Dispatches from the Creation Wars

I’m not the only one who has been poking holes in this absurd “war on Christmas” meme and I thought I’d point you to some other folks doing the same thing. Robert Parry has an essay at Consortium News that I think nails the fact that the crusade to convince Christians that they are under attack, both in this specific area and in many others, is orchestrated and intentional and part of a larger political strategy:

The success of the American Right in extracting a “war on Christmas” out of a few well-meaning gestures to non-Christians, such as using the greeting “Happy Holidays,” is a testament to the investment conservatives have made in media over three decades.

With their vertically integrated media apparatus – from newspapers and magazines, to TV and radio, to books and the Internet – the Right now can take a few scattered anecdotes on almost any topic and heat them up into a hot-button issue.

This “perception management” capability is now so powerful that even the most absurd notions can be made convincing to millions of Americans, such as the idea that despite the ubiquitous Christmas displays throughout the United States – from before Thanksgiving to after Dec. 25 – Christmas is under assault.

More important, but equally as accurate in my view, is his understanding of why such campaigns take place: because social conservatives have learned the power of victimhood. Claiming victim status confers power on a group and helps insulate them from criticism:

While conservative commentators often accuse African-Americans and other minorities of wallowing in their “victimhood,” the Right’s media has learned the political power that comes from letting white men, for instance, take on the mantle of “victim.”

In the 1990s, a powerful conservative theme was the complaint against “political correctness,” which often came down to universities and other institutions applying clumsy restrictions against young white men shouting the n-word at African-Americans or using other offensive language.

Though American white men are arguably the most privileged group on earth, the “political correctness” theme allowed them to bathe in the self-pity of their “victimhood.” It allowed them to get righteous and angry against their supposed persecutors.

And yes, I fully recognize that this same dynamic plays itself out on the left in many different ways. Jacob Sollum has a similar message at Hit and Run. While acknowledging the pointlessness of filing lawsuits against a creche in a city park, he nonetheless wonders at this passionate desire for victimhood:

I too can enjoy the pretty lights without believing Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God, and I have no objection to displays that are public in the sense of being visible to passers-by (aside from aesthetic complaints about some of the tackier tableaux). I’d just prefer that the government not pay for and sponsor displays celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ (or the miracle of Chanukah, or whatever it is that Kwanzaa is supposed to mark). I’m not making a constitutional argument; I just don’t think it’s an appropriate use of public resources, because it’s unnecessary, it forces one group of people to subsidize another’s religious celebration, and it implies government endorsement of Christianity.

Again, I’m not saying this is tantamount to an establishment of religion and therefore unconstitutional–just that it’s the sort of thing the government should not be involved with. Removing creches from city hall lawns and courthouse staircases would leave untouched the vast majority of public Christmas celebrations, since it would have no impact on how individuals, families, businesses, and private organizations choose to mark the holiday.

Given all the other things the government does that it should not do, I can’t get as worked up about this issue as I used to. By the same token, I don’t quite understand the passion on the other side. The claim to victim status of people like John Gibson and Catholic League President William Donohue–who talks as if Christmas is on the verge of disappearing even while declaring that 96 percent of Americans celebrate it–seems patently ridiculous to me. How do Christians manage to be persecuted in an overwhelmingly Christian country?

Lastly, this column from a very surprising source – Moral Majority co-founder Cal Thomas – has some very harsh words for the War on Christmas crusaders:

The effort by some cable TV hosts and ministers to force commercial establishments into wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas” might be more objectionable to the One who is the reason for the season than the “Happy Holidays” mantra required by some store managers.

I have never understood why so many Christians feel the need to see and hear “Merry Christmas” proclaimed to them at stores by people who may not believe its central message. While TV personalities, junk mail letters and some of the ordained bemoan the increasing secularization of culture; perhaps some teaching might be helpful from the One in whose behalf they claim to speak.

Jesus – the real one, not the Republican-conservative-Democrat-liberal one made in the image of today’s fractured political culture – said His kingdom is not of this world. Why, then, are so many who claim to speak for Him demanding that this earthly kingdom celebrate Him and His Kingdom?…

I do not care if a mall employee wishes me a “Merry Christmas,” or not, or if mall managers favor snowpersons over manger scenes, or erect trees they call “holiday” and not “Christmas.” It isn’t about their observing this event, giving us a “religious rush” and creating a false sense of security that culture is better than it is. It is about people who believe in this historic event observing it in a way that recalls the birth of the Savior of the world (not the savior of the bottom line): silently, wondrously and worshipfully.

The answer, Cal, is that it suits their political and psychological needs at this moment. We live in a culture that in many ways is defined by victimhood. Everyone is a victim of something, to a ridiculous degree (I’ve always laughed at comedian John Wing’s line: “I’m part of a group called Adult Children of Functional Families. See, our parents didn’t beat us and they weren’t alcoholics or otherwise destructive, and frankly it left us feeling pretty left out of the mainstream of society. It really messed us up.”). But it’s really nice to see someone from the religious right, as Thomas surely is, recognize the hollowness of this phony crusade.


  1. #1 Chance
    December 16, 2005

    I’m actually impressed with Cal Thomas here and that is saying alot considering what I usually think of his writings.

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    December 16, 2005

    Chance wrote:

    I’m actually impressed with Cal Thomas here and that is saying alot considering what I usually think of his writings.

    Yeah, that’s exactly what I thought when I read it. I generally find Cal Thomas to be completely out to lunch, but here I think he’s dead on.

  3. #3 Bill Snedden
    December 16, 2005

    Even a blind squirrel finds a nut occasionally. And even though that metaphor likens Thomas to a squirrel rather than a nut, it’s still apropos in re: this particular article…

  4. #4 Pieter B
    December 16, 2005

    Or as we say on another message board I frequent, Blind Pig Severely Injured By Falling Acorns

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