October 20, 2017

I’m Dreaming of a Fight This Christmas…

The rumble you hear in the distance is the sound of heavy artillery.

The Christmas Wars have begun.

The advertisement accompanying today’s post is from the American Humanist Association. These will run on buses, billboards and in newspapers. This is AHA’s third consecutive holiday public awareness campaign to bring attention to discrimination against nonbelievers in America. This year’s ads show Santa Claus drafting his naughty list against those who would assault nonbelievers’ civil liberties.

And on the other side…

Mathew D. Staver, founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel, said that the AHA campaign was a crass attempt at restricting the religious freedom of Christians passionate about Christmas. As the birth date of Christianity, he said no other holiday deserved more public worship.

“Christmas is a moment of reflection upon Christ’s birth and the salvation it brings for us,” Staver said. “It’s important to remember our origins and reason for being. We try to make sure the real reason for the season is not censored.”

Staver said his organization fights censorship of the holiday’s Christian traditions with its “Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign,” now in its ninth year. This campaign publishes its own “Naughty or Nice” list, identifying businesses who in their view don’t adequately acknowledge Christmas and praising those who do.

Frankly, I think both sides are nutty as fruitcakes.

I mean, can we get real for a minute?

“Christmas” has more than one meaning in American culture, and it has for a long, long time. Of course, at its heart, there is a religious celebration of Christ’s birth. But there is a much broader set of traditions and practices that have nothing whatsoever to do with that holy event. This is true in every culture, not just in America. It truly is “the holiday season,” for people everywhere, for all kinds of reasons, are celebrating many different things.

Neither Christians nor atheists, nor any other group for that matter, should seek to force others to define the season according to their narrow conception. I mean, who in the world really cares if the teenage clerk at American Eagle says “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”? If you are a person who is honoring the birth of Christ at Christmas, don’t you get that all the shopping and buying presents and all the other stuff that we do really has nothing to do with Jesus? And if you are an atheist, are you really going to get upset if someone calls this time “Christmas,” using a term that has been a part of our culture forever, just because that identifies the season with a religious term?

As for me, I’m going to be celebrating BOTH a religious observance AND a cultural holiday in December.

My religious observance starts Sunday, when Advent begins. I’ll start marking Advent with readings and prayers, listening to carols, attending special services, participating in charity efforts, and focusing my heart’s attention on Christ and the Incarnation. We’ll put up our creche and maybe do an Advent Wreath or calendar. We will participate in special church programs to sing and tell the Good News that Christ is born. On Christmas morning, we’ll read the Christmas story and have prayer as a family. This year, since Christmas is on a Sunday, we’ll go to worship.

Why? Because Christmas is a holy day to us as Christians.

My cultural holiday usually commences about the same time. My Amazon Wish List starts filling up (as do the lists of my family members), and we’ll all begin shopping. We decorate the house, bake cookies, and attend parties and community programs. Items like a Christmas tree, Santas, nutcrackers, lights on the house, candles in the windows, and wreaths on the doors will appear. I’ll put on Bing Crosby once in awhile, or Ella, or Nat King Cole. We’ll dream of a white Christmas and a miniature sleigh with tiny reindeer, and we’ll watch It’s A Wonderful Life, and A Christmas Story, and Christmas Vacation.

Why? Because “Christmas” time is a holiday season to us as Americans.

So, no matter who you are, can we just agree that the season involves more than just one emphasis, and not try to force what is most meaningful to us on everyone else?

Let me take this early opportunity, then, neighbor, to wish you a Merry Christmas.

And Happy Holidays.

And put that rifle down before you shoot your eye out.

Comments

  1. It’s true that the popular culture is part and parcel of our experience and nothing to be feared as long as it is enjoyed in a balanced context as you have described. I dare someone to take away my Christmas movies. In fact I triple dog dare ’em!

  2. As there are two Christmases so also there are two Santa Clauses.

    December 6th is Saint Nicholas Day. So let’s not forget to celebrate the life and example of the onetime Bishop of Myra, Saint Nicholas, who died in AD 342 on December 6. A fun family activity to commemorate St. Nicholas is to put gold foil covered chocolate coins in the shoes of loved ones. A quick google search can shed light on that and other such practices.

    • Putting anything to be eaten into my and I suspect many others’ shoes is NOT an act of love. 🙂

      • Let me preface my reply with noting in my reading this the piece of chocolate is not hidden at the toe but visible at the open end.

        Maybe, David, you wouldn’t experience this as an act of love …but that doesn’t mean such an act could not be an act of love for another person….a child would delight in a surprise piece of chocolate in their shoe. If a family member put a piece of gold foiled chocolate in my shoe it would not only bring a smile to my face, make me chuckle and laugh out loud, but it would delight my heart. I would most definitely see this as a creative playful act of love. Being the candy was wrapped in foil I would even eat and enjoy it!

      • I caught the humor David and it got a small chuckle from it. I suspected that some of the lady readers might have had a different reaction too.

        My 4yr old son simply loves this tradition and is looking forward to putting those candy coins in his cousin’s shoes.

