Dear Christians: Relax. There’s No War on Our Faith

I sat behind a couple of folks on a plane to Seattle this morning who were discussing their distress about a so-called war on Christmas.

“Memorial Day is a holiday,” said the man in a santa hat with disgust. “July 4th and Thanksgiving are holidays. Christmas is, well, Christmas!”

“Absolutely,” nodded the woman next to him. “It’s just more evidence of this war against Christmas.”

On the way off the plane, a flight attendant made the grave mistake of wishing the man happy holidays. He stopped the line of outgoing traffic behind him (including me) to correct her. She demurred, looked toward her feet and smiled sheepishly.

We Christians have a long and storied history of playing the martyr, whether there’s actually anyone persecuting us or not. For some, the perceived threat keeps us sharp and gives us purpose. For others, it’s a manifestation of fear about a changing culture in which Christendom is no longer the baseline identity.

Never mind that there are still more Christians in the United States than any other religion. Never mind that we are afforded remarkable liberty to practice our faith both as individuals and in groups. And never mind that these same liberties are the ones enjoyed by those of other faiths, or of no faith at all, in living how they choose to live.

Beyond all of that, these public expressions of discontent simply add to the negative impressions of Christians as insensitive, whiny and – let’s be honest – jerks. What if the flight attendant is Jewish? Or Muslim? Or maybe even a Christian who has been trained by the airline to be more inclusive in her language so as not to alienate anyone? And how does correcting her in front of a group of strangers reflect well on the man’s faith or convey to her the true spirit of Christmas?

To me, it doesn’t.

I’d also point out that the etymology of the word “holiday” is “holy day,” which inherently implies a sacred meaning, regardless of our broader application of it to secular dates of note like July 4th.  And if the true meaning of Christmas is truly the issue, why obscure that fact by wearing a santa hat, which was notably absent in Bethlehem on the day of Jesus’ birth by most accounts?

I expect that at the heart of most such exchanges is a fear of the loss of Christian cultural hegemony. After all, making room for a greater plurality of views not only doesn’t threaten our own beliefs; it also presents an opportunity to understand the world in a broader, richer context if we’re open to it. It’s also a fundamentally American cultural value, which is something many Christians in the United States hold nearly as sacred as the faith itself.

There’s no war, in this country at least, on Christmas or the whole of Christianity. Yes, our numbers are dwindling and, for the first time in many generations, those younger people claiming “none of the above” as their faith has eclipsed the identity of “Christian.” But the kind of pushback expressed by the couple in front of me on the plane generally serves to reinforce the negative stereotypes non-Christians have of us, and I have not yet encountered anyone who experienced a Pauline-like conversion when corrected about their words choice in public.

The greatest gift we could offer the world this Advent season is to demonstrate the kind of far-reaching love and compassion we claim to hold at the heart of our faith. If someone asks you what you believe, tell them a little bit of your story. Otherwise, it’s best to keep your self-righteous indignation to yourself.

Happy Holidays.

 (Also check out “Jesus and the War on Women” by Frank Viola)

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • DairyStateDad

    Agreed! Paraphrasing the Rev. John Buchanan on why retailers especially are the wrong target for these complaints: “If you want Christmas, come here” — to church — “don’t look for it at Lord & Taylor.”

  • http://twitter.com/drewsumrall drewsumrall

    Excellent!

  • Chad

    Thank you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.prokop John Prokop

    well-written and concise. Going to share this.

  • Linda_Brendle

    i wasn’t sure I wanted to read this one based on the title, but I’m glad I did. Very well said. I like the idea I saw on FB – don’t remember it was you or someone else who posted it – of asking a person what holiday they were celebrating at this time of year and greeting them accordingly. Since I know what you celebrate, I’ll say Merry Christmas!

    Love,
    Mom

  • http://twitter.com/flippyshark Darryl Pickett

    This secular humanist found your post to be right on target! Personally, I adore Christmas and I’m happy to speak that holiday’s name to others. But I hate it when I see behavior such as you talk about here. Hope your Christmas is joyous!

    • corps_suk

      And a Merry Solstice to you.

  • Lorraine Pilotte

    Christ+mass is a christian holy day whose only recognition in the stores is about $$$$. No matter, when someone wishes me happy holidays, I never made an issue of it when I was considered the youth of my nation. However, the term has changed around to mean something other than Merry Christmas and Happy New Years. It now signifies not being able to say Merry Christmas at all, which in itself denies anyone the right to be merry at this time of the year, or to give to young children and the elderly a little bit of a present, a gift that represents care and love and outreach. This is love. Our churches are full with the old and the young for Christmas Eve Mass. But, while people tell us Happy Holidays, at least I won’t call them what you’ve called us in this article.

