The War on Christmas …

I suppose that I should be making more positive posts today, but considering that Christmas is one day where I’m around early and don’t have a lot of other things to do I think I might as well just go ahead and talk about what I want to talk about, whether positive, uplifting posts or bitter rants. This one might be more on the ranty side.

There’s been a lot of talk for a lot of years around the “War on Christmas”, and Greta Christina has reposted one of her older posts about it, on what Christmas means to her, which starts with a discussion on the “War on Christmas”:

Among all the traditions of the holiday season, one that’s becoming increasingly familiar is the War on the Supposed War On Christmas. In this tradition — one that dates back to the sweet olden days of overt anti-Semitism — the Christian Right foams at the mouth about the fact that not everyone has the same meaning of Christmas that they do, and works themselves into a dither about things like store clerks politely recognizing that not everyone is a Christian by saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Because in the mind of the Christian Right, it somehow disrespects their faith and impinges on their religious freedom to share a country with people who feel and act differently than they do.

Okay. Insert rant here about how the Christian Right isn’t actually interested in religious freedom and respect for their faith. They’re trying to establish a theocracy. They don’t care about religious and cultural plurality. They don’t care about the fact that winter holidays mean different things to different people, and that different people celebrate different ones and in different ways. They don’t care about the fact that not everyone in the country is Christian, that lots of people who do call themselves Christian are actually pretty secular in both their everyday life and their celebration of the winter holidays.

No, scratch that. They do care about it. They think it’s bad.

Richard Carrier also gets into the act:

First, Craig acts like he doesn’t know (?) that many atheists actually celebrate Christmas. It is not for them “a religious sham,” as Craig claims, but a fun secular holiday entirely based on dead pagan religions. There are no Christmas trees, or day of gift-giving, or flying reindeer porting elves named Santa Clause, or mistletoe, or commands to go caroling, or to gather family on the 25th of December, anywhere in the Bible; in fact, the Bible doesn’t even say Jesus was born in Winter (and indeed Luke’s narrative renders that impossible), whereas the 25th of December was chosen to perpetuate pagan worship of the return of the sun from its wane. In short, there is literally nothing Christian about Christmas. Atheists figured this out decades ago. We’ve been celebrating it as a secular family holiday based on cheer and giving–for quite some time now.

Carrier is, in fact, actually going after Christmas here, by denying that the traditional Christmas celebrations are, in fact, not religious at all, using the rather weak argument that those traditions aren’t in the Bible. He uses this to make the very bold declaration that there is nothing Christian about Christmas, at which point I think we can suppose that Christmas should be considered a totally secular holiday that no one should worry about celebrating, and fairly arrogantly declaring that atheists figured it out decades ago. The implication being that Christmas is not, in fact, associated with Christianity at all.

So, then, no one should have a problem with a Christmas tree being called a Christmas tree, or ask that it be called a “Holiday Tree”. Or, from the same link, change the term “Christmas” to “giving” in an ad for, well, Christmas presents.

A Christian Prime Minister should never have to wonder whether he should call a Christmas wreath a Christmas wreath. Right?

Perhaps there have been many atheists who have recognized that Christmas also has a secular meaning and association in society, meaning that even those who are not Christians can accept and participate in the less directly religious traditions without having to worry about excluding people or promoting Christianity. Many if not most Christians agree with that. However, it does seem like there are a number of people, from the links above, who don’t understand that, and it is those people that the complaints about a “War on Christmas” are aimed at.

Carrier says that there is literally nothing Christian about Christmas, but this isn’t true … at least, to Christians. For Christians, even someone who is relatively loose about his Christianity like me, Christmas does, at least, have an underlying religious component, and it is fairly clear that its importance in Western culture is due in large part to that association. To deny that is, frankly, insulting. However, that Christmas has grown beyond a simple religious holiday and into a more general holiday is undeniable, and since that’s the case everyone can participate and take their own meaning from it without worrying about insulting or excluding anyone. (Note that this does not include flouting Christmas traditions, like insisting on celebrating “Saturnalia” even though they don’t actually belief in the religion that spawned that. That comes across as mocking, not as taking meaning where you find it).

Anyway, why this is important is that understanding this reveals Greta Christina’s comments as being a bit of a strawman. It’s nice to be able to point to some amorphous “Christian Right”, grab some of their extreme statements, and use that to claim that they want everyone to become Christian and that the worries over a “War on Christmas” are, in fact, just reflections of that. It may be true of those that she’d consider the “Christian Right”, but in doing so it minimizes the real concerns of those who might feel that things like we see in the links above really do constitute an attack on their religion, particularly with the idea that if you associate anything with Christianity it’s somehow bad and offensive and insulting to those who aren’t of that religion, even if the whole things started from that tradition. It also risks conflating different arguments into one and then building an overall view that doesn’t reflect anything anyone believes.

So let’s start by teasing out the different arguments, and let’s start with the concerns of the secularization of Christmas. For almost all Christians, this isn’t aimed at people of other religions at all, but is instead aimed at Christians. Vanishingly few Christians think that Jews or Hindus should celebrate the True Meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus, more than they do, or make that a key part of their Christmas celebrations. What most lament, however, is the fact that the secular traditions tend to overwhelm the religious ones for most Christians; we spend far too much time thinking about the parties and gifts and shopping and the like and not enough thinking about Jesus. As Christians, we should consider the religious meaning paramount, and we don’t seem to … and it seems to be getting worse and worse. At the extreme end, you’d get Christians wanting the secular aspects to be downplayed so that the religious ones can stand out for Christians, so that Christmas isn’t as big a secular holiday in our society so that Christians can focus on the religious aspect. Since that’s not happening, most Christians who care about this just wish that we had more time and more ability to make the religious part more central to the celebrations for us … something that the links above make difficult.

So that’s one part, and the part that’s aimed at bringing more religion into the holiday, which is the part that you can use to link to any idea of theocracy. The other concern is about forcing the Christian idea out of the culture entirely. Few Christians get too upset about being wished “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”, at least not in and of itself. What they get upset about is the idea that people are doing that because it is somehow considered rude or socially unacceptable to use “Merry Christmas”, that somehow them wishing people the wishes from the holiday they actually celebrate is somehow in and of itself problematic. This follows from the links above, that demonstrate politically correct attempts to expunge the very word “Christmas” from the vernacular, from the things that it has been named for and that it has traditionally been associated with. This is the “War on Christmas”, the idea that anything that might remind us that, hey, this is actually a religious holiday for the majority of the population simply cannot be tolerated, because it might offend the minority.

If, as Carrier and Christina assert, Christmas can be considered to be a secular holiday for most people, with secular traditions, then there’s no need to rename it or in any way worry about the religious tradition behind it. And if it can’t be considered that, then we should focus on and make the religious tradition clear, and drop the notion that secular considerations matter at all to it. Now, what seems to be true is that Christmas can be a general celebration of peace and goodwill and advocate ideas that all can get behind, and that it therefore can be secular. But recognizing it as that does not preclude us from recognizing its history as well, and acknowledging that to Christians it is and should be more than that, and accepting that even if for us it doesn’t mean that. And this, then, would end the “War on Christmas”, because atheists and secularists would feel no need to expunge the references or mock the Christian idea, at which point most Christians would feel that their beliefs are respected by others just as other religious beliefs are at this time, even if they aren’t followed or aren’t focused on in the general and secular Christmas traditions.


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