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.