That’s what the “War on Christmas” is all about, Charlie Brown

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web-charlie-group-stampThe Christian Right spent much of the Christmas season complaining about a “War on Christmas,” symbolized by everything from the design of the Starbucks coffee cup to the way holiday greetings are now exchanged in the US. I disagree with these religious brethren of mine on almost everything, but I did go through the Christmas season paying close attention to see if there might be any validity to their concerns.

My reading is that it is definitely true that the public version of the Christmas season felt a little different this year, based on my limited, very urban experiences in Atlanta and New York.

–The New York shop windows were spectacular, but with one exception the ones I saw lacked any reference to the Christian story of the birth of Jesus. The exception was Macy’s, which featured the “Charlie Brown Christmas” special, now on its 50th anniversary. The windows retold the story of that unforgettable little movie, which includes explicit Christian content.

–Store employees did tend to say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” This seemed more pronounced this year than in former years.

–Radio stations promising all Christmas music all the time seemed to play far more of the silly, romantic, or lonely-heart Christmas music than the old Christmas carols. Much of this non-religious music is truly wretched.

So, let’s grant that the public observance of Christmas is changing in the United States, becoming less Christian and more neutral or secular.

That leaves two questions: Why is it changing, and how should Christians respond?

I think it is changing primarily out of respect for the real religious diversity of our country. This diversity is especially obvious in urban areas. If your neighbors, customers, or fellow citizens are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, spiritual-but-not-religious, and every kind of Christian and post-Christian, this is relevant to how one handles the Christmas season.

Businesses seek not to drive away their customers, for obvious reasons. Government officials must serve the entire community and are constrained by the First Amendment. And polite people try not to offend their neighbors. For all of these reasons, the explicitly Christian content of the Christmas season gets downplayed.

So how should serious Christians respond to this development?

We can choose to respond with anger and outrage. We can join the Christian Right in weaving this particular development into their broader narrative of cultural decline and our national falling away from the God of our fathers. We can blame political correctness, always a ripe target. We can demand a return of Christmas like it used to be in an America like it used to be. And then when our non-Christian neighbors get offended we can count it as part of the cost of discipleship. After all, Jesus said we would be persecuted for our faith. Etcetera ad nauseum.

Or we can acknowledge that we live in a very different kind of society than, say, 1950s America, and respond both humbly and strategically.

We can recognize that one major reason America is increasingly post-Christian is because we Christians have lost or driven away many of our own adherents. Those losses are on us. Our fault.

We can acknowledge that immigration has also brought in increasing numbers of people of other faiths, and that this reality of cultural religious diversity is not likely to change.

We can look to other periods in history and other contexts in which Christians were a minority rather than a majority in the cultures in which they lived. Oftentimes Christianity was actually healthier.

And we can seek to share our faith with others in a loving way that might actually be attractive in 2015 America.

So this “War on Christmas” thing is not really about Christmas at all. It’s about Christians figuring out how to accept declining cultural power while still bearing witness to our faith in a country that, overall, no longer accepts the privileging of Christians and Christianity in the public square.

  • Phil

    Well said. I could not agree more that we live in an ever changing world, one that we must adapt to without sacrificing our beliefs. But our beliefs must always be open to interpretation within the context of our current world. Well said.

  • Larry

    The whole idea of the “War on Christmas” is because some Christians can’t deal with the idea of showing a modicum of respect for beliefs besides their own.

    If one is offended by “Happy Holidays” because it does not deign to show sufficient appreciation to your Christian religious faith, well eff them. If not dominating the public sphere is some kind of attack on your religious belief, your religious belief is pretty nasty and unworthy of respect.

  • David Gushee,

    “Those losses are on us. Our fault.”

    Wrong. Christians are behaving better than ever. No more pogroms, no KKK rallies, lynchings or witch burnings (in America anyway) and far more tolerance of Jews and others despite the ravings of the Paul’s silly Letters (“Avoid them!” – Romans 16:16).
    The failure of Christianity is not because Pat Robertson, Kim Davis or Sarah Palin – although they did a lot of damage. Christianity is failing because of the internet. We can search Holy Books instantly even if we don’t own them – fully translated.

