The Fundamentalist War on Christmas

For my last post on the “War on Christmas”, did you know that the historical and modern reality is that there actually has been, and still is, a war on Christmas? The crazy truth is that there actually is a war on Christmas– and it’s not being fought by the people you’d expect… the legitimate war on Christmas has been, and still is, waged by Christian fundamentalists. In the past, they had law and culture on their side. Today, they wage it through shaming and argumentation.

Either way, this is a battle that has been primarily fought by fundamentalists, and likely will continue to be fought by them.

With the affection we have for Christmas as Christians, we tend to assume that those who have gone before us held it in equal regard– but that’s simply untrue. Specifically within the context of American Christianity, celebrating Christmas was actually made illegal by the Puritans (in 1659)– any participating in Christmas would earn the more liberal Christian a monetary fine.  Even the simple act of taking the day off from work was often considered participation in Christmas, and worthy of being charged.

While Christmas didn’t stay illegal, it actually hasn’t been a holiday in America for all that long. The last state to recognize Christmas did so in 1907, and the first didn’t until 1890, which historically speaking, isn’t that long ago. Yet even after it had become legal to celebrate, the fundamentalist war against Christmas continued– as John Gibson notes in The War on Christmas, as late as 1869 public-school kids in Boston could be expelled for skipping class on Christmas Day.

Hard-core fundamentalists/religious conservatives/puritans (depending how you define the terms) have always hated Christmas (along with the other celebrations of the Church calendar, such as Easter). The earlier ones in our country fought it quite effectively, winning the law on their side if only for a time. However, they still controlled the culture forces for quite some time, causing the celebration of Christmas to be something that was culturally frowned upon in parts of the country.

This, was the real war on Christmas.

Believe it or not, this culture war to rid ourselves of Christmas is still alive and well in fundamentalists circles, as I have just witnessed this week through watching conversations on Facebook. While they no longer control the narrative, there are still considerable pockets of fundamentalists trying to convince other Christians that it’s a sin to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The objections are the same as back in early American history; Christmas was originally associated with a pagan holiday and the Bible doesn’t command we celebrate it. The fact that a bit-o-drinking goes along with the holiday and some rowdy parties take place, sealed the deal withe the Puritans– and continues to seal the deal with fundamentalists today.

If you don’t think a Christian on Christian war over Christmas exists, you’d be wrong. Over the past few weeks, I haven’t received any negative e-mails from atheists or Hindu’s regarding the celebration of Christmas, but I have been told– by fellow Christians– that I’m not a “true” Christian for celebrating Christmas. As one commenter on the blog wrote:

Unfortunately, their argumentation doesn’t make a lot of sense (as with a host of issues fundies argue about). For example, this commenter cites Jesus’ teaching on money (you can’t serve to masters, God and money) as somehow relating to Christmas. They are convinced of their position and I fear there will be no unconvincing them: no good Christian should celebrate the birth of the leader whom our religion is named after.

Makes complete sense to me.

The current war on Christmas looks differently than with the early Puritans. Gone are the days of actually trying to legislate a ban on Christmas– instead, like latter Puritan culture, the modern attempt is to wage the war within Christian circles, and to win by convincing other Christians that they are either “sinning” or “not true Christians” by participating in Christmas.

Case in point: the other night I stumbled upon a fundie conversation on Facebook on the subject of Christmas, and the thread made it clear that the fundamentalist Christian war on Christmas is still being waged. Now, for contextual purposes, the original poster is a fundamentalist street preacher (the kind with a vehicle that has “repent” sprawled across it), and the folks who chime in are presumably other, stricter fundamentalists. This context should show the battle ground where the real war on Christmas is played out:

 

So, when we talk about the “war on Christmas” we should first remember that there actually was a war on Christmas– fought by Christians, who actually succeeded in making Christmas illegal. Second, we should be aware that the modern war on Christmas isn’t being fought by the ACLU or the Freedom from Religion Foundation, but instead is being fought quietly within fundamentalist subculture.

The real war on Christmas doesn’t look like a billboard— it looks like Christians telling other Christians that God works for the NSA, has secretly installed a hidden camera in your house, and will know of you’ve hung a stocking by the chimney with care or not.

And, if you do, you might as well jump into that fire yourself– because that’s where you’re headed when God reviews the secretly recorded security footage of your house.

This is the real war on Christmas. The war on Christmas is quietly played out by telling others that you don’t “fear God” that “God is recording everything you do”, that you are not “set apart”, that you are “offending” God, and that you’re one day going to have to “stand before him” because you celebrated the birth of Jesus.

The beauty of this fundamentalist tactic is that as soon as Christmas is over, one can use the same exact lines and argumentation for the war on whatever is next.

So, yes, there is a war on Christmas– but it’s not being fought by the people you’d think.

