Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Don't need a weatherman.

By noon the day after Thanksgiving, our Christmas tree was up. By the end of that weekend, every surface in the house was covered in some sort of Christmas decoration (including three complete Nativities within sight of each other). Early Monday morning, we had a semi from Publix back up to the front door to unload pallets of flour, sugar, butter and eggs. A low-flying Cessna kicked out kilos of red and green sprinkles.

Christmas in our house is by no means a single day – in fact, it can hardly be contained in a single month.

And yet, even with all of this open and notorious holiday cheer under way, we have been left in peace. Not one single protester has picketed in our driveway. No socialist apparatchik in a Mao jacket has served us with papers demanding that we desist. I have gotten no nasty letters from Christopher Hitchens or Stephen Jay Gould. Neither Muslim nor Jewish nor Hindu advocacy groups have stopped round to demand that we give equal observance to any other holiday.

Indeed, when we hold our Christmas open house later this month, there will be Muslims, Jews and perhaps even a stray Hindu or two in attendance. I fully expect everyone present will – each according to his own tastes and relevant dietary constraints – enjoy the hot chocolate and Irish coffee, marvel at the talent of the singers, and enthusiastically devour some of the one hundred dozen or so cookies Herself will have baked by then.

None of these folks, it turns out, are bothered by my keeping Christmas, any more than I am angered by the fact that they don’t. (And they all know I’m always up for an invitation to Eid, Chanukah or Diwali.) This is so because we live in a nation of tremendous religious tolerance. Not to suggest there aren’t rare people of ill will, driven by religious zealotry to do evil.* That happens, even among Americans. But as these things are measured in the world, the various faiths get along pretty well here. Compare our occasional minor disruptions with the endless, seething to-and-fro of sectarian violence in places like the Indian subcontinent, swathes of the Middle East, much of Africa, and – in the not too distant past – Northern Ireland.

Now, Lord knows, I love to be outraged as much as the next guy – so long as the next guy is seriously peeved. Certainly, without a ready supply of dudgeon, this blog – like most – would be less fun to read and far less entertaining to write. But if you want me to be exorcised about “The War on Christmas,” you’re going to have to do two things:

First, you’re going to have to show me that it actually exists. Not with second- or third-hand anecdotes about how you heard from someone that they know someone whose boss made them doff their jingle bell suspenders. And anything related to you by Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity or Ann Coulter** is hereby deemed inadmissible. (I may have lost the damned election, but I can still set the rules of evidence on my own blog, by golly.) If there’s really a war going on, then you ought to have assaults of your very own to relate.

Second, even if you can show me that anyone is trying to make war on Christmas, you’re going to have to then prove to me that it makes a lick of difference in your life. Because it’s nothing to me if the city puts up a menorah next to the crèche – or bans the crèche altogether. I don’t give a rip if the public high school includes a Kwanza song in the “Winter Pageant.” My mail box can overflow with insipid greeting cards wishing me a “Happy Holiday Season.” None of that touches or can touch Christmas where I keep it: in my heart, in my home, in my church, with my family.

Robert’s Rule clearly states: Anyone can be surprised by the weather; only a fool is surprised by the climate. The corollary to that Rule is this: The weather doesn’t change the climate.

The fundamental cultural climate in this nation is still a tradition of broadest religious tolerance, not just on an institutional level, but also person-to-person. This individual religious tolerance is one of the most salient features of our American identity. While I might very well evangelize to you if you'll let me, I'll have no trouble being your friend or colleague – or party guest – even if you remain unconvinced, and, needless to say, vice-versa. Not only does this distinctly American characteristic remains intact, let's tell the truth here -- the American climate has been, is and will continue to be especially favorable to Christians such as I.

There are plenty of threats to individual rights that warrant our attention (viz. the right to travel; the right to be free from unreasonable searches). But there’s no war on Christmas until someone tries to jeopardize your right to celebrate the holiday. And no one has.

Finally, what’s most galling about all this is that there is plenty of real persecution of Christians around the world and all this whining about a fictional “war on Christmas” in a land still highly favorable to us belittles the struggle of those millions of Christians who really cannot worship in freedom and safety. It cheapens the sacrifice of Christian populations upon whom actual war is made. It dishonors today’s actual Christian martyrs – of whom there are still many being made.

There’s no question about the true meaning of Christmas. If it weren’t clear enough, Linus and Luke make it awfully plain. I’m at a loss to see how misplaced militancy and ginned up outrage over a non-existent “war on Christmas” do anything at all to spread that message.

*And the 9/11 attacks don’t count for this discussion. Although indisputably acts of religious terrorism (we’ll discuss Lawrence Wright’s seminal book on the subject soon) those attackers were not Americans, raised in the culture of broad and abiding religious tolerance that characterizes Americans. The Fort Hood shooting and the averted bombing of the tree lighting ceremony in Portland are more dicey propositions on those terms. But even the latter incident is not what folks mean by the “war on Christmas.”

** No more plausible than the threat of alien abduction, I think their blathering about a war on Christmas is nothing more than about the most knowing and cynical gambit for ratings and relevance I’ve ever heard.

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