The Right’s Phony War on Christmas

What’s in a greeting?

With Ramadan, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice and Christmas all going on this time of year, one would think that an all-inclusive seasonal greeting emblematic of our nation’s religious diversity would be embraced by us all with two simple words — happy holidays.

However, the season’s greeting is the new chapter in the culture war spearheaded by what the Christian Right calls the “War on Christmas.”

In praising Fox News Channel’s John Gibson’s new book The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday is Worse Than You Thought, the publisher writes:

Christmas has been declared politically incorrect, and the situation is much worse than you realize. … At first it was just nativity scenes in the town square and other overtly Christian symbols. But now the secular militants have expanded their war on Christmas to go after things regarded by most Americans — and even by the Supreme Court — as innocent symbols of the federal holiday that is Christmas. You can’t say ‘Merry Christmas’ at a school or office anymore; only ‘Happy Holidays’ is acceptable. No more caroling in public. Friendship trees instead of Christmas trees. No more Santa Claus, treetop stars, wreaths, Christmas music — even instrumental versions! — or school performances of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Even the colors red and green are under attack.

… now members of the Religious Right want more commercialism for Christ, thus extolling materialism as piety as we see these churches’ radical shift from the pew to the marketplace.

Joining Gibson in the hunt for the “Christian haters” and “professional atheists” are the combined forces of the Catholic League, American Family Association, and Bill O’Reilly — the Fox News anchor who on his show has talked up boycotts of retailers for not using the words “Merry Christmas.”

Using its political and economic clout to cripple stores for not showing commercial deference solely to Christmas, the Christian Right desecrates the character of our multicultural holiday season.

In the 1970s, evangelical Christians were so outraged by the secularization and commercialism of Christmas that they were protesting to “put Christ back into Christmas.” But now members of the Religious Right want more commercialism for Christ, thus extolling materialism as piety as we see these churches’ radical shift from the pew to the marketplace.

The American Family Association this holiday season is boycotting Target for using “Happy Holidays” in its advertising. The Catholic League is boycotting Wal-Mart, and Bill O’Reilly is continuing to promote his “Christmas Under Siege” campaign that polices stores that use the phrase “Happy Holidays.” And some of the most disturbing rhetoric behind these campaigns uses “protecting Christmas” as an excuse to attack other people of faith as “Christian-haters.”

… now [the Religious Right] want more commercialism for Christ, thus extolling materialism as piety as we see these churches’ radical shift from the pew to the marketplace.

Last year, William Donahue of the Catholic League told MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough that the problem is “secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.”

Last December, Pat Robertson said on his “700 Club” television show that the problem is Muslims. “If people don’t like America and the traditions that made America great, let them go to Saudi Arabia, let them go to Pakistan. Yeah, they can go to Sudan and find a wonderful Muslim holiday.”

And O’Reilly told Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto last year that the “money man” behind the “war on Christmas” is a secular Jew. “Secular progressives are driving this movement,” O’Reilly said. “They don’t want [Christmas] as a federal holiday, they don’t want any message of spirituality or Judeo-Christian tradition because that stands in the way of gay marriage, legalized drugs, euthanasia, all of the greatest hits on the secular progressive play card. If they can succeed in getting religion out of the public arena …”

Cavuto interrupted and asked, “Who’s they?” O’Reilly responded, “George Soros. He’s the moneyman behind it. It’s a philosophy. Go on the web sites and look at it. It’s there. It’s a secular progressive.”

However, secular progressives and Jews have never been the folks trying to abolish Christmas. Instead, it was once an extreme group of Protestants — yes, the Puritans. With the date of December 25 deriving from the Saturnalia, the Roman heathen’s wintertime celebration, and with the date found nowhere in the bible stating it as the birthday of Jesus, the Puritan Parliament banned Christmas from 1659 until 1681.

As a Christian, I know that the central message of the birth of Christ is the embrace and celebration of human differences and diversity.

And many mega-churches made up of members of the Christian Right will not be holding worship services this year because Christmas falls on a Sunday. Willow Creek in South Barrington, Ill., for example, which draws 20,000 on a typical Sunday, has given out DVDs for its parishioners to listen to instead of coming together to worship.

When so many congregations of the Religious Right are pulling away from religious observance of Christmas specifically to facilitate more time for secular family fun, it’s clear that the attacks on Walmart and Target in this context have little to do with reverence for Christ’s birth. They have far more much to do with the United States’ growing religious pluralism, and they are a backlash against tolerance itself.

As a Christian, I know that the central message of the birth of Christ is the embrace and celebration of human differences and diversity. And it is with this message that I know all people — religious and non-religious, straight and queer, black and white — can be included to enjoy and to celebrate and to acknowledge this season with one simple greeting.

Happy Holidays.

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