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    The War on Christian Virtues

    Apparently, the dreaded "War on Christmas" now extends to having to work between the Christmas and New Year's holidays, at least if the taxpayers pay your salary and your job title is "Senator." According to Senator Jon Kyl, having work the week after the Christmas holiday would be "disrespectful" to Christians. Senator Jim DeMint called working the week before Christmas "sacrilegious." That's right. Sacrilegious. Just like keeping stores open for shopping on December 23.

    Kyl and DeMint will obviously say anything for momentary partisan advantage. And just about everything worth saying about the right wing's bogus "War on Christmas" cries has already been said better by my co-blogger Mike Wolraich (who uses the nom de blog Genghis) in his new book Blowing Smoke (a wonderful holiday present, if you're still shopping). I can't possibly add to Mike's explanation of how dishonest and hysterical the complaints about the "War on Christmas" are. So let me add one thing:

    As someone who tries to be a good Christian myself, I find the complaints about the "War on Christmas" absolutely grotesque. I really have tried to see it from the perspective of the people who complain, but try as I might, I just can't make it square with any of the virtues Jesus taught.

    There are Christians being persecuted for their faith today. None of them live in America. Right now, there are people worshiping secretly in China, and in other places, and living in genuine fear of the authorities. Anyone who wants to defend Christians from persecution should think about the best ways to help those faithfal and beleaguered people. But calling yourself a victim because not all of the signs in the mall say "Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" is a terrible, terrible disrespect to all of the people who have actually suffered for their faith, and to those who continue suffering.

    Christians have been stoned to death, thrown to vicious animals, tied to anchors and drowned. They have been burnt alive by other Christians. And yes, some of the earliest Christians have been crucified. St. Peter was allegedly crucified upside down, by Romans with an even nastier sense of humor than usual. And today around the globe, there are still a handful of priests who must hide their priesthoods from their governments. Being asked to put up your annual Nativity diorama in the churchyard instead of the public park does not make you one of those people. In fact, complaining about things like that is a sign of just how little you have ever been asked.

    God asks everyone for different things. Some people are asked to stand up for their faith in the face of terrible danger and hardship, and become an example of persevering faith. And those people are justifiably honored by the rest of us. But if you are not called to be a martyr, you can not make yourself one. It is deeply wrong to try. Some people are asked to suffer; others are asked to be grateful. And making a display of how terribly you're "suffering" (in a country where being a Christian is as easy as any country has ever made it) is monstrous ingratitude. Last weekend I went to listen to Handel's Messiah (great concert, full house). The next morning I went up and went to church, a big unmistakably Christian building on a busy street. I did not have to hide my beliefs. I did not have to be quiet about them. Everywhere I go, I am publicly reminded of the upcoming religious holiday. And next week I, like every other American Christian, will get that holiday off work. There is no war on Christmas. There is only an attack on the Christian virtue of thankfulness.

    Being a little grateful is not hard, and we have been given so much.

    Other Christian virtues are under attack in the "War on Christmas": kindness, generosity, toleration. Is it so terribly wrong to occasionally vary a Christmas greeting, so that our fellow Americans who follow different religions are made to feel welcome? Is it wrong to be neighborly or kind? I can't believe that. It's such a small gesture, during a time when our religious voices are even louder and more dominant than usual. It can't be too much; it's hard really to call it enough. And I can't believe that it's right to be intemperate and angry with people who have the good manners (or who are moved by kindness) to use a holiday greeting meant to include all of their neighbors. To indulge in anger for its own sake, and worse still to indulge your anger on people who are actually practicing very basic virtues, seems to me very, very far from what is expected of us.

    I know there are some Christians who feel their duty is to attempt to bring everyone they can to believe specifically in Jesus, and who feel that anything that limits their explicit religious testimony interferes with that mission. But I would suggest that no one is going to be converted to Christianity by the sight of Christians being hostile, self-pitying, and uncharitable. That's the surest way to drive people away from Christianity. The louder you are about your Christianity, and the more you urge it upon others, the more important it is to be a good example of Christian virtues. That's true this Christmas, and next, and all the year round.