  3. Steve Newell says:

    How many churches will have Advent Services and observe the season of Advent? How many churches will have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day worship services? How many churches will have Santa visit? How many Christian homes have advent devotions?

    How can we demand that society treat Christmas as a Christian holiday when churches and Christians do not?

    • Steve Newell says:

      To add, the last time that Christmas day fell on a Sunday, many Churches did not have Sunday worship for either regular Sunday or Christmas Day so that people could “spend time with their family”. What can be better than to gather together with our brothers and sisters in the faith in celebrating the gift of salvation found in a manger and on the cross.

    • I would have said that the vast majorty of Churches observe the season of Advent along with Christmas eve and day services. Goes to show how peoples experiences can be so different.

      • Steve Newell says:

        Paul,

        Outside of those who follow the Historic Church Year (Lutheran, Catholic, Episcopal,etc), the number of churches who observe Advent is a recent event.

        • David Cornwell says:

          The mainline church I now attend has always had a full and complete celebration of the Church Year, including Advent. The trend is to re-introduce these observances back into local church. If a church has never included this calendar in its past observances, this takes some time, teaching, preaching, and leadership from the pastor. I’m speaking here of mainline churches. I really have no idea what non-denominational or mega-churches are doing.

          The last church I served as pastor was in a small town. We were on the main street in the middle of the town’s business district. Our Christmas Eve service started at 11 p.m. and was a full service of processional, scripture, hymns, and choirs, along with a brief sermon. This was the best attended service of the year. People who never attended church, people from other churches, people I’d never seen before came to this service. These memories are some of the best and are one of the things that would cause me to wish I was younger and doing it again.

          To me if we want a more historic observance of Christianity back in the older denominations, this is a place to start, and not by trying to copy the church growth and leadership strategies of mega-churches which in the end will be shallow, cause division, and waist money.

        • The Alliance and Baptist Churches I have attended in Canada have (almost) always observed Advent.

        • In the last year or two, I’ve run across a number of “experts” in the United Methodist church that have been advocating ditching the traditional “church year” as “not relevant to people’s current experiences”. This includes ditching Advent for a “December themed sermon series”, focused on something like “the true meaning of Christmas”, whatever they mean by that.

          On the flip side, there’s a movement to restore the full 40 day observance to the Western Church (which was shortened to 4 Sundays by Pope Gregory VII in the 11th century). For more info, see http://www.theadventproject.org.

  4. Last year I saw a bumper sticker, “Let’s put the MASS back on Christmas”. I googled it and found a very good read.

  5. I say we scrap the whole thing and just celebrate the coming of the King in March at the Annunciation. But I’m a scrooge.

  6. “Neither Christians nor atheists, nor any other group for that matter, should seek to force others to define the season according to their narrow conception. I mean, who in the world really cares if the teenage clerk at American Eagle says “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”?”

    And, what is the teenage clerk supposed to conclude the 3rd or 4th time some customer narrows their eyes a little and says, “I think you mean, ‘Merry CHRISTMAS!'”

    Likewise, the annoyance some people experience at the use of the terminology “Happy Holidays” in workplaces is kind of understandable. I get that when people are told not to say “Merry Christmas” they feel they’ve been censored. But at the root of the policy is an attempt to respect everyone in a diverse workplace, which is really a fine idea. Do you really have to march up to every coworker you have, even if you know full well that the celebrate only Hanukkah, and say ‘Merry Christmas’? A little respect would be more Christian.

    Honestly, the culture wars are the only reason this is even an issue. A big swath of people are convinced that Christians are a persecuted minority, conspired against by a powerful elite, and that the holiday policies are one manifestation of this. From the other side of the fence, nobody can understand why a religious group that comprises such a huge portion of the population believes it is being persecuted. Or how a group that determined the terminology for so long, to exclusion of very many people who practiced differently, can claim persecution for being asked to admit that the country is in fact very diverse, and always has been.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “They cry ‘PERSECUTION!’ because they’re not being allowed to Persecute everybody else.”
      — something I read on the Web once

      • David Cornwell says:

        “something I read on the Web once”

        Well then, it must be true! Leave the poor clerks alone. Their job isn’t an easy one to begin with. I do not envy them.

        • Agreed. Shop assistants get told by management (who get told from head office) to use “Happy Holidays” so as not to offend any customers, and then offended customers make a point of hissing “It’s Merry Christmas!” at them.

          Someone on a minimum wage till position is not making the store policy, people. He or she might want to say “Merry Christmas” and may have gotten hauled over the coals for doing so by another disgruntled customer who made a point of complaining to the management about “I don’t celebrate Christmas because I’m not a believer so why force your religious beliefs on me?”

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      It is worse than this. Not only is the culture war the reason “Happy Holidays” is an issue, it is a bogus issue even within the context of the culture war. “Happy Holidays” has been a standard usage for longer than most of us have been alive. The first US President to use it on White House Christmas cards was Eisenhower. It is a splendid usage, as it allows the recipients to interpret the holidays in question however they want. But this only works with persons of good will and graciousness. The self-appointed War on Christmas culture warriors are not persons of good will.

