Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Russ Douthat on the War on Christmas

Russ Douthat of The Atlantic is guest blogging at Andrew Sullivan’s place and has an interesting post about the “War on Christmas”. He writes:

the only thing more annoying than the killjoys who want to keep creches off town greens is listening to Bill O’Reilly or John Gibson rant about how it’s all part of an insidious plot, cooked up in some secret lair where Barry Lynn, John Shelby Spong and the editorial board of the New York Times gather to guzzle eggnog and plan the destruction of all that is good and holy. To the extent that the real meaning (or the “original intent,” if you will) of the season has suffered serious damage, the PC nonsense is just a flesh wound – the real de-Christianization of Christmas is being carried out, as it has been for some time, by the frenetic pace of modern life, and the crassifying tendencies of commerce. I’m all for public acknowledgment of the holiday, and all against the fashionable mult-culti silliness that’s more comfortable talking up minor Jewish holidays and defunct pagan observances than admitting that we’re mainly celebrating Christ’s birth at this time of year. But what does it say about the state of American Christianity that we’re being asked to rise in righteous fury over the number of references to Christmas on Wal-Mart’s website?…

The New Yorker is just a microcosm, but the larger reality is that while there isn’t a war against Christmas, there is a significant chunk of this country – the most educated chunk, the chunk that runs the high-minded magazines and writes for the big newspapers and makes most of the movies (the sudden interest in the Christian market notwithstanding) and teaches at the major universities and generally controls the commanding heights of the culture – that doesn’t much care for Christianity, at least if it’s practiced seriously and its basic dogmas are left intact. This reality is what drives the siege mentality among many Christians, and the popularity of O’Reilly-style conspiracy theorizing – the awareness that our majority-Christian country is saddled, for some reason, with an elite that approaches religious belief with a mix of bemusement, ignorance, and fear.

Of course the other side, the secular elite, feels under siege as well – they’re in the minority, they don’t control the the government, they thought we were past all that Christianity stuff, and they can’t quite understand why a twenty-first century educated class should have to put up with a bunch of benighted yahoos who buy tickets to The Passion of the Christ and elect Presidents like George W. Bush. (The Europeans don’t have to deal with this kind of nonsense, after all . . .) So everybody feels disempowered, and everybody has a point – which is why the Christmas wars are fake, but the culture war is real.

Hard to disagree with any of that.


  1. #1 Jim Ramsey
    December 20, 2005

    IMHO, Christianity does a lot of damage to itself.

    The public image of Christianity as purveyed by Dobson and Robertson and Falwell, etc., etc. is ignorant, judgemental, and hateful.

    Equating Christian piety to how some sales clerk in a retail store greets you is just plain crazy.

  2. #2 spyder
    December 20, 2005

    While living in the sugarland of sweet visions that represent how the world could be if those of us on the very far leftish anarcho-radicalist realm had our way, it would be so very nice if just once in a while we were able to coalesce political power, especially over capitalist institutions, to free us from zealots demanding we kow tow to their religious beliefs. However when one returns to the non-dreamtime realities of daily life in this country, we realize we never had, and never will have, such power no matter how the other side frames their discourse.

  3. #3 moioci
    December 21, 2005

    I’m gonna disagree with some of that, specifically:

    “…the larger reality is that … there is a significant chunk of this country – [the cultural elite] – that doesn’t much care for Christianity, at least if it’s practiced seriously and its basic dogmas are left intact.”

    Speaking as a fairly regular churchgoer whose views typically align with those of the so-called cultural elite, I think Douthat, and by extension those in the “Christianity under siege” community, seriously misunderstand how they are perceived. There is impatience with the gullibility of those who are taken in by such transparent buffoons as Bill O’Reilly, Pat Robertson, and George W. Bush. There is disgust with the hypocritical sanctimony that is all too often the public face of the “Religious Right.” There is bemusement, sure, when you get cut off in traffic by a car with a bumper sticker proclaiming, “Christians aren’t perfect — just forgiven.” There is horror and disbelief at those who do not appreciate what a blessing we have in the wall of separation between church and state. And there is annoyance with the missionary zeal that amounts to intolerance with anyone else’s brand of spirituality.

    With regard to the serious practice of Christianity’s basic dogmas, well, if more Christians lived a life of humility, peacemaking, and genuine charity, I think even the jaded cultural elite would stand in awe.

  4. #4 moioci
    December 21, 2005

    Or were you being sarcastic? Maybe we need an emoticon for sarcasm, something like ,:-!

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