    Actually, I totally agree with Kyl. I would go a few steps further, however, and declare that all red-blooded Americans should have the same time off as Congress, because anything else would be sacreligious. What is their Easter holiday? 2 weeks? I LOVE it! And 4 th of July goes on for a couple of weeks, no? In fact, I hereby suggest that anything that any of us don't like should be labeled as sacreligious so that the teabaggers will agree with us. It's really a great idea. If we keep this up we'll have as many days off as those "Europeans". Congress already does. Come to think of it, Congress already has Europen health-Care They just don't want the rest of us to have it.

    Wonderful post, Doc.  I agree with you wholeheartedly.  My right-leaning Independent/Libertarian sister is now reading Mike's "Blowing Smoke" thanks to me giving her my copy (thanks to Donal for sending it to me).  It's my hope she'll stop saying, "Why should we stop saying Merry Christmas, dammit??"  It's my hope she'll learn a lot from reading Mike's book with an open mind. 

    In the final chapter of his book, he asks us to try to share it with people who need to read it the most.  I think I'm doing just that.

    Happy holidays, Doc.


    I say Merry Christmas but for me it has a different meaning. Not religious but a spiritual one. Like the Holiday itself, very little to do with Jesus and more to do with the thoughts of the up coming New Year and gratitude for the past one.

    Nice, C.  That's a beautiful way to put it. 

    For me, saying "Happy holidays" is a more universal way of saying "Merry Christmas", and with Christmas and New Years being only a week apart, it IS two holidays.  Counting Hannakah, that's three holidays. 

    Don't forget that scourge of conservatives everywhere - Kwanzaa!


    Is it CHRISTmas or isn't it? 

    I'm not looking to force my Christian faith on anyone BUT...without Christ, there'd be no Christmas. It seems a little pointless to celebrate the holiday if you aren't going to include him. 

    Imagine if people wanted to celebrate Veteran's Day without mentioning veterans, or Mother's Day without mentioning mothers. What would be the point?


    You are indeed correct in that Christmas is based on Christ, yes.  But for those people who are not Christians, saying "Merry Christmas" to them is kind of...pointless.  Most of them have no choice but to go along with the holiday season because it's a holiday, so saying "Happy Holidays" is a nice way of sharing the holiday spirit with those who don't practice religion and/or don't follow a Christian faith.

    Yes no?


    I'll also add that Christmas itself is based on the pagan winter solstice and not exactly a celebration of the exact date of Jesus' birth, from what I understand. 


    In fact,  many early American Christians were opposed to celebrating Christmas at all, which they viewed as basically non-religious (and drunken) tradition that had been improperly gotten attached to Christian practice. Certainly, the Pilgrims didn't want any part of Christmas celebrations. And the anti-Christmas Christians are thriving well into the 19th century. (Stephen Nissenbaum has a great history, The Battle for Christmas, in which he quotes the great 19th century preacher Henry Ward Beecher's disgust that some of the churches in New York City are celebrating the holiday.)

    Yeah, know us New Yorkers.....

    I think HWB's complaint was something like "too many Episcopalians and Presbyterians." Whom he described as "papist."

    Thanks for reading and commenting, GC.

    In reply to your comment, I can only repeat myself:

    complaining about things like that is a sign of just how little you have ever been asked.


    Thanks, Doc. Believe it or not, not everything worth saying was said in BS. In fact, I sent off a CNN piece with a remarkably similar theme to this post a couple of hours ago and just now sat down to read your piece, which is more eloquent than mine. But when it comes out, just know that I wasn't copying you.

    I doubt I'm more eloquent than you Mike, but it's nice of you to say so.

    Merry Christmas, Doc! I give my best wishes simply because your post tells me you really do have faith in your convictions and understand the simplicity of what Christmas means.

    As for those who man the lines at the battlefront to wage the battle against the War on Christmas I have a few reminders to past on.

    First, David Brooks posted an article in the NYTime on 6 Dec titled, Social Science Palooza, Here's an interesting pargraph...