The war on Christmas is, and always has been, a fundamentalist endeavor.

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  • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

    I can’t wait until this month is over and we can all start focusing on the War on St. Patrick’s Day.

  • rebel83

    I morn my fellow snakes on that day.

  • Holly Hendricks

    How about a war on commercial Christmas? Attend services, spend time with family and friends, honor the stories of your particular tradition, make gifts for others and encourage your loved ones to join you to do the same, practice moderation in all things, and look at your habits and practices in terms of what Jesus taught: feed the hungry, keep an eye out for helping those in distress, promote peace in the world. (FWIW, I’m a Unitarian Universalist who loves Ben Corey’s writing and thinking, but who is not Christian-identified — some UUs are, while others regard Jesus as a great teacher — and this is how I celebrate Christmas.)

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship Censored

    Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping is fun! :)
    http://www.revbilly.com

  • twinkie1cat

    Why? Why take out the fun part. It’s fun to decorate and give and receive presents and eat without worrying about some nutritionist’s tasteless diet plan and exercising. It’s fun to be with friends and family and family of choice! What better way to celebrate the birth of Jesus than by having fun?

    Yes, Christmas is a great time to remember the walk of Jesus and to do what he did here on earth. But we really should be doing that all year around, just a little better, perhaps when we celebrate his birthday.

  • Holly Hendricks

    I totally agree, twinkie1cat – we plan delicious meals and give a little extra to the local pantry and supper program too. The fun is the best part. If a family truly loves buying presents, especially if it doesn’t require increasing debt that creates a burden down the road, go for it. (My concern? I hear more and more parents bemoan the commercial emphasis as a burden for the family, so many of my friends have looked for ways to make and do things together that are delicious, fun, loving and memorable!) It wasn’t my intention to promote grim austerity – ugh. Sorry if I misled on that part.

  • http://faithlikeaman.blogspot.com/ Ryan Blanchard

    lulz

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    Had to look up lulz in the Urban Dictionary, but thought of you when I wrote the piece.

  • https://ryanrobinson.ca/ Ryan Robinson

    There are lots of things simultaneously laugh and cringe-worthy up there, but the one that really took the prize for me was the commenter who pointed out that Sunday was named for worshipping the sun (correct) and so we need to worship on Saturday instead, without realizing that this is the day named to worship Saturn.

  • twinkie1cat

    Sounds like a possible 7th day Adventist, who are kind of Christian fringe like the Mormons. Yes, pagans worshipped the sun on Sunday, but that is also the traditional day of the Ressurection of Christ, which is the reason our faith exists—-even though he might have actually come back on a Thursday. That’s another thing that bothers me, fundies who constantly remember the death of Christ. Anyone who was crucified died and in a very awful way. The Crucifixtion was necessary. But the Ressurection is why we are Christians today. Between the death and the ressurrection, , the disciples thought the whole thing was over with and went back to their jobs. They saw their leader die. They did not have the Holy Spirit yet so they could not keep the message flowing. But when Jesus returned from the dead, that changed EVERYTHING.

  • Psycho Gecko

    Yeah, I saw a big ole billboard from a Seventh Day Adventist Church claiming that the Antichrist tricked people into worshiping on Sunday rather than Saturday.

    As for the rest of your post, you’ve made me a believer…in Dionysus. He died and was resurrected for us, with wine as his sacrament. This god of the Ancient Greeks was known as the Light, the Way, and the Truth. We should remember his supernatural resurrection

  • gimpi1

    Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I’m a bit of an outsider to most faiths. My dad died and resurrected. He really did. He suffered a traumatic brain-injury in an industrial accident in his early 20’s and was DOA at the hospital. He was in the morgue, toe-tagged and everything, when an attendant noticed a faint twitch in one foot.

    He was rushed upstairs, and, after a long period of recovery and re-learning almost everything, he was able to come home. He suffered some permanent brain-damage, and was truly a different person after the accident, but he did come back. He was able to return to work, and worked until his mid-40’s, when a shift in a large calcified aneurysm caused additional damage, and he had to be medically retired. However, he was active in his church and senior center for the rest of his life. He lived into his early 60’s.

    When that happens in your own family, you’re hard to impress.

