Tuesday, December 20, 2005

'Tis the Season to Be Wary: Christmas Wars are About Power, Not Christ

by Dr. Teresa Whitehurst

"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.'" "When Christmas Falls on Sunday, Mega-churches Take the Day Off, New York Times, 12/9/05

In the old days, cheerily saying "Happy Holidays" wouldn't get you into trouble. But today the ears of seething "Christian" warriors are cocked for that traditional greeting of goodwill, which they consider an anti-Christian affront. And the moment they hear those two little words, they're ready to go on the attack.

‘'Tis the season to be wary…

Prior to the radical right's takeover of America (which leaders like James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell modestly present as a goal rather than what it really is -- a done deal), Christians considered it in keeping with the American spirit of respecting other faiths to send "Happy Holidays" cards to non-Christian coworkers and neighbors, but such etiquette is now considered a sign of the card writer's weak faith, cowardice, or both. I can even remember when Christians thought it humorous rather than enraging when Jewish friends used the term, "Hanukkah bush" .

You'd better watch out, I'm telling you why…

By now in Bush's divisive America we know the drill: The onset of the Christmas season is our cue to start getting angry. "Is America a Christian nation, or not? Christmas and Christians are being attacked -- we'll soon be extinct! We must defeat the infidels!"

Fundamentalists are keen to drive home the idea that their version of Christianity is the only religion that governmental properties and institutions must "respect" by broadcasting and displaying the same words, labels, and decorations that churches use. The American tradition of separation of church and state is now reframed as a tragic mistake (or sinful legacy) that must be rectified at once.

God rest ye angry gentlemen…

Not every Christian falls for this belligerent approach to Christmas, as noted above, but I am sad to report that even the most tolerant conservatives I know have started parroting the lines they hear and read every day: "It's a shame we're not even allowed to say 'Merry Christmas' anymore" , "Christianity is threatened because now you can't call the tree downtown a 'Christmas tree'," and 'It's ridiculous that I have to think before I send out Christmas cards -- why should I have to send 'Happy Holidays' cards to people who might be Jewish or atheist? After all, I have a duty to share my faith…...."

Which Christians are Soldiers in the Christmas Wars?

  1. The largest group is the gullible. Easy targets for hysteria and email campaigns, they believe whatever Pat Robertson or their preacher or their Bible-toting coworker says. After five years of the Bush administration's divisiveness, these folks have no doubt that all other Americans are out to get them. It was a brilliant move by the radical right to focus on beloved childhood visual memories like Christmas trees and candy canes and silver bells and presents, and how these will all be taken away from them unless a "holy war" is fought here at home.
  2. People who feel cheated in life are particularly easy to enlist in the Christmas wars because they've been hurt through the cruelty of others or through harsh adversity, and either don't know whom to blame or are afraid to speak out. Hence, these individuals are ever in need of emotional outlets, wars to fight, and "safe" scapegoats.
  3. People who feel entitled to preferential treatment consider themselves superior to others, to all the fallen and doomed sinners in the world, need a controversy through which they can demonstrate the contrast between their virtue and their neighbors' "left behind" status. This is the holier-than-thou contingent.
  4. Most pivotal, however, are the cynical strategic few with political and/or financial aspirations, power brokers who hope to profit from the Christmas wars. They need a seasonal "wedge issue" that defines who's been naughty and who's been nice when election time comes around or when donations are needed.

It's Beginning to Feel a Lot Like Coercion

"The sign says it all for Robbie Moore of Jonesboro. "Honk if you're not ashamed to say ‘'Merry Christmas.'" As a Christian, Moore said, he just wants to make sure that Christmas gets recognized. That's why he put the sign up in front of his insurance agency's office on Ga. Highway 54 in Jonesboro. "Christmas and Easter are the two most important holidays in our religion," Moore said. Apparently he's not alone in the sentiment. "All day long people come by and honk," Moore said." Churches Adamant About Keeping Christ in Christmas, December 17, 2005

If this sounds more like power politics and mob psychology than anything even remotely related to Christ, that's because it is. And it's getting worse, more vocal, and more vaguely threatening.

But a backlash, only in its infancy, seems to be growing even in the reddest states.

Yesterday at a red light I noticed a pickup truck with large NRA stickers, a bumper-sticker reading "Friends Don't Let Friends Vote Democrat," and a huge hand-painted sign saying, "Honk to Say 'Merry CHRIST-mas!!'" I heard a short beep from the car bearing a W sticker directly behind the truck, but what happened next (or, perhaps more accurately, what didn't happen) was illuminating.

Immediately after the ordered honk, a tense silence seemed to grip everyone in the surrounding cars, as suddenly all eyes were focused straight ahead. People stopped talking and seemed very interested in watching the red light for any sign of change. It's worth noting that non-Christians are scarce in this GOP-dominated Pat Robertson area, so these non-honkers were in all likelihood conservative Christians.

The pressure to conform, to say what the pickup truck man wanted us to say, and in the way he wanted us to say it, put a chill on what had been a typical December weekday in traffic. It seemed an eternity until the light turned green, when those who'd refused to prove our fundamentalism and Christmas-war spirit by obeying the truck man were finally allowed to go about our business.

Yet I'm not naïve -- the Christmas wars are here to stay for the time being. Angry Christian soldiers make this season miserable for everyone, for in their combat frenzy they've forgotten what Christ himself had to say about showy public displays of faith.

"Jesus, who said that we should come to God with the humility and innocence of a little child, warned against ostentatiously displaying our piety in public to be seen and admired by others:

"'And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And in praying to not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.'" (Matthew 6:5-8)

-- Jesus on Parenting (Whitehurst, 2004)

* * *

Dr. Teresa Whitehurst, clinical psychologist and author of Jesus on Parenting: 10 Essential Principles that Will Transform Your Family, writes about the abuse of faith and power by the radical right. Invite or suggest her as a talk show guest. teresawhitehurst@gmail.com.

Apparently, tis the season to be a horses' asses!


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