Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Why Christians Should Embrace the "War on Christmas"

The Church of the Orange Sky defies Satan's imposition of secular humanism upon North American culture. People wishing to contribute to the Christmas wars may do so through donations to the Prophets for Profit Institute, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Church of the Orange Sky.

I've finally obtained my copy of Friends of God, last year's documentary on the evangelical movement from Alexandra Pelosi, and may write about it shortly. The movie is a bizarre montage of Christian cultural experiences from across the U.S. - "Christian" wrestling, children's songs about dinosaurs co-existing with man (but nothing from the Flintstones, unfortunately), the "Holy Land Experience" Christian amusement park, Pat Robertson (aka "Gunrunner Pat") calling on his university students to pimp Republican Party candidates, and one of my favorites, Ted Haggard (aka "Big Gay Ted"), just before his unexpected coming-out incident, expounding on the importance of the female orgasm. Amidst the unintentional hilarity, one of the common underlying themes was the sense of an ongoing war against secular liberal elements who were trying to destroy Christianity in America. It's a common theme in contemporary Christianity and it's come up a lot on this blog. Today's topic is a little more specific: the so-called "war on Christmas."

The war on Christmas, to many conservatives, is a microcosm of what's wrong with liberals. Every November and December the Christian forums light up with angry complaints that liberals are stealing Christmas, renaming it the "holiday season," and destroying our Christian heritage. Even non-Christians I know sometimes complain about the reduction of Christmas as a form of asinine political correction gone mad. A few years ago, I used to earn a few extra dollars playing the piano for schools and other groups who needed a pianist for background music, singing, or whatever else. I remember playing for one Christmas singalong at a school where the principal approached me and apologetically said we'd have to select the music in advance and make sure there was nothing offensive in it. At the time I was still going to a properly conservative Baptist church and thought this was great confirmation of the need for our war on secular culture. (Not great enough, though, to walk out on principle and proclaim myself a victim of persecution; after all, $50 is still $50.)

In the past I've always deplored the fact that the Christmas season - or the holiday season - now starts in November or even October, so it's kind of ironic that I'm bringing this topic up so early. However, I'm not the first. Bill O'Reilly started the game off early, and here's a summary (this version comes with convenient progressive commentary as a bonus). According to Oo'Reilly and his friend, Colorado radio host Dan Caplis, Colorado town Fort Collins is buying some first-class tickets to hell for their decision to use "white lights" rather than "colored lights" on their "holiday trees." Caplis, with O'Reilly nodding in approval, explains that the end of "colored lights" at Christmas is "something out of the old Soviet Union." Last year, O'Reilly apparently launched his war in late October, which moves the Christmas date even earlier than most of his secular "holiday season" foes. At the time, the target was the right's favourite whipping-boy, the American Civil Liberties Union, which rates highly on the growing list of targets whom the religious right believes exists in a state of exception. (That's a technical philosophical term from Giorgio Agamben; basically it refers to situations in which you claim to defend laws by breaking them, like fucking for virginity, fighting for peace, or showing the love of Christ by calling your enemies evil lesbian Satanists who eat babies.)

But that's enough about jumped-up talk show hosts cloaking their bigoted patriotism in a false cloak of religious grandeur. Today's topic is a microcosm of a microcosm: the war on the Christmas tree. I actually discovered this before discovering O'Reilly's latest ramblings. Lowe's home improvement chain was busted by the conservative propaganda outlet Cybercast News Service for publishing a Christmas catalog which referred to "family trees" instead of "Christmas trees." Actually, this is an interesting new development; usually they're called "holiday trees" by the politically correct, and I would have thought a renewed emphasis on the family would be welcomed by the religious right.

Obviously I was wrong. The American Family Association sent out an "Action Alert" by email denouncing Lowe's decision to "avoid the use of the term 'Christmas tree.'" As usual, the AFA claims this is an insult to Christians: "Lowe's evidently did not want to offend any non-Christians; therefore, they replaced 'Christmas tree' with 'family tree. Of course, if Christians are offended, that is evidently OK." Give me a break, you polemical jackasses. How in God's name are you actually "offended" by the fact that some large store is failing to make the logical link between small pine trees and Jesus Christ?

Maureen Rich, Lowe's spokeswoman, backtracked by calling the publication a "complete error" and a "breakdown in our creative process." Rich is lying, of course. Calling Christmas trees Christmas trees is not a function of "creativity" - if anything, the creativity involved was in coming up with a new name, not in misapplying an existing one. She added a preemptive defence for the catalog itself, which is called a "holiday catalog" rather than a Christmas catalog because it is intended to serve for all holidays between October and January.

Now, the fact that the Christmas tree has become a fixed point of the battle for Christmas is particularly interesting given that it's probably the only real aspect of our present holiday rituals that actually gets mentioned in the Bible. That's right, all you doubters: Jeremiah 10 speaks of the pagans cutting trees in the forest, bringing them home, and "adorn[ing them] with silver and gold. With nails and hammers they are fastened, that they may not totter." It's eery. In fairness, this is actually talking about the creation of idols by pagan societies, and this point is eagerly brought up by the Bible's eager defenders, like BibleInfo.com.

It's a legitimate point, and my argument here isn't that Christmas is a pagan holiday and Christians shouldn't celebrate it, although you can presumably find thousands of pages to that effect on the Web, some written by a minority of far-right Christian fundamentalists who think the King James Bible is the defining achievement of human civilization, and others written by an equally idiotic minority of neo-pagans who think the Catholic Church stole its religion wholesale from early European "old religions."

My real point is that Christians should think carefully about what part of Christmas they're willing to go to "war" to defend as "Christian." (I use war very loosely here, as do they; while "Gunrunner Pat" Robertson merrily uses Christian aid jets to help Liberian and Congolese warlords mine diamonds and buy AK-47s, the culture "war" in America involves a lot of ranting, a lot of condemnation, but no direct action to speak of. Hell, even Gandhi would be disappointed by what usually passes for evangelical "war"-fighting.)

In this case, we have religious groups claiming that Christianity is somehow threatened by the fact that Lowe's thinks trees aren't Christian. More broadly, though, we have Christians claiming that what's wrong with this country is the fact that people aren't willing to describe two and a half months of frantic consumerism -- most of which is conducted in the name of bourgeois icon "Santa Claus," about whom parents routinely lie to their young children -- as being "Christmas." Well, I say good for them. That's not "Christmas," at least not in any meaningful sense of what most evangelicals claim Christmas should be (i.e. reverence for the birth of Christ).

If Christians want Christmas to be about the celebration of the incarnation of the Lord in human form, then that's what they should make it about. It's really quite striking that so many Christians are so insecure and uncertain about their faith that they don't feel they would be able to celebrate Christmas without making sure everyone else in society is celebrating it along with them. I suggest that we let the vague new "Holiday Season" appropriate every aspect of modern consumerism that its proponents want it to. This doesn't make Christmas weaker: by contrast, it makes it stronger. The "Holiday Season" becomes defined by the selfish materialist obsessions of modern capitalism, in which the best way we can think of to show our love for other people is to shower them with unnecessary gifts. This makes our spiritual celebration of the Lord even more striking in its contrast. So I say let the evil secular humanists have their family trees. We never needed them anyways.

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