth would you assume that I think they would? I am not anti-Christian. I think Christianity is a great religion. I just don’t think it’s the only religion, nor do I think it’s better or worse than other religions, including mine. I have no interest in feeding your victimization fantasy. If you want someone to put down Christianity so that you can indulge in feeling sorry for yourself, please go elsewhere.

I don’t want to end this on a snarky note. A couple of other commenters to the “Target Jesus” post defended the megachurches and felt they were being unfairly dissed. And, indeed, members of the megachurches have a right to observe Christmas any way they like. As I said in the Christmas Warriors post, normally I wouldn’t care whether the megachurches cancelled a Sunday morning service or not. It’s their business. But after all the CRAPOLA about some imaginary “war on Christmas,” the cancelled Sunday services just reeked of hypocrisy.

Christmas Warriors

Laurie Goodstein writes in the New York Times that many Christian evangelicals are criticizing the megachurches that will be closed on Christmas.

Megachurches have long been criticized for offering “theology lite,” but some critics say that this time the churches have gone too far in the quest to make Christianity accessible to spiritual seekers.

“I see this in many ways as a capitulation to narcissism, the self-centered, me-first, I’m going to put me and my immediate family first agenda of the larger culture,” said Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. “If Christianity is an evangelistic religion, then what kind of message is this sending to the larger culture – that worship is an optional extra?”

Frankly, I wouldn’t care if the megachurches cancelled a Sunday morning service, but combining that with the endless carping about the “war on Christmas” triggered the hypocrisy alarm, big time. Goodstein continues,

What some consider the deeper affront is in canceling services on a Sunday, which most Christian churches consider the Lord’s Day, when communal worship is an obligation. The last time Christmas fell on a Sunday was in 1994. Some of these same megachurches remained open them, they say, but found attendance sparse.

Since then, the perennial culture wars over the secularization of Christmas have intensified, and this year the scuffles are especially lively. Conservative Christian groups are boycotting stores that fail to mention “Christmas” in their holiday greetings or advertising campaigns. Schools are being pressured to refer to the December vacation as “Christmas break.” Even the White House came under attack this week for sending out cards with best wishes for the “holiday season.”

When the office of Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia sent out a press release last Friday announcing plans for a “holiday tree” lighting, a half-hour later it sent out another saying, “It is in fact a Christmas tree.”

What’s confusing to me is that the Christmas Warriors seem determined to make Christmas more secular, not less. For years Christians complained that Christmas was “too commercial” and that the emphasis on gifts and Santa Claus were a distraction from piety. But the Warriors have turned that around and are fighting to install the baby Jesus in our nation’s department stores. Church worship, however, is not so important.

Somebody needs to think this through, IMO.

However, closing churches on Christmas is nothin’ new. Adam Cohen wrote in the December 4 New York Times:

In 1827, an Episcopal bishop lamented that the Devil had stolen Christmas “and converted it into a day of worldly festivity, shooting and swearing.” Throughout the 1800’s, many religious leaders were still trying to hold the line. As late as 1855, New York newspapers reported that Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist churches were closed on Dec. 25 because “they do not accept the day as a Holy One.”

I wonder what those Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist pastors would say about canceling Sunday morning church service because of Christmas? The words hellfire and brimstone do come to mind.

On the eve of the Civil War, Christmas was recognized in just 18 states.

In the late 19th century, however, the whole presents-and-Santa Claus thing gained popularity.

By the 1920’s, the retail industry had adopted Christmas as its own, sponsoring annual ceremonies to kick off the “Christmas shopping season.”

Religious leaders objected strongly. The Christmas that emerged had an inherent tension: merchants tried to make it about buying, while clergymen tried to keep commerce out. A 1931 Times roundup of Christmas sermons reported a common theme: “the suggestion that Christmas could not survive if Christ were thrust into the background by materialism.” A 1953 Methodist sermon broadcast on NBC – typical of countless such sermons – lamented that Christmas had become a “profit-seeking period.” This ethic found popular expression in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” In the 1965 TV special, Charlie Brown ignores Lucy’s advice to “get the biggest aluminum tree you can find” and her assertion that Christmas is “a big commercial racket,” and finds a more spiritual way to observe the day.

And now we’ve come full circle, with people claiming to represent Christianity fighting to put Jesus in Target but making excuses for closing churches on a Sunday because of Christmas.

Some commenters to an earlier Christmas War post concluded that I am anti-Christian. I am nothing of the kind. I am, in fact, defending the religion of Christianity from those who would cheapen and degrade it.

This post has gone on long enough; I’ll have more to say later.