Dispatches from the Creation Wars

The War on Christmas and the Rebel Pose

I and some of my readers have mused at what motivates all of this “War on Christmas” nonsense. I think there are several answers. For the Jerry Falwells, Matthew Stavers and Bill O’Reillys of the world, the answer, I have no doubt, is pure demagoguery – they make money by exploiting these absurd emotional issues and making people angry or scared about them. That’s what keeps the donations flowing in, a convenient enemy. Why is it so easily accepted by so many, though? Well there I think there are several things at work.

First, bear in mind that Christianity is a religion that began as a result of persecution and martyrdom. Some Christians view a life of persecution as a virtuous life, and if there is no real persecution then you must invent some. Indeed, Jesus himself warned his followers to expect persecution and even to embrace it as a sign that they were on the right path; and again, where one expects something one frequently will find it even if they have to create it themselves. This is a constant theme in the New Testament, beginning with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed [are] they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when [men] shall revile you, and persecute [you], and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great [is] your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)

Paul and Peter both echo this sentiment in multiple places. At the time and for the audience they wrote, of course, there was real and genuine persecution. And that remains true today in many places around the world, especially in some Islamic countries and, most particularly, in China. But in the United States? Patently absurd. As Sandefur put it so eloquently the other day:

Today, under this “reign of terror,” Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and believers in other faiths are freer to practice their faiths than they have been in any nation, or in any era in human history. Religious citizens are free to pray, preach, proselytize, and publish, anywhere they wish onany subject they wish, without government interference. Nobody is threatening these liberties. Nobody in the American government is confiscating bibles, censoring religious publications, or illegalizing marriages (well, I guess there’s one group that’s out there illegalizing marriages…), the way common law England persecuted Catholics. Nobody is putting people on trial for their religious beliefs, arresting and torturing dissenters, proscribing religious enemies, the way Catholic nations once persecuted Protestants. No American official is arresting preachers and nationalizing church property the way Communist governments have done to religious groups throughout the twentieth century…. For Mr. Land to use the phrase “reign of terror” for a people and a time that enjoy greater religious liberty than any other people and time have ever had, is not only an utterly irrational exaggeration, but also a profound insult to those of Mr. Land’s predecessors who experienced and still experience genuine persecution.

But I think there may be a slightly less sophisticated reason why this phony claim of persecution is so readily accepted in some circles: because it’s cool to be a rebel. There is a certain cache` in posing as the brave rebel in the face of a hostile culture. Thus, we have the Worldnutdaily printing a Pat Boone column telling its readers to “be bold, use the C-word in public.” There’s an emotional charge in that. If you say Merry Christmas, you’re not just mouthing the words that you’re expected to say, you’re being bold to say the allegedly taboo word. Of course, anyone walking around in public during this season knows how ridiculous that allegation is after being wished a Merry Christmas 50 times an hour all day long. So this persecution, this wall of orthodoxy that one is so bravely (one thinks) standing up to must be invented, as Pat himself does:

None but the most alienated, even bigoted, would deny a nation of predominately Christian people the happy freedom of expressing joy and good wishes during what’s always been the happiest season of our year.

But of course, this is all moonshine. No one has ever denied Christian people the happy freedom of expressing joy and good wishes during this season or any other. Christian people are free to say “Merry Christmas” to anyone they wish. Indeed, non-Christian people are free to say “Merry Christmas” if they wish, and I do so several times every day this time of year. So I think at least some people grab onto all this “War on Christmas” nonsense because it gives them the chance to pose, in their own mind at least, as a rebel.


  1. #2 jpf
    December 24, 2005

    crap. forgot a quotation mark… Christian Underground

  2. #3 Treban
    December 24, 2005

    You mean no one in jack-boots is going to break down my door and burn down my christmas tree? Oh wait, they’re probably going to arrest me for disagreeing with the presidente’ – silly me.

  3. #4 TikiHead
    December 24, 2005

    Simple response to Pat Boone’s ‘brave’ use of the ‘C’ word: ‘Happy Hannukkuh(sp?)!’ – then glare at him, daring him to respond with anything but a conciliatory gesture.

  4. #5 Matthew
    December 24, 2005

    Henry Ford thought that there weren’t a lot of christmas cards that talked about jesus anymore because the Jews owned the christmas card companies and were intentionally leaving jesus off.

  5. #6 Miriam Burstein
    December 24, 2005

    This reminds me of John Shelton Reed’s sociological analysis of the Ritualist movement in the Victorian CofE, Glorious Battle: The Cultural Politics of Victorian Anglo-Catholicism. In a nutshell, Reed argues that the Anglo-Catholic movement was a “counter-culture,” one that sought and fed off persecution (and it was persecuted, both illegally and legally), until it finally became part of everyday Anglicanism at the end of the nineteenth century.

  6. #7 Steve Reuland
    December 24, 2005

    None but the most alienated, even bigoted, would deny a nation of predominately Christian people the happy freedom of expressing joy and good wishes during what’s always been the happiest season of our year.

    It’s all moot, since we don’t have this problem. These good “Christians” are expressing something very much different from joy and good wishes.

  7. #8 Dan
    December 24, 2005

    Indeed, non-Christian people are free to say “Merry Christmas” if they wish, and I do so several times every day this time of year.

    Yes, you’re quite the rebel, Ed. You old reactionary, you.

    Merry Christmas, my friend, to you and yours. Be happy and safe.

  8. #9 oolong
    December 25, 2005

    A very Nietzschean analysis, Ed. I can’t remember the quote exactly, but in the “Genealogy of Morals” he writes that “Christianity (or slave morality) needs a hostile environment to function, it’s action is fundamentally reaction.” Thus, in an environment where one’s original enemies no longer exist (the Romans, etc), you must create a new one.

  9. #10 spyder
    December 25, 2005

    I also get the sense, especially in their battles with ID and intellectualism in general, that some of these rebellious types are more than a little concerned that an educated and enlightened electorate might happen to pay attention to more accurate renderings of the history of the Christian mythos. As Gary Leupp points out in his Happy Birthday Mithras essay:


  10. #11 Andrea
    December 27, 2005

    I don’t know how you expect people to remember to celebrate the birth of Christ if the WalMart greeter says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

    Since the Christians seem to be the only ones in a snit about this, the solution is to make all Christians wear a cross on their person at all times. That way, we’d all know who needs validation.

  11. #12 KeithB
    December 30, 2005

    Just to put a stake in it, I found this quote by Jim Emerson in an otherwise un-related article on Roger Ebert’s review site:
    “Fox’s unilaterally waged “War on Christmas” (it was really more like a delcaration of faith-based economic sanctions than an all-out retail-religious Crusade) has been put away until next year, when they will again resurrect it for the purpose of cynically pimping baby Jesus to help sell more consumer products. ”


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