    Classic research has suggested that the more people doubt their own beliefs the more, paradoxically, they are inclined to proselytize in favor of them. David Gal and Derek Rucker published a study in Psychological Science in which they presented some research subjects with evidence that undermined their core convictions. The subjects who were forced to confront the counterevidence went on to more forcefully advocate their original beliefs, thus confirming the earlier findings.

    Kinda puts the War on Christmas on a whole different footing.

    And as for traditions, on Nov 28, AOL ran an article titled Christmas Caroling Tradition Pioneered by Drunks. The article states..."the origin of caroling dates back to the pagan celebration of the winter solstice, when Christmas was regarded as a festival of pure joy and drunken revelry". I wonder how Kyl would react if carolers came up to his door singing for food and drinks, and threatening to throw rocks through the windows if he refused to give them a handout?

    Christmas is about belief, personal faith, humbleness and giving without receiving anything in turn. If there is a War on Christmas, it should be directed at those who market the day as the Feast of Holy Cashflow for the Greater Good of the BottomLine.

    Yes. The old Christmas traditions are a lot more like Mardi Gras traditions than like the family-friendly (and consumer-driven) holiday we invented in the nineteenth century. And December 25 is *not* Jesus's birthday (I promise you there were no shepherds abiding in any fields around Bethlehem on December 24). But it is conveniently close to the Roman festival of Saturnalia, which was a time for drinking, partying, and general carnival behavior.

    Nissenbaum's Battle for Christmas is a great source for this general history, but I'll throw in one juicy quote of my own from one of Shakespeare's fellow playwrights (Thomas Middleton) in around 1605:

    Why, well then, if none should be married but those that are honest, where should a man seek a wife after Christmas? (-Michaelmas Term, Act V)

    That's "honest" as in "chaste," meaning there are no virgins to marry after Christmas rolls around. This tells us that a) this was not a G-rated holiday for small kids and b) people hadn't started throwing all their coats on the bed.

    I totally agree with your take on this. As a Christian, I get annoyed when people say "Happy Holidays" and I think it's because they've been instructed to do so by company or government policy, not because I feel attacked, but because it shows how people take relatively unimportant things way too seriously. Fact is, most people just don't get that bent out of shape by being wished a Merry Christmas, whether they're Christian or not. On the other hand, to talk of an all out assault on Christianity is, as you say, disrespectful to the millions of Christians around the world who really do suffer for what they believe. The storm over Christmas greetings reveals more about the trivial way in which people treat matters of faith than it does about post-Christian culture.

    Are they aware that some people, including some Christians, actually have to work on Christmas?  I also wonder if they're aware of a potential solution, at least for some... The President is allowed to shut down the financial markets.  If it is so important to Kyl and DeMint that people not be forced to work right up until the holiday, they should ask the president to close down the financial markets for all of next week.  Since a lot of other businesses follow that schedule, many more will be given time off.  Oh, except that Kyl and DeMint only care about themselves.  And, of course, they don't care about working until Christmas either.  They only care about obstructing their political opponents.

    What?  What do you mean there's no war on Christmas?  Don't you watch television?  Here's a 30-second clip from the new situation comedy, Community and Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas done in claymation just for Christmas.  I like how Shirley has chosen to deal with the issue.

    Transcript of first 30 seconds for those who do not want to watch:

    Community college dean:  It's that very special time of year, Greendale.  A time for me to remind you that your school acknowledges no specialness to this time of year.  You do, of course, have a constitutional right to lend this season the significance of your choosing in any of our designated holiday zones.

    Abed:  Merry Christmas, everybody.

    Shirley:  Don't you mean season's greetings?

    Abed:  Come on, Shirley.  You know it's Christmas.

    Shirley:  Yes, but as a modern Christian, I've learned to be sensitive to other cultures' jealousies.


    Well, I thought it was funny.

    You know, if it isn't going to show up in the thread, a video should not show up in preview.

    A link for anyone interested.  Maybe it will work.


    Hulu, along with Comedy Central, can't be viewed in Canada. So your generous attempt to share failed again, as far as I'm concerned. Thanks anyway, and I accept your word that it was very funny.

    Thanks for letting me know.  I will try to remember next time.  Such silly rules/laws.  I keep hoping I get to stream Traders someday. 

    People never like it when you point out the obvious.

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