    • When I was a teenage clerk, actually I was more like 25, I got annoyed when I had to answer the phone with “Season’s greetings, Radio Shack!” I got more annoyed many years later at another company when told that we couldn’t do a gift exchange because it might offend some of our co-workers.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        When I was working in retail lo those many years ago I was always annoyed by having scripts for what should have been human interactions. The content of the script was really beside the point. The corporate urge to preclude the possibility of a genuine interaction is dehumanizing to both the employees and the customers.

        • Although nowdays I have to wonder what the point is. I have seen so many instances where the customer never breaks his phone conversation to actually talk to the clerk, make eye contact with the clerk, or otherwise treat the clerk as if he or she were a real, living, breathing person.

          • Oh, yeah. I’ve told this story before and I probably will tell it again, but these many moons ago when I had a retail position as a till operator, I still remember one guy (I won’t call him a gentleman because he certainly wasn’t) who just came in to buy a newspaper.

            Dressed in a suit (so he wasn’t your average working joe; we had plenty of customers who were, for example, farmers and still had the smell of slurry wafting from their overalls) and talking to another guy.

            He never turned his head to me all the time; kept yakking to his pal and just threw the money down on the counter. Not even handed the coins to me – threw them down.

            Yeah, I felt like a valued and recognised member of society after that little interaction.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            As owner of one of the few motor vehicles in urban California NOT being driven by a cellphone, I am very familar with the concept.

          • Iaalways say that if you want to make a small difference during the holiday season be extra nice to the clerks in the department store and ask thme how their doing. I’ve been doing it for years and it really seems to pick them up a bit, if only for a moment. They are usually on the receiving end of a lot of nastiness and rude behavior for extended periods of time.

  7. “…no other holiday deserved more public worship.”
    Yet many Christians don’t go to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. If Christmas falls on a weekday I don’t know of any evangelical churches here in Wichita KS that have a service. Christmas falls on Sunday this year, and the church that I go to is combining services into one because they don’t expect many to show up.

    • Any ideas why Evangelicals do not value meeting together for corporate worship in celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Might come from a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation. They’re PERSONALLY Saved by a PERSONAL Savior and in a PERSONAL relationship with God — why bother with anybody else?

        That sort of Fire Insurance Policy is written for and sold to an individual, not a group.

        Then (as stated above in Wichita) they’re Focusing on their Families.

        Or maybe they’re more like the JWs than they like to admit?

      • I really think it’s a hold-over from Suspicions of Creeping Romanism. The Puritans (and yes, I know, all American Protestants are long-divorced from any Puritan roots they may have had in the first place) did their level best to smash Christmas as a celebration because they felt it was all too secular and not prayerful enough, plus it was the whole “MASS in Christmas” element – see the English Puritans’ War on MInce Pies and Holly:

        “In the late 1500’s, Philip Stubbes, a strict Protestant expressed the Puritan view in his famed book The Anatomie of Abuses, when he noted:
        ‘More mischief is that time committed than in all the year besides … What dicing and carding, what eating and drinking, what banqueting and feasting is then used … to the great dishonour of God and the impoverishing of the realm.’ ”

        So religious services on Christmas Day are still too much a reminder of Roman Catholicism and subconsciously resisted, it seems to me, even when there’s no overt denominational bias.

        • Oh yes, forgot to say, in their War on Christmas, the Puritans pulled out the trump card of “Where is that in the Bible”? Where did God say we should celebrate Christmas rather than the Sabbath? No? Well, then!

          😀

          • Ah, Puritanism. Everything not mandatory is forbidden. Which has interesting implications for a certain continent never mentioned at all in the Bible…

        • David Cornwell says:

          In 1647 under Oliver Cromwell, the English parliament banned Christmas. The practice of Wassailing was in particular a target, because hot spiced wine didn’t set well with these fun hating people. If they slipped up and drank a glass, they became too happy maybe.

          • What else do you expect from that Parliament? One of its members, Praise-God Barebones, named his son Nicholas If-Jesus-Christ-Had-Not-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebones? Yes, that’s a middle name. He was known to his enemies as Damned Barebones, although he later changed his name to Nicholas Barbon for obvious reasons. And then he invented fire insurance. The moral of the story is… well, I forget.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Ah, yes. “Doctor Damned”, as everybody else called him.

          • As that site I linked to says:

            “All shops and markets were to stay open throughout the 25th December and anyone caught holding or attending a special Christmas church service would suffer a penalty.

            In the city of London things were even stricter as soldiers were ordered to patrol the streets, seizing any food they discovered was being prepared for a Christmas celebration.

            Despite the threat of fines and punishment many people continued to celebrate Christmas clandestinely. The ban had never been popular and many people still held mass on the 25th December to mark Christ’s nativity also marked the day as a secular holiday. In the late 1640s Cromwell tried to put a stop to these public celebrations and force businesses to stay open. As a result, violent encounters took place between supporters and opponents of Christmas in many towns, including London, Canterbury and Norwich. ”

            Now that’s a proper War on Christmas: soldiers patrolling the streets, seizing your plum pudding 🙂

        • Gasp! People were EATING and DRINKING?! I’m shocked!

