Dr. Teresa Whitehurst
December 19, 2005
'Tis the Season to Be Wary: Christmas Wars are About Power, Not Christ
In the old days, cheerily saying "Happy Holidays" wouldn't get you into trouble. But today the ears of seething "Christian" warriors are cocked for that traditional greeting of goodwill, which they consider an anti-Christian affront. And they moment they hear those two little words, they're ready to go on the attack.
‘'Tis the season to be wary…
Prior to the radical right's takeover of America (which leaders like James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell modestly present as a goal rather than what it really is -- a done deal), Christians considered it in keeping with the American spirit of respecting other faiths to send "Happy Holidays" cards to non-Christian coworkers and neighbors, but such etiquette is now considered a sign of the card writer's weak faith, cowardice, or both. I can even remember when Christians thought it humorous rather than enraging when Jewish friends used the term, "Hanukkah bush" .
You'd better watch out, I'm telling you why…
By now in Bush's divisive America we know the drill: The onset of the Christmas season is our cue to start getting angry. "Is America a Christian nation, or not? Christmas and Christians are being attacked -- we'll soon be extinct! We must defeat the infidels!"
Fundamentalists are keen to drive home the idea that their version of Christianity is the only religion that governmental properties and institutions must "respect" by broadcasting and displaying the same words, labels, and decorations that churches use. The American tradition of separation of church and state is now reframed as a tragic mistake (or sinful legacy) that must be rectified at once.
God rest ye angry gentlemen…
Not every Christian falls for this belligerent approach to Christmas, as noted above, but I am sad to report that even the most tolerant conservatives I know have started parroting the lines they hear and read every day: "It's a shame we're not even allowed to say 'Merry Christmas' anymore" , "Christianity is threatened because now you can't call the tree downtown a 'Christmas tree'," and 'It's ridiculous that I have to think before I send out Christmas cards -- why should I have to send 'Happy Holidays' cards to people who might be Jewish or atheist? After all, I have a duty to share my faith…...."
Which Christians are Soldiers in the Christmas Wars?
It's Beginning to Feel a Lot Like Coercion
If this sounds more like power politics and mob psychology than anything even remotely related to Christ, that's because it is. And it's getting worse, more vocal, and more vaguely threatening.
But a backlash, only in its infancy, seems to be growing even in the reddest states.
Yesterday at a red light I noticed a pickup truck with large NRA stickers, a bumper-sticker reading "Friends Don't Let Friends Vote Democrat," and a huge hand-painted sign saying, "Honk to Say 'Merry CHRIST-mas!!'" I heard a short beep from the car bearing a W sticker directly behind the truck, but what happened next (or, perhaps more accurately, what didn't happen) was illuminating.
Immediately after the ordered honk, a tense silence seemed to grip everyone in the surrounding cars, as suddenly all eyes were focused straight ahead. People stopped talking and seemed very interested in watching the red light for any sign of change. It's worth noting that non-Christians are scarce in this GOP-dominated Pat Robertson area, so these non-honkers were in all likelihood conservative Christians.
The pressure to conform, to say what the pickup truck man wanted us to say, and in the way he wanted us to say it, put a chill on what had been a typical December weekday in traffic. It seemed an eternity until the light turned green, when those who'd refused to prove our fundamentalism and Christmas-war spirit by obeying the truck man were finally allowed to go about our business.
Yet I'm not naïve -- the Christmas wars are here to stay for the time being. Angry Christian soldiers make this season miserable for everyone, for in their combat frenzy they've forgotten what Christ himself had to say about showy public displays of faith.
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Dr. Teresa Whitehurst, clinical psychologist and author of Jesus on Parenting: 10 Essential Principles that Will Transform Your Family, writes about the abuse of faith and power by the radical right. Invite or suggest her as a talk show guest. firstname.lastname@example.org.