  • Charley

    the greco-roman days were named after the planets/gods (in order): Sol, Luna, Ares, Hermes, Zeus, Aphrodite, and Cronos,

    the germanic people adapted that slightly:
    Sunna’s day =sunday
    Mona’s day = monday
    Tiw’s day = tuesday (aka Tyr)
    Woden’s day = wednesday (aka Odin)
    Thor’s day = thursday
    Freya’s day = friday
    Saturn’s day = Saturday (this is the only day that retains it’s roman roots in english/germanic)

  • Jill Roper

    I have dear friends who won’t celebrate Christmas. We have freedom in Christ and even Paul said in Romans 14 we have freedom in Christ to celebrate one day over another or not celebrating one day over another. As a side note, it’s hard to celebrate Christmas this year after getting back from Haiti and seeing horrible poverty beyond description. Anytime though the world looks at the story of the Savior is great in my book.
    Blessings Ben,
    Your covered sister :)

  • twinkie1cat

    Here is the joy for you. If you helped even a few people in Haiti have a little bit better life, then you were doing the work of Jesus. We never know how much even a little bit of good from a kind word, to medical care, to clothes, food or education, something changes in a person when they know someone decided they were a worthy child of God and helped them. Celebrate with joy that you had the privilege of going to Haiti and doing even a little something for the least of God’s children.

  • gimpi1

    Concur with Twinkie, Jill. You did a fine thing, working to help people in Haiti. Take joy, and pride, in that.

  • Gary Calderone

    Part of the genius of the early Church was precisely to turn Pagan holidays into Christian ones in order to make conversion easier. Many of the ‘sacred wells’ and other sites in Europe associated with saints or the Virgin Mary were originally Pagan shrines. Personally I don’t think God cares about these petty nonsensical squabbles. And if I may be a bit petty myself now, in the quote above by Belle Chang, for monotheist religions, “Gods” should not be capitalized. ;)

  • rebel83

    Genius yeah… We’ll go with that. Just as the killing of millions of Pagans because they wouldn’t convert was a work of Genius…

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship Censored

    Rather than announcing that passive-aggressive “I will pray for you” vilification, they’d be better off being as blunt as the John Butler Trio singing The Hand Of The Almighty.

  • Lisa Stollar Bollard

    The solstice is on the 21st. The sun stays in the constellation “the cross” for three days and then makes its ascent back up the horizon (actually its the earth’s tilt) and the days get longer, hence “The sun is born!” Now, its all really silly that there is a war on anything. Fundies need to get their stuff straight because God isn’t concerned about what we are celebrating, worshiping
    etc.. What God is concerned is the way people treat each other (and him since Christ is in each one of us). This planet is so messed up mentally.. SMH

  • Digger

    You sure have to discard an enormous amount of the Bible to come to the conclusion that God isn’t concerned about what we are worshiping. In the NT, Jesus says the two most important commandments are to Love God with alll of our heart and with all of our soul and with all of our strength and with all of our mind; and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves.
    According to you, God was wrong; we only need to love our neighbors.

  • Lisa Stollar Bollard

    By loving our neighbors we are loving God. By treating our environment and the nature around us with care, we are loving God. And yes, I do disregard an enormous amount of the bible. I do not subscribe to it being the inerrant “word”. It was created by humans who thought that they were getting inspiration from God, and translated a gazillion times, words were added, books were taken out, politics were involved to subdue the masses,
    lets not forget that. I do want to add that “Loving” God and “Worshipping” are two different things. I do love God with all my heart, and I love my neighbor as myself, and when one focuses on God, there is no desire but see God in everyone and everything.
    Peace to you.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship Censored

    > By loving our neighbors we are loving God. By treating our environment and the nature around us with care, we are loving God. And yes, I do disregard an enormous amount of the bible.

    I heartily concur. I prefer the heavily redacted Jefferson Bible that removes the Pauline dying-rising solar deity stuff and focuses on the ethics of Jesus.

    “The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.” ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, January 24, 1814

  • gimpi1

    A minor quibble, Digger. The quote is love God, not worship God. You can love something or someone without worshipping it. As Lisa said, many people feel, since God really isn’t on this plane to receive our love, by loving others, we are showing love of God.

    I’ve never understood why anyone, divine or not, would want to be worshipped. Loved, yes, but worshipped, no. But then, I’m not a believer, so perhaps my understanding is irrelevant.

  • Digger

    OK, Gimpi–I can’t reply to you with words you will believe, since we believe different things. Therefore, I won’t try. I will, however, reply to your comment with my perspective, as someone who does believe the Bible. Specifically, I want to address why God wants to be worshipped, as I think your comment is a superb observation–far more astute than many believers. (Most believers are lazy about reading the Bible, so they don’t really know what it is they believe in the first place. I often question question how they could truly believe.)
    There is ONE reason God expects to be worshipped: He deserves it. If I were to demand that people worship me, “because I am the greatest, I am perfect, I have never sinned, etc”, people would rightfully look at me like a crazy person. (more in the next post.)