          People with a robust sense of humor, who would like to explore (inaccurate) Puritan views of eating and drinking, ought to watch the Blackadder Elizabethan-period episode called “Beer.”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “Blackadder, Blackadder,
            No such bloomin’ luck;
            Blackadder, Blackadder,
            Elizabethan Schmuck…”
            — “Blackadder II opening theme

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          Tempting though this historical explanation is, I don’t think it is quite right. I think it is an accommodation reached between the religious and the secular holidays. The religious Christmas stuff is gotten out of the way early (during what we traditionalists call “Advent”), often with some dreadful exercise in spectacle. People go to see a show and tell themselves that they have celebrated the birth of Christ. Then they get down to the important business of conspicuous consumption.

        • Exactly right. To put my Lutheran twist on it, the Calvinists often imposed rules and bound consciences to their own new made-up traditions about hymns, feast days, celebrations, etc., causing scandal and destroying faith, sometimes more than Rome had ever done.

          They missed the point of the reformation entirely. You don’t make up rules and bind consciences except to the Law, as taught by Christ or the Apostles, that convicts everybody. The Law is not guide to prove one’s worth and find assurance in.

          The way to live life is to receive and take joy in forgiveness and all the gifts Christ provides.

          It’s an epic scandal that so many Christian churches do not celebrate Christmas with worship.

      • My guess would be that many of us have no idea why the Incarnation is relevant at all. To hear some people speak, you would think Jesus was this wisp of cloud that did some nice things and then did something to do with salvation, but that part’s mainly about the commitment I made at summer camp or something.

    • Christmas Eve carol sings tend to be among the most popular services in Canada.

      • Here, in Chicago, there’s a yearly celebration called “Songs of Good Cheer.” It’s a completely secular affair held at the Old Town School of Folk Music and led by a newspaper columnist who identifies himself as an atheist. Some of the songs are secular, some are explicitly Christian, some are other religious festival songs. It raises money for Tribune Charities which does good work, and everyone has a swell time.

  8. It’s all what you make of it.

    I grew up my first 11 years of my life on Long Island, New York where the make-up of my neighborhood was two thirds Jewish (mix of reformed and Orthodox) and Catholic. We got along fine during the holidays with our Christmas Trees and Menorahs. It was just natural at that time to say Meryy Christmas and Happy Hannaka.

    Yes, there is a lot of noise out there but I tend to ignore it. First, I try not to talk about Christmas until I have finished with Thanksgiving! Then, once Advent begins we bring out the advent wreath and the kids take turns lighting the candle and saying the prayer before dinner. Sometimes we get out the manger set early and the younger ones get to put in a piece of straw each day in anticipation of Christmas and sometimes we get those big cards with the windows where you open a little door each night in anticipation of Christmas day.

    In the past we have also bought and lit luminaries as a community, where candles in bakers (white) bags filled with sand are placed at the edge of the street and lit in time for Christmas eve Mass, and in my Catholic town where a lot of folks participate it looks pretty cool.

    So… in essense there is enough going on to keep my focus in the right direction and not get distracted by the goofiness. What don’t I do? I DO NOT go shopping on Black Friday, the day that causes otherwise normal human beings to be the worst they can be – all to save a couple of bucks.

    • Why do fundgelicals need the blessing of government for anything I ask you? In this case its Christmas and how its pronounced or said. Or launching World War VI over having a nativity scene in front of a courthouse in god knows where? In other cases its marriage. Why do Christians need to have marriage defined by the state under their own terms? Why do they even care what the state says? If gay marriage goes forward does that mean Christians can’t marry? Of course not…it’s another example of Christians making more idols in their faith camp.

      This issue shows how many Christians are under the siege mentality, or maybe some fundegeliclas need to get back on their meds….

      • David Cornwell says:

        “fundegeliclas need to get back on their meds….”

        Eagle, you are causing my mind to run wild…

      • Two kingdoms theology is the antidote. The church’s business is the Gospel; pushing religion through the government confuses the Gospel and makes people think the church is about moralism and legalism, so it should stay out of those issues and focus on the Gospel. If the state tells a Christian community it can’t sing Christmas songs in schools and put up nativity scenes, the Christian response is to smile and say, yes Caesar, and sing louder outside the schools and governments.

  9. One thing that has always struck me is that the same people who are such staunch advocates of a free market economy and consumerist capitalism are generally the same people crying a river because some clerk didn’t say “Merry Christmas”. Do they not get that consumerist capitalism seeks to make the most money it can almost any way it can? So, those businesses are going to try to include non-Christians as well as Christians in the holiday buying frenzy and therefore are going to promote the generalized holiday theme as a way to bring in more customers. It’s business, folks!

    I also find it odd that the people that are screaming about some clerk taking Christ out of Christmas are often the ones that are not in church on Christmas morning. It seems utterly un-Christian to me that a church not have services on that day, no matter what day of the week it is.

    Pretty much, I just don’t get a vast majority of Christians anymore. But thank you so much for this post, Chaplain Mike. You put my thoughts into a coherent piece! I may print it off and hand it to the next person that says to me “My GOD!! I just bought a cheaply made Christmas trinket from China and underpaid, overworked clerk did not say Merry Christmas to me….”

  10. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    The rumble you hear in the distance is the sound of heavy artillery.

