Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Key to the War on Christmas

Ordinary Time

Or, Why the Culture Wars are stupid.

Okay, here's the deal about my War on Christmas. As many of you realize, there's a lot of hype this time of year about there being a "liberal" war on Christmas. There are a lot of Christians and nominal Christians in our culture that insist left-wingers are trying to secularize this commemoration of the Incarnation. They also believe that Christians need to "take a stand" and "fight for their rights" - which apparently includes being wished a "merry Christmas" by Wal-Mart.

That is asinine. Let me tell you why.
1. I don't think it's possible to really "secularize" Christmas. Whether or not Walmart or Target the White House or any other major retailer or public entity wants to acknowledge that I celebrate the Christian Feast Day is of no concern to me at all. It is not possible for such entities to either enhance or degrade one's commemoration of the Feast of the Incarnation. If one imagines that it is, one has a Big Problem.

2. It ought to be a bigger concern to Christians that other Christians are commemorating the Feast of the Incarnation (a.k.a. "Christ's Mass," or "Christmas") by engaging in a great orgy of consumerism, buying things for one another that they often do not really need. Let's exchange gifts, but perhaps read the Book of Amos, while we're at it?

3. Most people in the United States who aren't active Christians (and some who are) do and will continue to celebrate Christmas by that name and in this way, but will not make any explicitly religious observances along with it. Might our energies be better spent in encouraging people to learn about Christmas and what it means in the Christian faith rather than insisting that atheists wish us and everybody else a "Merry Christmas" rather than a mild and generically friendly "happy holidays"? At least the people saying "happy holidays" are being friendly. What kind of person gets angry in response to that? I'm not sure we're really loving people well when we can be the kind of people who get mad at them for giving us what we consider to be an inappropriate "hello." Get a grip, folks.

That's why I wrote, "don't wish me a merry Christmas, but rather a blessed Feast of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ." It's the same thing, and therefore a ridiculous statement - just like the insistence that someone wish me a Merry Christmas rather than Happy Holidays. It's satire.

4. The only legitimate way for Christians to "take a stand" in any culture is to love and worship the Trinitarian God, and to love, pray for, and even die for their enemies. Even if there's some great liberal plot to steal Christmas, the only way that the Gospel and Christian history honor is to - you guessed it - love and pray for our enemies while praising our God. Never, never, never, to return anger, hatred, or indifference in kind.

5. It is entirely contradictory to the Gospel for Christians to be talking about their "rights," and what the culture at large "owes" them. In accord with a Christian worldview, we pray and sing, "All things come of thee, O Lord," - all good things are gifts of our God, and any evil that befalls us serves as a test. This is a mysterious thing, but when do we endure trials (if you are really so short-sighted as to compare being wished "happy holidays" with the trials of martyrs), the appropriate question is to ask, "what kind of person does the Lord seek to make me in the midst of this?" If "secularists" are truly attacking us, we are commanded to pray, not to return evil for evil. Once again, it is the way of the Gospel to treat enemies as if they were not enemies.

6. There is no sense in connecting corporate policy decisions about whether to wish the American public "happy holidays" or "merry Christmas" with the wider concerns of the Kingdom of God, which prefers to shun consumerism, heal broken human lives, and engage in the transformation and recreation of God's world. No sense whatsoever.
Again, for similar thinking, see also

Joshua Hearne: War on Christmas
Dr. Platypus: 9.5 Curmudgeonly Christmas Theses
Theological Intentions: My Two Cents on the "War on Christmas"


Anonymous said...

I largely agree, Comrade Captain. I always found the Happy Holidays/Merry Christmas debate utterly absurd. If for no other reason, Christians objecting to being wished a Happy Holiday. I mean, think about it. Holiday...from the original root Holy Day. Regardless of whether we are being wished Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas, at least the (cue the sinister music) Powers that Be are recognizing there is a Holy Day of some sort, and are not blatantly ignoring it or trying to suppress it.

Secondly, I find it absurd because it has become an orgy of commericialism, as you said, and whether we try to gussy it up by wishing feel good platitudes of Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas, putting make-up on a corpse only goes so far...its still devoid of life.

I shall now, like Oscar the Grouch, return to my can.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking this subject and looking at it more closely than those who just want to make a big ta-doo about it.

In high school, I was in the same class as Christians, "Christians", Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Agnostics, and Atheists. Most, if not all of these students and their families became engaged in Christmas rituals, but had no clue of advent or the incarnation. I regret not enlightening my fellow students. I pray I will do better in the future. Perhaps a good place to start is with those who think advent is just a clever way to eat pieces of chocolate every day.

