Monday, December 12, 2011

Transcending Christmas, Pt. 1: Will Right Wing Christianity Be The Death Of The Christmas Spirit? The Christmas Truce of 1914 May Give Us The Answer


As the Christmas Season goes on (and on and on), the Christian Right's moral rectitude towards Christmas gets stronger ...and more deranged. Oh, it's a wonderful sight to behold: Christian piety run amok is hysterical and frightening at the same time. But we must realize that there is a cost to that piety, for it sometimes eschews true compassion for the trappings of holiness.

Dominionists are particularly rabid during this time of year: rabid to insist that America be a Christian-only country. They revel in the "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" not because of Jesus' birth bringing Peace On Earth Good Will Toward Men, but because they feel Christmas is uniquely theirs and only they can celebrate it with proper respect to God. They never seem to think that their proprietary airs might cause more ill will than good will or that climbing up on a pedestal is contrary to the Christmas Spirit which aims to get us off our pedestals and into the real world of people in need. Indeed, the Chinese goddess of mercy, Quan Yin, may be more appropriate for reverence than a creche this time of year. 

Some people actually think that being all-inclusive (even presenting the history of Santa Claus) amounts to atheism. For example, Christian Broadcaster Janet Mefferd posited to Robert Knight (Media Research Center) that the ACLU should be sued for establishing atheism:
Mefferd: As we were talking about atheism being the de facto official religion with all of this, do you know if there’ve been any lawsuits dealing with the establishment of religion with atheism? This issue of saying, hey by not allowing this, by default the state really seems to be embracing atheism?Knight: No but that sounds like a good lawsuit to me. I think Christians and others who believe in religious freedom in this country ought to be more aggressive, and that kind of strategy Janet, that’s a great idea.
Secular Virus:

It is interesting to continue with the thoughts of Robert Knight who practically coined the term "secular virus" in referencing what he called "Christmasphobia." And he had this to say about a controversy involving a visit from Santa to the Hollings Cancer Center in Charleston, SC:

After the public rebelled, the center said Santa can squeeze down its chimney, but we’ll have none of that overtly religious stuff such as creches, angels, Christmas greetings - anything that brings joy to the world.

"Anything that brings joy to the world" is a particularly telling anology: it equates an icon of Christianity with goodness. Bad form. The Christmas SPIRIT of Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Men should encompass goodness and joy from that goodness. Saying "Happy Holidays" can elicit as much joy as "Merry Christmas" and just because the term is more inclusive of other religions/philosophies doesn't make it bad. In fact, the "secular virus" is to be commended for trying to help the Christmas SPIRIT gain a foothold everywhere.
It's a Christmas irony, if you will: by insisting that everyone say Merry Christmas and honor ONLY the displays of a Christian Holiday, the SPIRIT of Christmas is defeated. Christmas becomes exclusionary, and "Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Men" becomes secondary.

And the images of soldiers on both sides of a war ceasing hostilities for a day becomes meaningless because they are celebrating the Spirit of Christmas instead of the actual birth of Christ. The silence of a militarized zone is not as pleasing as the sound of hymns sung in a church. 

The Amazing Christmas Truce of 1914

It may never happen again. It happened almost one hundred years ago during the horrible waste of lives called the Great War... and it was SECULAR. There were no mangers, no Nativity scenes, no cries of "Merry Christmas."  Yes, there were some Christmas carols, a recitation of the 23rd Psalm (hardly Christmas material) and Christmas trees (which are, after all, totally secular icons - related to Winter Solstice -  no matter how many angel ornaments you hang on them). But amidst the savagery of war, soldiers laid down their arms and sought the friendship of the enemy: they walked across "No Man's Land" and exchanged pleasantries and even ... gifts. 

It was the time when the Christmas Spirit transcended Christmas itself - and it probably saved lives, if not souls. 

Bruce Bairnsfather, who served throughout the war, wrote: "I wouldn't have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything. ... I spotted a German officer, some sort of lieutenant I should think, and being a bit of a collector, I intimated to him that I had taken a fancy to some of his buttons. ... I brought out my wire clippers and, with a few deft snips, removed a couple of his buttons and put them in my pocket. I then gave him two of mine in exchange. ... The last I saw was one of my machine gunners, who was a bit of an amateur hairdresser in civil life, cutting the unnaturally long hair of a docile Boche, who was patiently kneeling on the ground whilst the automatic clippers crept up the back of his neck."[10]General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, commander of the British II Corps, was irate when he heard what was happening, and issued strict orders forbidding friendly communication with the opposing German troops.[8]Adolf Hitler, then a young corporal of the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry, was a notable opponent of the truce.[8]

Of course, since the enemy today is usually of a different religion, such a thing as a Christmas truce could never really happen, right?* But perhaps the problem lies more in perception than actual religious difference: because the enemy has a different religion, he is perceived to be nearly inhuman and any form of commonality suffers.

So it is with exclusion that the Spirit of Christmas is diminished by a sense of propriety over Christmas. Ironically it was the strategy of inclusion that created what we know as Christmas in the first place: incorporating winter solstice traditions and pagan rituals into Christianity to celebrate the birth of Christ.**

Strangling The Christmas Spirit

People like Robert Knight have a narrow vision of Christmas. Since man is born "in sin" and prone to it, the innate goodness of humanity is lost to him: the only good things in the world come out of his particular form of Christianity. Christmas grew through the ages, evolved into the Christmas Spirit, which took on a life of its own. By limiting Christmas, putting it back in its box, so to speak, Knight attempts to strangle the life out the Christmas Spirit, that life being the INclusion of everyone on earth.

Will he and others of the Christian Right succeed?

Next: Transcending Christmas, Pt. 2: Who Owns Christmas?

*Can you see General Boykin agreeing to anything like that?

**"Shocking as it sounds, followers of Jesus Christ in both America and England helped pass laws making it illegal to observe Christmas, believing it was an insult to God to honor a day associated with ancient paganism," according to "Shocked by the Bible" (Thomas Nelson Inc, 2008). "Most Americans today are unaware that Christmas was banned in Boston from 1659 to 1681."

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