    The Christmas Wars have begun.

    Of course the fight is on, CM.

    We just wrapped up the fight over Halloween/Devil’s Day/Reformation Day/Christianese Harvest Festival.

  11. Nicely expressed. Funny that the humanists chose Santa to illustrate “Christmas” rather than, say, a Nativity scene or angels. Santa has nada to do with the relgious side of the holiday, so why pick on him?

    When we lived in Europe, we enjoyed the separation of gift giving and children’s fun stuff from the holy-day of Christmas. Our sons were preschoolers, and they LOVED getting little gifts on Dec. 6th, all the Advent candles and pomp, Midnight Mass, and then the big goodies coming from the “Three KIngs” on Epiphany!

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      “Santa has nada to do with the relgious side of the holiday, so why pick on him?”

      Because the whole bogus “War on Christmas” meme is about the secular side. The annual complaint is about the absence of the preferred greeting in commercial contexts. This has nothing to do with the observance of a religious holiday. It has everything to do with the distantly related secular holiday of crass commercialization and conspicuous consumption. The disagreement isn’t about the Christmas of the Nativity. It is about the “Christmas” of Santa Clause.

  12. Someone should really launch a campaign to boycott stores that don’t wish shoppers a “holy and expectant Advent” or something similar during this season. “Merry Christmas” in November is such a liturgical faux pas… (grin)

  13. How many of the “Keep Christmas Christian” campaigns remember Christmas the very next day – feast of St. Stephen (as in the carol of Good King Wenceslas who went out on the feast of Stephen), not to mention all the way up to Ephiphany (or Little Christmas)?

    I’ll be more favourably inclined to such campaigns when they celebrate all the season, not just the run-up to Day X.

    On the other hand, I would cheerfully sign up to any campaign about stopping the shopping advertising starting in July/September/October 🙂

  14. Richard Hershberger says:

    “Frankly, I think both sides are nutty as fruitcakes.”

    I call foul: False Equivalency. Lose ten yards and replay the down.

    The one side makes a statement against opposing bias against a religious minority. The other side makes a statement condemning this as a restriction of their religious freedom. These are not the same.

    As an aside, Mathew D. Staver also says “As the birth date of Christianity, he said no other holiday deserved more public worship.” He is showing his ignorance. The traditional birth date of Christianity is Pentecost. I wonder how much public worship he devotes to that day? Given that it has not been commercialized, I suspect very little.

    Back in the day, commercialization was understood to be the war on Christmas. This is pretty much the entire theme of A Charlie Brown Christmas. The commercial use of “Happy Holidays” has the salutary effect of making (or at least allowing) the distinction between the secular, commercialized holiday and the religious holiday. The modern War on Christmas crowd has embraced Mammon, and are complaining that Christmas is insufficiently commercial. Staver as much as admits that he considers this “worship”. Feh.

    • “The one side makes a statement against opposing bias against a religious minority. The other side makes a statement condemning this as a restriction of their religious freedom. These are not the same.”

      I agree. Atheists are being discriminated against now (or, more accurately, religion is being privileged) in various ways by actual laws on the books. They put out a very nice billboard reminding people to restrain their biases. Mr. Slater, on the other hand, seems to think that any, even oblique, criticism of his faith is some kind of censorship.

  15. I’ve been watching the show “American Muslim” on TLC, and as far as reality TV goes, it’s not bad. It shows the real-life struggles, joys, and differences amidst Muslims in America.

    Last episode, the local high school football coach in a primarily Muslim, public high school changed practices to 10:30PM at night, so that players could fast during the day and not endanger their health during Ramadan. Even the non-Muslim players had to comply. Locally, here in Georgia, concessions have been made in some counties for Muslim students to leave school early for prayer. I really don’t think that’s a bad thing.

    I wonder why atheists don’t get upset about things like this, though? Can you imagine how upset the ACLU would be if a coach adjusted practice schedules because of Lent?

    If atheists desire a godless society, then why not be as angry at Muslims as they are at Christians? Why doesn’t Richard Dawkins go to Afghanistan, Indonesia, or Morroco to debate the existence of God?

    The simple fact is, fighting with Christians will get you in the paper.

    Personally, I feel that if you want to be an atheist, be that. If you want to be Muslim, be that. I may not agree with you, and might even try to convince you of my viewpoint, because I am sincere in my belief that there is only one path to God, just as others are sincere in their belief in different paths.

    Christmas is a Christian holiday. We didn’t push Christmas on society. It’s a unique religious observance, in that society latched hold of Christmas, for all the profit to be made from it. So, if someone wants to be angry, be angry at Wal-Mart.

    Then again, who can stay angry at Wal-Mart for long? They have the best buys on flat-screens and toilet paper…

    • Dawkins at least has publicly debated a good number of representatives of other religions – Britain’s Chief Rabbi, the head of the Muslim Council of Britain – as well as Christians. If you check out atheist websites and blogs you’ll find a good deal dealing with non-Christians. Islam is a common focus because of the plight of women in many Islamic societies. I don’t think atheists are in principle any more inclined to be anti-Christian, it’s just that those in largely Christian societies such as Europe and America are more familiar with Christianity and surrounded by more examples of Christianity than any other religion.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      “I wonder why atheists don’t get upset about things like this, though? Can you imagine how upset the ACLU would be if a coach adjusted practice schedules because of Lent?”