  • Lorraine Pilotte

    While out shopping, the clerks wish me Happy Holidays. Our young generation of adults as well as those of us who have lived many years, do not want to offend anyone during the holiday season. But in their hearts they want to say Merry Christmas. My response from now on will be, ‘Thank You. I will have a Merry Christmas’. That gives any Christian clerk permission to say Merry Christmas back. A lesson learned because of this article and because that has been my experience in talking with the store clerks. But Christmas is a Christian holiday and I hope the Spirit of Christmas can be experienced in how we Christian know how to treat each other.

    Let us keep in our prayers during this Christmas Season those who have lost a loved one in Connecticut, child or adult, and our troups who are in harms way.

  • Atheist

    Lovely article and I hope you have a Merry Christmas!

  • http://www.facebook.com/wes.tower.5 Wes Tower

    When wished a Happy Holidays by a clerk, sometimes I say Merry Christmas, other times Happy Yule or even Happy Bodhi Day! (this most sacred of Buddhist holiday usually occurs in early December.) All of those have significance to me, and I feel is sharing the spirit with them. I have a close Jewish friend who always answers Happy Holidays with Happy Chanukah. It is a spirit of sharing, and recognizing that we all have sacred things dear to each of us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.dubay1 Dave DuBay

    As a nonbeliever/skeptic, I enjoyed this article. BTW, increased diversity is a good thing for Christianity. Just as a free economic market makes products that benefit consumers, a free religious market makes the message more “efficient”, and reduces abuse of disproportionate power.

  • William

    As a follower of the Christ, I think it behooves us to acknowledge, in the interest of truth, that Christ never was in Christmas seeing as the celebration is an invention of the Roman church. If one will only study the scriptures one will see that there are only a couple of birthday celebrations mentioned and they are rather ungodly affairs celebrating the birth of evil kings. Happy whatever!

  • David

    Really excellent article, and I hope you and your friends and family have an amazing Christmas too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ukumbwa Ukumbwa Sauti M.Ed.

    So no one has got anything to say about the fundamental nature of christendom, of christian cultural hegemony? If this conversation
    can only hover around saying ‘merry xmas’ or not, then the deeper issue
    here (that is also by the way a world-wide issue of colonialism and
    oppression) has been horrendously missed…..the message fallen on deaf
    ears…seed on infertile ground (and why so infertile?)….and the
    discourse hovers around the default sustenance of everything wrong with
    the christian question that this article implies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Russell/1327359416 Mark Russell

    You wanna know what grinds my gears? The war on Festivus.

  • Dan Mann

    I have to disagree. I believe that there is a real war on our faith but not from the frontlines being defended so vehemently by the line-stoppers in your story. I just arrived home from Orlando where I got the opportunity to “experience” the Holy Land via backstage in TBN’s Holy Land theme park. (don’t ask)

    Someone has absconded with my faith’s lexicon and is using Christian language to destroy the gospel. In the name of a christ with whom I am unfamiliar, I heard tale of miracles, healings, and wealth unreported. The war on my faith and on the red-letters of the gospel is not coming from outside, but from the mirrored halls of televangelism, the lavish homes of christian publishing moguls, the corporate offices of mega churches, and the well appointed back-rooms of denominational headquarters.

    There is a war to keep a christian cultural hegemony, but the war is for power, not for service. How in the world does a power-play such as this fit into the Gospel of Servanthood?

    Oh – but I do wish you all a happy holy day.

    • http://socimages.blogsome.com/ Alessandra

      Well pointed out. I would say, however, that the war is waged from the inside and the outside. Consider that Christian students are being expelled from public universities for affirming their religious views. Consider that many Christians or other social conservatives would be discriminated or be fired from their jobs, should they speak their religious views. Consider that healthy and wholesome religious views cannot be taught in public schools. Consider that various groups around the country declared war against one of the most successful companies based on Christian principles (Chick fil A) in order to destroy it. Consider that in the UK, Christian couples are now prohibited from being foster parents… These are but a few examples. There is very much a war, and the more that Christians refuse to take any legal, political, and cultural actions, the more their religious liberty is going to be trampled on and diminished.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1141512222 Michael Hattem

        The paranoia in this post is astounding. Expelling a student for speaking their religious views, or firing someone from their job for the same reason is against the law. I also wonder how it is you consider Chick-Fil-A to be a company “based on Christian principles.” Is fast food a Christian principle? Isn’t it instead just a company run by a Christian? Your entire post is an overreach. Christian couples in the UK are not “prohibited from being foster parents.” One Christian couple was denied. Also, “healthy and wholesome religious views” are not taught in public school because of a pesky thing known as the Constitution.