    And you know what we are learning? Religion is something we don’t have to take on faith.

    “Execute my enemies in front of me” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

    It is rotten and UNTRUE.

  • David,

    You really must not blame Christians for having to defend this horrific god:

    “As you approach a town to attack it, first offer its people terms for peace.
    If they accept your terms and open the gates to you, then all the people inside will serve you as slaves” – Yahweh (Deuteronomy 20:10)

    It is dying of its own ridiculousness.

  • The Ancient Mariner

    “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.” –Johnny Cash

    . . . do you think the Man in Black should have been arrested for murder?

  • Atheist Max has a good point, the concept of god or gods in the Old Testament
    is not exactly the God of Jesus of Nazareth. While Jesus was part of the time
    he never allowed the “war” god the god of intolerance to dominate his ministry.
    He was a “problem” to both the Jew and Roman. I do not think that Jesus would
    be offended with “Happy Holidays.” The “war god” of his time was always met
    with a story of tolerance or at least one that confronted the “status seekers” of
    the time. As he often said; “You have heard it said, but I say unto you”…………
    I keep Christ in Christmas but others have a right to their own beliefs and I am
    not out to force mine on theirs or accept theirs as a substitute .

  • larry

    Do you think the narrator of Folsom County Blues was meant to be idolized?

    Do you think people who talk of eternal damnation, or “responsibility” (of others, never themselves) really understand the point of Johnny Cash’s song?

  • David Lloyd-Jones

    “Wrong. Christians are behaving better than ever.”

    I dunno Max. They’ve gone from mildly annoying pieties to operating their own political party. This is threatening us with Donald Trump, “Ted” Cruz, “Cat Scratch Fever” Huckabee, and a bunch of others of competing religiosity.

    Wouldn’t you rather have the street corner “Repent, the end is near!” folks back?

    -dlj.

  • Fran

    This Christian does not celebrate Christmas because of its pagan origins and traditions, it was not celebrated by Jesus nor the first-century Christians, and is a man-made and commercialized tradition.

    My newspaper every Christmas states in the almanac that “on December 25, A.D. 336, the first recorded celebration of Christmas on December 25 took place in Rome.” This was over 300 years after Jesus DIED!

    Besides that, a lie is promoted in the name of Jesus by way of Santa Claus, who does not exist and had nothing to do with Jesus’ birth (which date is not supplied in the Bible). The shepherds provided Jesus with NO gifts at all (Luke 2:8-20) at the manger. The wise men or astrologers provided Jesus later on at his home with gifts since they believed him to be the future king of the Jews (Matthew 2:1, 2, 9-11).

    This Christian is all for the war against Christmas, since it is a human tradition not approved by God, nor his son, Jesus.

  • Jeff

    I think Rev. gushes is just now noticing something that has been true for 20 years or more. The Macy’s in Pittsburgh (closed this year) always had decorated windows and none of them were explicitly about the birth of Christ. Our local station that does 24 hr a day Christmas music starting on Thanksgiving has always played mostly secular Christmas music. In fact, they seemed to have played a little more religious carols this year. Christians, at least in Christian media, have been complaining about “Happy Holidays” as a greeting since the 80’s. And from what I understand, it was because they wanted to be inclusive of Jewish customers. Does anyone remember any Christmas specials, other than Charlie Brown, that mention Jesus? I don’t think anything has changed except the religious right has become more oversensitive. I saw just as many nativities in yards this year as I ever have. Christmas eve services still seem well attended.
    I had a number of people wish me Merry…

  • David Lloyd-Jones

    Max,

    If you want to post another of your long list of canned Bible horrors, wouldja just keep me out of it please. Just post your screed, and don’t pretend you’re answering anything of mine, OK?

    -dlj.

  • Ben in oakland

    The Christian Right always talks a good game, but always get pulled up by the projection of their hypocrisy on to others.

    This whole war on Christmas things is a great example.

    There is only ONE politically correct way to wish people happiness for the season. You must say merry Christmas, no ,after what your feelings on the matter.