      School activities are adjusted for the Christian (or, for that matter, Jewish) calendar all the time. The ACLU seems to have made its peace with this.

      “If atheists desire a godless society, then why not be as angry at Muslims as they are at Christians? Why doesn’t Richard Dawkins go to Afghanistan, Indonesia, or Morroco to debate the existence of God?”

      My guess is that this is because Dawkins lives in a predominantly Christian culture, so he fights the fight at hand. I am no fan of Dawkins (when he is in angry atheist mode: his work in biology is another matter) but this is hardly unreasonable of him.

      “Christmas is a Christian holiday. We didn’t push Christmas on society.”

      This is precisely what the “War on Christmas” crowd does.

      “Then again, who can stay angry at Wal-Mart for long? They have the best buys on flat-screens and toilet paper…”

      I loathe WalMart, and resent that their business practices sometimes force me to shop there, the competition having been driven away.

    • “If atheists desire a godless society, then why not be as angry at Muslims as they are at Christians? Why doesn’t Richard Dawkins go to Afghanistan, Indonesia, or Morroco to debate the existence of God?”

      In the “God Delusion” Dawkins makes no bones about his opposition to Islam as well as all other systems in which a personal, involved deity is involved.

      Sam Harris has been very outspoken in his opposition to Islam.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      The simple fact is, fighting with Christians will get you in the paper.

      And “insulting Islam” (whichever way they choose to define it) can get you Dead.

      Fear Breeds Respect.

    • I’m glad to see others calling you on this, but really? You’d have to be living under a rock not to notice how the Angry Athiests (a distinct group that does not comprise most athiests) hate and disparage Islam all the time.

      • There are many people in the secular camp who take Islam to task. I don’t think they could do this in Europe or other parts of the Middle eats. Not after what the Dutch cartoonist did about Muhammed a couple of years back.

        • oh Europe is the worst for this. Islamophobia in Europe is loud and proud and making me increasingly nervous. People openly saying multiculturalism has failed and talking about Muslims the way people talked about Jews just before WWII.

  16. It wasn’t until the past couple of years that I realized how serious and indeed frightening this issue of discrimination can be. Forcing someone to submit to
    something against their will is quite disturbing. Yet many Christians try and do it all the time. Atheists and agnostics like myself should not force anyone to not practice anything. I totally agree, if people want to worship; by all means let them. However, what has dawned upon me is the realization of the discrimination I could have faced. For example what would have happened if I was in the Boy Scouts when all this happened? Did you know that I am an Eagle Scout? The Boy Scouts have kicked out atheists and agnostics; and if this faith crisis happened then; it could have been me who was ejected. I’ve also heard that it can be difficult to be a member of the military if you are atheist or agnostic; especially with so many evangelical chaplains.

    Even if a person is a marginal Catholic or a cultural Christian those people are trusted more and respected than an atheist or agnostic. For me its deeply, deeply, disturbing to think that such discrimination could indeed happen in the 21st Century United States. (Eagle gets a chill down his spine…)

    • “Forcing someone to submit to something against their will is quite disturbing.”

      Private citizens cannot “force” other private citizens to do anything. The boy scouts are private citizens. They can meet with whomever they want. You sound like you want to force them to include people they don’t want. When you get the government involved in forcing private citizens to include you, despite your different beliefs, or suffer legal consequences like loss of property, disbanding, or jail, that is disturbing.

      I don’t think you have really thought through your views at all.

      • Boaz…the issue of discrimination is alive and well. People shouldn’t be discriminated because they have no faith at all. This is the 21st century United States…not Medieval Europe. If the Boy Scouts were smart they would downplay the issue and not make as much a stink. Its like homosexuality? Do you actually think there are no gay Boy Scouts? That’s like saying there are no gays in the military under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” They are there they just aren’t public.

        • Well what does the phrase “discriminated against” mean? Does it mean that a private organization shouldn’t be able to set some sort of standards for membership? I don’t exactly think that’s discrimination.

          It reminds when I was in college and there were a bunch of straight kids that tried to join the LBGTA group. Some of the homosexual students weren’t too happy about it. It cuts both ways usually.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I was involved in a fandom which for many years was very gay-heavy. I found that when gays are the ones in charge, they are every bit as capable of throwing their weight around discriminating against us straights as straights are capable of discriminating against gays when straights call the shots. Maybe even more so if you figure in an element of Payback.

          • i agree discrimination goes both ways .

        • David Cornwell says:

          Maybe the Scouts need to address their own molestation issues before becoming so judgmental of others. I could tell a story to illustrate this, but this wouldn’t be the proper place to do so.

          • Lots of people should do lots of things they aren’t doing. I have lots of opinions about what other people should do. But I won’t involve the state in enforcing my opinions unless they relate to my safety or freedom to pass on my traditions and beliefs within my family.