        Obviously the persecution complex is ingrained in Christianity but I think the author is right that this kind of reaction is largely based on the fear of a loss of Christian cultural hegemony. Too many Christians seem to think that “religious freedom” means the freedom to impose your own religious morality on others not of your faith. There are thousands of religions or religious sects/denominations in this country. Why should yours be taught in schools? Because you are the majority? That’s how it was up until the 18th century all over Europe, the results of which being the exact reason the founders rejected any sort of religious establishment. Read James Madison to see what the founders thought about the “tyranny of the majority.”

        Stop and think how the rest of the country perceives this sort of rhetoric. Non-Christians see Christianity granted extraordinary privileges in our society and culture. They walk around seeing Christmas everywhere including nativity scenes in front of public and government buildings. Non-Christians who happen to work for Christians are denied legally-mandated health insurance coverage because it conflicts with their Christian employer’s religious doctrine. Non-Christian women are being told what they can and cannot do with their body by fundamentalist Christian activists. And, after all this, those same Christians whine about a war on THEM? If there is any religious war being waged in this country, it is by the fundamentalist Christian Right to impose their beliefs on everyone else.

        People like you are not having their religious liberty under threat; you are threatening the religious liberty of everyone else.

        • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

          Michael Hattem wrote: “The
          paranoia in this post is astounding. Expelling a student for speaking
          their religious views, or firing someone from their job for the same
          reason is against the law.”

          Obviously you know very little of what is happening in this country. Jennifer Keaton and Julea Ward were two excellent students that were expelled for expressing their wholesome, wonderful Christian views. They both had to sue their university to fight for their most fundamental right to public education. So far, Jennifer lost, Julea won. Even though Julea won in court, she lost the four years of her degree, she was obliged to find another school and start again, she had to go through a lawsuit – simply to defend her right to a conscience. Both students were horribly attacked for their views and prohibited from getting their degrees.
          This is no persecution “complex,” it’s the ugly reality of a society and any environment where liberals are dominant. It’s liberals that are shoving their beliefs on everyone else – and if you refuse to have your conscience trampled on and if you stand up for your rights, you are persecuted – regarding your job, your education, your dignity, your freedom of speech, etc.
          Julea Ward and J Keaton didn’t threaten any religious liberty of anyone else. It’s the dominant liberals in society, in the legal system, and in academia that persecuted them.

  • http://northierthanthou.com/ northierthanthou

    Thank You!

  • stardreamer42

    I have always wondered what anyone thought they would accomplish by SNEERING “Merry Christmas” at someone else. Besides making themselves look like complete assholes, that is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Tiffany/100001926356049 David Tiffany

    The true meaning of Jesus’ birth is not all inclusive regarding other faiths. There is no other Name given to us by which a person can be saved from judgement. Any other name claiming to save, cannot save, and is an offense to the cross. Atheistlegitimacy.blogspot.com

  • Kristen

    I disagree with this article and would like to point out that the Pope never says that “to be gay” is deplorable, nor does the Catholic Church teach this. The Catholic Church teaches instead that, wether you are heterosexual or homosexual you are to live a life of chastity and purity.

  • Mary

    One thing that bugs me about the paranoid ideas of the ultra-right. They immediately jump on the ‘persecuted Christians” bandwagon often without even investigating the issue. They assume that all so-called Christians are pure and holy in their motives. and that if they get in trouble with the law that they are completely innocent of all accusations. Well,unfortunately for them, THERE ARE TWO SIDES TO THE STORY.

    There are quite a lot of Christians seeking fame and fortune by playing the victim.

    I am perfectly willing to admit that there are some legitimate cases of discrimination but that is a far cry from there being some evil conspiracy by our government to destroy Christianity. We have Christians being brutally murdered in some radical muslim countries and yet our own Christians in America act like having a stubbed toe is just as serious???

    I do however get frustrated with the problem of being politically correct all the time. Many non-Christians celebrate Christmas so it that shouldn’t even be an issue. Over 25 years ago in high school I gave christmas cards to my classmates. I didn’t do a survey of their religious views ahead of time. One guy got upset because he was Jewish. All I was doing was wishing him a “happy-whatever” but he took it out of context.

    Maybe we should all get tatoos stating our religious status so that we can avoid walking on egg-shells all the time. GEEESH!!


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