+ Alan said...

Verrr nice. Yeah, I couldn't care less whether or not the public arena recognizes Christmas for what it is. That's not really important. We, as the Church, are a counter-culture. It's not out job to get the culture to act like it's Christian. That's kind of pointless as I see it.

Now, of course, because of the reality of Christmas and it's reality in some people, the culture has been infected by that reality and therefore, Christmas has become a big deal. That's fine. Every "Christmas song" doesn't have to be a doctrinal statement, just as every song period doesn't have to be an explicitly "Christian" song.

So, certainly we, as Christians, should certainly have our principle focus of Christmas be on the faith that we have - on the central reality being celebrated. I don't think, though, that this precludes us from singing White Christmas, putting up trees or buying presents. Those are simply things connected to the center. I don't think that's what you're trying to say - just a point.

So I'm still going to listen to Bing Crosby and put up decorations. I'll just not get carried away and try to keep first things first. And as far as what people who aren't Christians do with Christmas - that's not really my concern.

Happy Advent! :)

Anonymous said...

I totally agree.

I'm reminded of Christmas last year, when the discourse surrounding this supposed war on Christmas was reaching a fever pitch. Christmas Day fell on a Sunday, and many churches in my small, Southern hometown cancelled worship services so that people could be at home with their families on Christmas. I've heard tell of similar phenomena around the country.

So, if anyone is really worried about the status of Christmas, maybe they should, at some point on Christmas, drop in at the house of God and say hello?

Anonymous said...

I largely agree with your perspective (although I still want your Xmas presents).

Where I would want to push back is in the way present your view as THE Christian view. I would want to argue that it is A Christian view -- and a faithful and coherent one at that.

It seems to me there are other faithful Christian approaches to the question of the larger culture's celebration or non-celebration of Christmas. This is so because there are other Christian approaches to the interaction of Church/Christians and culture.

It all, as they say, depends upon one's undergirding theology. I can imagine a theology that sees the public square as a legitimate place for Kingdom discourse. I am not sure I would want to call that theology wrong. I would rather say it is different and accents alternative veins of the scriptural revelation. The approach you set forth privileges the vein that sees the people of God as counter-cultural and a witness against the world. That is certainly an important and indispensable aspect of the Biblical witness. But I can imagine one tapping into the vein that sees corporations/governments falling under the Lordship of Christ in a manner that calls disciples to challenge them to affirm the Lordship of Jesus even in surface religous commitments -- like saying Merry Christmas Clearly this falls way way way short of the full redemption of these entities. But perhaps it can serve as a stepping stone to redemption. This also might be another avenue by which the Church/Christians can critique the culture at large and be a faithful witness to it.

But hey I am an Anglican -- and as Creech loves to remind me -- in the end I work for the Queen. ;)

Anonymous said...

"But I can imagine one tapping into the vein that sees corporations/governments falling under the Lordship of Christ in a manner that calls disciples to challenge them to affirm the Lordship of Jesus even in surface religous commitments -- like saying Merry Christmas..."

Oops, I meant that to read:

-- like saying Merry Christmas rather than Happy Holidays.

Anonymous said...

what should we get Kyle for Christmas everyone? Something big and pricey...

#Debi said...

I'm taking your gift back...

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything you say, it's wonderfully written, faithful, and coherent. Your argument does your religion credit.
I especially like your first point - I could call you 'Randy' every time I meet you, refer to you as 'Randy,' and swear up and down that your Christian name is and always has been 'Randy'... but that wouldn't mean your name actually is Randy. Christmas will be secularized when all Christians scorn its message of love, generosity, acceptance of others, and hope for the future - not to mention faith in God's plan. That's what Christmas has always been about, on some level.
Happy Christmas. :-)

Kyle said...

Everyone, thank you for your thoughtful reflections.

Archer, that's a good point about word origins. Thanks.

Jeremy, I could be eating chocolates?

Alan said, "We, as the Church, are a counter-culture."

Paging Dr. Hauerwas!

Cheers, Abbot. Of course I agree...

Nice, JM. Cheers.

Peter, that's a great point and I'm glad you offered it. I think that's the bit of true and faithful thinking that can be somewhere deeply hidden behind the popular discourse about "culture wars."

Ben and Debi, I definitely didn't declare war on gifts... :0)

Thanks, vifetoile, I appreciate that. Thanks for reading and commenting. :0) Uh, Randy?

Literary Networks and Dissenting Print Culture said...

Amen. Kyle, I like this. Your original post was great but this further reflection makes your case even tighter. I will link this also!

byron smith said...

I loved point #4 - keep it up.