          • David,

            Sounds like you have a personal story to tell and my prayers are with you if damage was done. In recent years the boy scouts have taken many steps to weed out the problems; two deep leadership, frequent background checks, training. But as we have seen in the Catholic Church and this organization, a pediphile will find any profession or opportunity to gain the trust of a child for his or her own desire.

            I am sure if there was more scrutiny in the school systems and in non-hiearchial churches you would find the same problems.

            As for agnostics in the scouts – I have never seen where it is a reason to ask someone to leave – but then again the agnostic in the organization should not be looking to change the rules either because they have a choice whether to belong or not.

            A similar situation happened recently at a local Catholic University, where an atheist group wanted to become a club recognized by the university. The university rightly declined their request. It is one thing to practice freely, it is another to expect a private university to fund a club that is against its tenets of faith.

          • David Cornwell says:

            This wasn’t something that happened to me personally, but it had to do with a local scout leader. And it involved the seeming lack of concern and investigation by proper scout authorities. I don’t dislike scouting at all. Most of my experiences with the organization have been very good, this one being the exception.

        • Should churches be required to include atheists in voters meetings? Should Lutheran high schools be required to consider buddhists and muslims to teach history and religion classes? Should the Boy scouts be required to hire agnostics and atheists to instruct kids in values regarding the value of religious belief?

          Freedom means freedom to pass on one’s traditions and beliefs without interference. That also means the freedom to be extremely wrong about things.

          Note, we aren’t talking about businesses for profit, but associations formed for the purpose of assisting families raise children and teach their common values.

          • If that Lutheran school accepts vouchers, then yes, they’re going to be expected to abide by the various non-discrimination laws.

            I think the boy scouts got in trouble because for many years they were provided a privileged place above what most private organizations had. Now that that has been adjusted, I really don’t see scouts being an issue anymore in these types of disputes.

          • I don’t know that there are many voucher programs that permit parochial school attendance. But if you impose that requirement, you’ve essentially done the same thing and barred parochial schools from participating. Once an organization loses the ability to require its leaders to believe the tenets of the organization, the tenets are meaningless. It’s not a Lutheran school if the teachers don’t believe the small catechism and the confessions, and are not within the care and guidance of a Lutheran pastor.

          • Then the answer is not to accept the vouchers. No private school has ever been forced into a voucher program.

            We’ve recently had a case in IL, where I live. Catholic Charities had a contract to provide services to the state in exchange for money. When they refused to provide those services in accordance with non-discrimination laws, they lost their contract and then sued. They lost their case as the court ruled that no one has a right to a contract with the state. I think Lutheran Family Services and the newly minted Christian Social Services (essentially the staff of the old Catholic Charities of Southern IL reorganized under new management) have largely taken up the slack.

          • Same thing. The LCMS is in the process of determining whether to sever ties with Lutheran Family Services.

            The way I understand it, no groups can engage in family services without contracts. It’s essentially a license to provide family services. I could be wrong about that, but if so, the state is essentially telling Christians they have to choose between serving their neighbor by providing these charitable services and acting against the Law, or not serving their neighbor in this way.

            It’s absolutetly foolish policy, and repressive to force Christians and other religious groups to sin in order to serve their neighbor.

          • No, that’s not true. The LDS church continues to provide adoptions in Massachusetts (and assumedly in IL). They pay for it themselves.

      • It’s a tricky line to tread. Private companies are private – should they be allowed to discriminate in hiring their workforce? What if the boss decides he doesn’t want to hire black people? After all, it’s his company, nobody’s being forced to apply to work there, don’t want any of that irritating government interference…

        • I think companies discriminate in their hiring practices all the time, really. A private business owner could use just about any reason he wanted to justify not hiring someone. I’d like to think that most business owners have gotten beyond things like racism, but I’m not optimistic enough to think it’s true.

          • True….what probably happens is a person with a leanring disability or dyselxia is discrimianted against becuase the company doesn’t want to have a “burden” but instead of saying that they juts say, “Well she wasn’t qualified to be here,…” and paint it in a way that makes it hard to prove. Discrimination cases can be hard to prove.

        • Private company discrimination -actually what is it? If you have a company with a conservative dress code (shirts and ties) with a policy of no facial hair and someone with tatoos and a nose ring expects to be hired – should he be hired based on diversity? Sometimes it is discrimination and sometimes it is fitting into the corporate culture.

      • yes, the boy scouts are a private organization and can be as big of bigots as they want. No problem. However, since they are a private organization, this also means that they do not have the same right to recruit on school properties or use park properties at cut rates if these amenities aren’t open to other private organizations.

        • Exactly right. But once those parks and schools and governments permit some organizations to use their facilities, they have to treat all organizations equally regardless of their viewpoints.

        • your bitterness directed at an organization that has done so much for so many young men is actually very astonisthing, and frankly off putting

          • I’m not bitter at them. I simply expect for them to be treated like any other private organization. That was the argument they made, wasn’t it? That they are a private organization?

      • Private citizens cannot “force” other private citizens to do anything.

        Purely as private citizens, no. But rarely do people try to do this as purely a private citizen. But as a member of a majority and/or in a position of power within society or government or an organization, an individual can exert incredible pressure on another and at the very least make their life fairly miserable, and certainly can discriminate against and/or exclude them. Sinful human begin what it is, people do this all the time, using whatever power is within their reach to do so.