  • Digger

    God, however, DID create this world and this universe and you and I out of nothing. God’s attributes are so marvelous that you and I can never fully understand them or comprehend them. The closest we can come to understand God is by learning about His Son, Jesus. According to the Bible, we can’t even believe in God unless we first ask God to make us believe, and He grants that prayer (He always does for those who truly want it). God is the only thing in the Universe that can grant us eternal life where He lives. (If we believe.) Because all of this is true, because God IS perfect, because He IS the greatest, because He IS our champion, it IS right to worship Him, and it IS right for Him to expect it. Allow me an analogy. Imagine the Chargers win the Superbowl (fat chance, right?) Now imagine that they walk off the field into the locker room, skipping the trophy presentation. Imagine Chrager fans don’t cheer. Imagine no articles in the paper. Imagine no parade. Funny, isn’t it. All those things are natural reactions to Superbowl champs.
    The natural reaction to true belief in God is worship. I hope you find this helpful. Merry Christmas.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship Censored

    > God isn’t concerned about what we are celebrating, worshiping

    I concur.

    “The most preposterous notion that H. Sapiens has ever dreamed up is that the Lord God of Creation, Shaper and Ruler of all the Universes, wants the saccharine adoration of His creatures, can be swayed by their prayers, and becomes petulant if He does not receive this flattery. Yet this absurd fantasy, without a shred of evidence to bolster it, pays all the expenses of the oldest, largest, and least productive industry in all of history.” ~Robert Heinlein

  • twinkie1cat

    Yes, and I dearly hate winter and getting dark at 5 PM. So far this has been a really cold one.
    So when the solstice comes spring cannot be too far behind.

  • twinkie1cat

    As a born again Christian who is evangelical but not fundamentalist I think God WANTS us to celebrate the birth of God’s son. It was quite a feat for God to send God’s own self to earth as our Messiah. No human could have done that. Yes, our celebrations have some pagan elements to them. That is at least partially thanks to Roman Catholic missionaries who adapted the Catholic faith to pagan customs—i.e. Santeria which is a mixture of voodoo and catholicism. We know also, historically, that Jesus was not born in the dead of winter. Personally I would not have placed Christmas a month after Thanksgiving or a week before the debauchery of New Years Eve. I would have put it in February, when nothing much is going on except Black History Month and Valentines Day and pretty well before Easter. Might be interesting to have Christmas and Mardi Gras clash, but that is not a nationwide celebration.

    The fundies always want to keep our faith grim and dark, as though we are to be punished for our sins by being denied joy, even to the point of making other people unhappy for the holidays. A major religion that calls itself Christian that doesn’t celebrate is the Jehovah’s Witnesses and any teacher can tell you what a nightmare it is for a child and teacher whose parents are devout JW and the teacher becomes the one forced to deny the pleasure of holiday related activities to a child being required to follow his or her parents’ faith. I have seen several cases where a child brought up in a minority faith, in two cases World Wide Church of God and in others JW, and in another Islam, the child goes completely overboard at Christmas when they leave that faith as an adult, thus undoing all the sadness the parents created as well as whatever good came from adhering to that faith..

    What is wrong with peace on earth and good will to all people? That wish does not interfere with anyone’s religion except perhaps the Aryan Nations and Christian Identity. Even atheists and Unitarians can wish or celebrate peace, and some Unitarians identify as Christian.

  • R Vogel

    As I read through the thread at the bottom of the article, I am struck by the vision of G*d the commenters, or at least one of them, have – “Everything we think, say or do is being recorded by G*d. I just don’t ever want to take a chance of offending him” First, G*d sounds an awful lot like Santa Claus with his naughty and nice list; second, assuming that offending him has some pretty bad consequences, he seems like a crotchety, thin-skinned jerk; and third, they must have skipped over 1 Cor 13:5. People believing in a G*d like that just make me sad. But if that is your vision of G*d, I can understand that a celebration of the baby Jesus wouldn’t really say much to you.

  • rebel83

    You know that God is going to be upset you censored his name right?

  • R Vogel

    G*d forbid!

  • D Lowrey

    While I don’t and haven’t celebrated Xmas in years…it’s not because of a fundamentalist twisting of the Gospel…but because everything bad seems to occur this time of year. Being single and having a birthday during this time…having others harp on me to be happy just magnifies the loneliness and depression I feel this time of year. I just give up trying to fit in and wait for January to start. I and others like me would be thankful to have others acknowledge this season isn’t joyful…but that we are hanging on by our fingernails.

  • Peter Naus

    Seems like it’s time to update the old saying…’Puritanism : the awful knowledge that someone, somewhere, is having fun!’

    When I was an evangelical fundamentalist, I thought it so strange that other fundamentalists would try and argue the exact opposite of our understanding that celebration of life, especially as important a life as Jesus’, was central to our faith in the rightness of everything he said and stood for.

    It was especially funny when one or the other side would ever so slightly misquote the same bible passage!

  • rebel83

    Happy Solstice Ben! If you don’t know what that is, well prepare to understand why the fundamentalists are so upset at the celebration.