Bart Willruth On The Christmas Wars.

Bart was a team member here at DC at one time. Now he's writing for "Fresh Conservative." Don't ask me why 'cause I don't know.
Ah, yes. The battle has heated up once again. One can feel it in the air. Retailers, wishing to spread cheer to their bottom line, advertise for our gift purchases and decorating needs, while agonizing over what to call the event. Populists, like the self-appointed culture warrior Bill O’Reilly, hoping to boost ratings through controversy, attack the militant atheists for opposing displays of the baby Jesus; “Why would they be against a baby?” Militant atheists challenge the presence of an evergreen tree on public property, unless it happens to be growing there naturally, lacking manmade decorations. Militant Christians take offense to being greeted with a “Happy Holiday,” while militant non-Christians take offense to being greeted with a “Merry Christmas.” It’s the season to joyfully promote an agenda and to parade injured feelings.

Time out for a bit of quick self-disclosure. I am an unbeliever, brought up as a Christian, but now an ex. And…I love the Christmas holidays. Our house is decorated with brightly colored lights, Santas, wreaths, snowpersons, and not one, but two trees! No nativity scenes, but lots of cheer. Before long, presents will begin to appear under the tree. I celebrate the American secular Christmas that need not be a contradiction of terms. Reflecting on another year gone by, remembering loved ones, showing appreciation by exchanging cards and presents, lots of great food, throwing parties, decorating, and wishing good will to most, anticipating a new beginning, are traditions that I enjoy and intend to pass on to my posterity. This tradition comes from deep antiquity, when my sun worshiping Roman ancestors thus celebrated the time when the days began to lengthen again and when my Barbarian-Germanic-evergreen-tree-worshiping forbears decorated them with candles, ribbons, and mistletoe. It is as old a tradition as is known, and it is a lot of fun.

First, let me pick on some of my fellow unbelievers. Don’t go around with a chip on your shoulder looking for offense. I doubt that anyone is trying to force us to believe in an incarnated deity in the person of a baby in a stable. And none of the rest of the trappings of the season emerge from Christian traditions anyway. If you pass by a church, a mall, or a house and see signs of Christmas, just recognize that you are observing people exercising their private property rights. Stop trying to intimidate them into bending to your sensibilities. If you don’t like to shop in a store that dares to use the verboten word “Christmas,” by all means don’t go there. That is your right. When someone wishes you a merry Christmas, no offense is intended. They are exercising their rights to politically incorrect free speech. But go ahead and fight the good fight in keeping religious propaganda off of public property. And for Pete’s sake, enjoy the pretty lights and tinsel. Trust me, this won’t hurt you. Even a few reindeer placed along a boulevard pose no danger. They won’t bite. Furthermore, an obese old man in a red suit, ringing a bell and holding a bucket, probably won’t ruin your day. In short, get a thicker hide.

Now a word of admonition to the traditional culture warriors. Recognize that not everyone shares your beliefs. Pushing the legal battle for the placing of a nativity scene in front of the courthouse is an imposition of an ever-decreasing majority on a growing minority. When you are overwhelmed by the need to make everyone respect your faith, take a breath and pass the eggnog. If stores that seem to be celebrating a vacuous and secular season offend you, leave. But have a bit of mercy for the poor retailer who cannot possibly please everybody. Do they really have to display a representation of past miracle claims in order to earn your dollar? Is a boycott against a chain that tells their employees to wish everyone a happy holiday really in the spirit of tolerance and goodwill you espouse? When the Freedom From Religion Foundation puts out advertisements during the Christmas season saying, “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake,” why take offense? Is it different than a billboard stating, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season?” These are only words. They can’t hurt you or anybody else. Let people speak freely. The alternative has a very bad history. Can you be happy to just display whatever religious symbols you wish on your own property or that of your church? On private property, as a free American, do what you want. On public property, or on someone else’s property, keep off the grass.

The ultimate irony is that the Protestant Christians who first settled America did not celebrate Christmas for nearly two centuries. For many years in Massachusetts, it was actually illegal to celebrate Christmas (obviously before the Irish Catholic influx). Likewise in 17th century England it was illegal to celebrate Christmas. Shops were ordered to be open on that day. Why? They were aware that the veneration of the date December 25th, along with the many trappings of the celebration, were of Pagan origin, predating Christianity. Since the Roman Catholic Church had found it expedient to absorb the popular ancient celebrations into its tradition for the purpose of annually commemorating the belief in the incarnation of God in Jesus, and since Protestants, by definition, were in protest of Catholicism and its traditions, they used their political power to impose their beliefs on others, whether on private property or public. Imagine that; the Freedom From Religion Foundation and traditional Protestant Christians would gladly join hands to suppress displays of Christmas. Let us be thankful to Macy’s for bringing us the late Victorian era secular Christmas that almost everyone can enjoy.

The wish to impose one’s beliefs onto others seems to be universal. Intolerance is at best ill mannered; at worst, deadly. Whether you wish to spend December 25th in a bare room or listen to the hallelujah chorus, stop the vitriol. Be joyful.

Now I’ve gotta go. There’s a non-specific seasonal holiday sale at Bloomingdales! It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Link.
Personal disclosure: My wife and I do not celebrate anything on December 25th except being with family and friends, although we don't send cards or put up any decorations, and our gift buying is very limited. Why not have a time once a year to do that? So we do. I find atheists who celebrate winter solstice to be a bit, well, odd. That day is December 21st. What is there to celebrate about it? We no longer worship the sun as the ancients did. Besides, there are two solstices a year. Why celebrate just one of them? And do they REALLY do something special on the 21st? That being said, if Gwen and I were to send Holiday Greeting cards we might choose one from this list. :-)

5 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

If you want to read some of Bart's posts here at DC do a search for his name in the "Search This Blog" feature in the sidebar. He writes and thinks very well!

UNRR said...

This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 12/12/2009, at The Unreligious Right

Rob R said...

The battles over Christmas represent a smaller issue in the battle of privitization, the insistence that we believers are supposed to keep our beliefs privately and not bother anyone about them.

Greg Mills said...

Rob R -- Who insists that? And what practical solution do you see for your alienation? Government intervention?

Tristan D. Vick said...

Bart is incorrect about Freedom From Religion Foundations intent: 1) It's not to ban Christmas displays, it is, however, to gain equal time in the spotlight for others who wish the same freedom of speech. And 2) It's to make sure Government organizations, such as City Hall and Courts, etc. don't use tax payer money to put up displays, as this is breaking the law.

I see nothing wrong with that.

Second, I celebrate Christmas because I was brought up a Christian, and my family is still Christian, but that said, I make it a point to educate people on the true meaning of Christmas... just like Lineus from Charlie Brown's Christmas special... except more atheist.

I think Christmas is a perfect holiday to introduce a forum of discussion on the history of the tradition. Once you prove how "Un-Christian" Christmas really is, it leaves Christians having a solstice-crisis so to speak. Of course, it really depends on how you present the information.

If you're goal it to be confrontational, then everyone at the table is going to get into a huge Christmas-brawl. But if you just slip in tid-bits of trivia at random... they think you're brilliant! And there are many fun discussions which ensue. That's what I try and do, keep the discourse going--and Dec. 25th is an especially good date to bring up some key points about Christmas and Christianity that many Christians may know nothing about.