    • There are actual laws on the books right now that disproportionately discriminate against atheists. Usually this is done by unfairly advantaging religion. Sean Faircloth has written a book about these laws that are currently out there.

    • Thisis really interesting to me Eagle as it’s completely the other way round here in England. Although people as individuals will give you a break, the genral belief is that if you are a Christian you are a cretin. You get so much more respect if you are at least an agnostic.

    • sorry Eagle, congrats on the Eagle Scout, but Scouting’s Christian underpinnings, even though now the literature has all been pc’d gussied up so that scouting can be exported to other places, is what makes it unique and attractive to families, i know that is one reason my family is involved in Scouting

      • Though, interestingly, the Girl Scouts, of which I was a member, has no problem with either non-theists or gays.

        The local troops seem to be about girl power and encouraging our young women to be leaders. I consider them to be an excellent organization (though the cookie selling has become a bit too corporatized for my taste).

      • In the place where scouting came from, the UK, there is no issue with atheist scouts, or gay scouts.

  17. I once heard a radio commentator refer to this country as “The United States of the Offended” — and sometimes I think we are becoming a nation of thin-skinned whiners and professional victims always on the lookout for a new set of victimizers to point our fingers at.
    As i see it, if you’re so darn touchy that just hearing or reading the words “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” automatically triggers an intense negative emotional reaction — then maybe you should think about finding a nice cave somewhere and bricking yourself in.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      It’s called “The Tyranny of the Most Easily Offended” and appears frequently on South Park.

  18. A picture I have saved on my hard drive (and would be a bumper sticker on my car if I still drove) is “Axial tilt is the reason for the season.” Appropriate any time of the year even.

    As a non-Christian, I really don’t care if someone says “Merry Christmas” at me. It’s become a secular holiday as much as a religious one. Then again, I don’t have an alternate holiday to celebrate, so I don’t really care.

    As to the American Humanist ad though, there is a reason for it. Atheists are the most distrusted group in the country. A little work to alleviate that isn’t the worst thing in the world.

    • I also could care less what salutation anyone gives me during the holiday season. Though I do wonder about people who wish me a distinctly Christian greeting when they know I’m not one. I try to get to know folks and wish them an appropriate greeting. If I don’t know, I tend to punt and say Happy Holidays.

      I am amused by the prevalence I’m seeing of stores not issuing any holiday greeting. Just Hello, and then thank you for shopping with us. I guess they figure no one can get offended at that!

  19. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    It’s also funny (including the AHA) how “Humanism” has come to mean Atheism when Humanism originated as a Christian movement in the Late Middle Ages/Early Renaissance — a counterpoint to an overemphasis on Docetism and Platonic Dualism which emphasized the Spiritual at the expense of the Physical, the Heavenly at the expense of the Human.

    • I first heard the term in the mid eighties as a part of a diatribe about the threat of “secular humanism.”

    • Ah. that would explain why most people who rant about secular humanism display a functional docetism. I understand now.

  20. The irony is that we have the massive cultural holiday in the first place in large part because of the influence of Christianity on western culture historically.

    • Well, sure, no one denies the massive historical importance of Christianity in the West. The question is why do we need it now to enjoy the cultural celebrations? I don’t think Christianity shouldn’t get some kind of pass because of its historical place in Western culture. And don’t forget that that history hasn’t been 100% positive either.

      • Anyone, anywhere who partakes in any Christmas celebration from the raucous office party to the service at a church is whether they like it or not, in some small way maybe even unknown to themselves, perhaps even unwanted by themselves, but nevertheless they are aknowledging the birth of the Savior of the world, agnostics, atheiest or whoever can try to have the cultural celebration without the religous part but it is the exact definition of irony when they try

        • I’ll take the birth of your savior and raise you one winter solstice and possibly a Hanukkah (though I’m personally doubtful and it’s a minor festival anyway). People in the northern hemisphere celebrate this time of year because otherwise the Seasonal Affective Disorder would depress us.

        • There have been midwinter festivities for longer than there have been Christians.

      • Not trying to lay blame anywhere. Just pointing out an irony. It certainly isn’t the first time history has produced an ironic outcome.

  21. This time of year is a tough one for many people. It is a great opportunity for us believers to speak to some of these folks who are hurting in some way, about the great love of the One who came into this world for the sakes of all like us, who are broken…that one day we might be whole again.

    This, to me, is Christmas.

  22. Gene Schneider says:

    The only salutation or greeting I want to hear during the holidays is “thank you for shopping here – you just saved 50%!”

  23. Christmas is on Sunday again this year. Let’s see how many of these Christ-in-Christmas zealots actually show up for worship, or if their churches will even be open.

  24. Finally someone with some sense. Thank you, Chaplain Mike. Yes, Christmas has both a religious and a cultural meaning.I just wish we could stop talking about all of this nutty hullaballoo for on Christmas season. It just makes the whole season less enjoyable.

  25. Martin Phipps says:

    Seeing as how there was a time in Spain when being atheist meant being dragged in front of an inquisition and burned to death, I would say we are making progress.