Let ‘Em Have X-Mas, Mr. O’Reilly

Bill O’Reilly doesn’t understand Christianity.

Two weeks ago, O’Reilly said, “It is a fact that Christianity is not a religion. It is a philosophy.” Now he’s questioning why so many Christian leaders have stayed silent about the “war on Christmas.”

The reason, Mr. O’Reilly, is because it’s not that important.

Years of being away from home during the Christmas season have taught me to appreciate the continuity of traditions that are shared across America. I’ve learned to appreciate Christmas lights hung hastily along roof ledges, grade school pageants, watching It’s a Wonderful Life on TV, and the skirmishes in the War on Christmas.

While this last tradition is the newest, it’s already firmly established across the nation. My generation and those that have followed have never heard a “Season’s Greetings” that wasn’t followed by a season of protest. Yet every year I’m baffled by the animosity toward Christmas symbolism. The same secularists who think that playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City while listening to gansta rap has no affect on children act as if hearing “Merry Christmas” will turn little Johnny into a Pat Robertson clone.

Try as I might, I can’t comprehend what could cause such a reaction. What is it about seeing a plastic baby Jesus lying in a manger on the public square that inspires such passionate outrage? Are they afraid it will lead to intolerance, religious bigotry, or—even worse—voting Republican?

But almost as peculiar is the counter-reaction of my fellow Christians, like Mr. O’Reilly. Tales of religious persecution told by returning missionaries lead to earnest prayers and the passing of the offering plate for a religious freedom fund. But an announcement by a senior deacon that the ACLU has caused the cancellation of the Christmas pageant will have the senior ladies auxiliary ready to march on Washington.

Naturally, we have an obligation to defend important cultural traditions. But could we be taking it too seriously? We act as if the struggle over holiday symbols will inevitably lead to intolerance of religion (“First they came for the plastic magi, and I did not speak out . . .”) or that the slightest retreat will lead to the cancellation of Christmas. Yet when we encounter true threats to religious freedom—like the recent HHS mandate requiring employers to pay for abortifacients—evangelicals merely shrug.

While we must always be on guard to protect our most cherished freedoms, we could use a little more discernment in choosing our battles. We must prayerfully choose both our campaigns and the rhetoric we employ. And sometimes we should admit when an issue isn’t necessarily worth the fight.

Such is the case with the “war on Christmas.” Perhaps we should let the forces of secularism have this one, let them win this skirmish. After all, wasn’t it Jesus who said, “. . . and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well.” When some group sues to remove the Christmas tree let’s give them the nativity scene as well. When the secularists fight to stop the Christmas pageant let’s let them have the caroling too.

Let them have X-mas—and let’s focus on showing them Christ.

  • Val

    “Try as I might, I can’t comprehend what could cause such a reaction. What is it about seeing a plastic baby Jesus lying in a manger on the public square that inspires such passionate outrage?”

    Is it really that much of a puzzlement? If you put a religious display in front of a government building, it looks like the government is endorsing that religion. If you doubt that, imagine what the reaction would be if other religions got to put displays in front of city hall for their religious holidays. Even if you personally may not be bothered by it, you’d likely hear some concern from your Christian brothers and sisters if local members of the Church of Satan put up a yearly display commemorating the birth of Anton LaVey. Would their reactions baffle you as well?

    • Derrick

      Yes, but if Christians did have that reaction, most of us would still call it the wrong reaction. The idea that public displays of religion are somehow a government endorsement or a violation of religious freedom is silly–especially when it is something like a nativity which has been culturally associated with the public holiday for a long, long time.

      On a side note: look at me! I’m participating in the skirmish! I just can’t let it go, Joe.

      • Val

        “Yes, but if Christians did have that reaction, most of us would still call it the wrong reaction.”
        Would you? Well, that’s certainly refreshing to hear. I’ve come across too many examples of Christians expressing outrage or even seeking to change rules that had previously given their faith a public platform as soon as other religions started to do the same. I can’t help but suspect that the same would start to happen with holiday displays in front of government buildings.
        But even if you’re right, my question for Joe still stands: would *he* still be baffled by negative reactions from Christians regarding non-Christian religious holiday displays?

        “The idea that public displays of religion are somehow a government endorsement or a violation of religious freedom is silly–especially when it is something like a nativity which has been culturally associated with the public holiday for a long, long time.”
        I didn’t say it *was* a government endorsement of religion. I said it *looked like* one. You’re right, holiday displays aren’t the best example of this, but I think something like the Ten Commandments being on display in front of a courthouse highlights the issue much more clearly. It’s a more obvious example, but it’s the same principle.
        There are only two ways to avoid the appearance of government endorsement or favoritism regarding religion: stay away from it all together (my preference), or let everybody play. If a town allows a religious display in front of city hall for Christmas, they should allow one for Ramadan, Diwali, Vesak, the Wheel of the Year, and any other religiously significant holidays that anyone wants. But, like I said above, once everyone starts playing, you start to hear more complaints and see the rules change.

        • Matthew Goldenberg

          Historically, objections of displays of religion (like the commandments in front of the courthouse) is a distinctly modern phenomena. Even when you study the history…. and yes including Thomas Jefferson! you don’t see our founding father’s opposed to honest displays of beliefs like commandments in front of a courthouse. You see him simply opposed to government active discrimination of one religion that leads to the denial of rights that we are all supposed to have as human beings. You see him opposed to (if the hypothetical example actually happened): The US Government considering itself Christian and outlawing Muslims to practice their faith. Or the US Government considering itself Christian and saying that no student can go to school unless they say the pledge of allegiance with the words undergod in it. Quite clearly, when reading the documents it is the denial of rights Thomas Jefferson was concerned about and not about a “public display”. I could site several sources to this, but I would hope this would be enough.

          Thus, this idea that our government is supposed to avoid “endorsement or favoritism regarding religion” is fundamentally flawed in the historical record. No logical sense has it when studying the history that government institutions (or even a teacher … which is hired by the state and therefore part of the Government) can’t in fact state an honest belief that they have deeply held. Or can’t display something that most people find inoffensive (10 commandments) in an effort to say these are principles that our law is based on.

          Sometimes Christians definitely fail when they try to understand other individuals. But on the same hand, sometimes atheists show tremendous disrespect to Christians too when a Christian can’t even say have a blessed day in an email and get yelled at by their advisor because it is bad socially in the research world. Or its frowned upon to talk about one’s honest beliefs in Christ during an interview because interviewers can’t mention religion for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. Or when a Christian can’t even argue with their friend on a particular point for fear of being portrayed as selfish, stubborn, prideful, and too stuck in their religious beliefs to think logically. Like it or not … there on this issue has always had discrimination and prejudice from both sides.

          • Matthew Goldenberg

            Wanted to state one more point. The image of the commandments in front of the courthouse is not a distinctly Christian image. It hold tremendous value for Muslims and Jewish religions as well. Furthermore, most other religions that believe in some form of a creator support it as well. Thus, it does have its place even in a secular world in front of a courthouse because it indicates more a government support of the principles within the ten commandments, that many many faiths can agree to. And not the government support for a particular faith.

          • Val

            You’ve given me a lot to respond to.

            Starting with your final paragraph, I’m well aware that when it comes to people’s interactions with one another, there’s plenty of religious intolerance to go around and that it comes from every conceivable religious persuasion. Distressing as that is, it’s kind of off-topic for me. I commented on this blog post because of Joe’s confusion over why someone would reject to a religious display on government property.

            It’s also off-topic to talk about whether or not objections to government religious displays are “historical;” that’s not very important to me. There are a lot of things that were historically accepted (like barring women from voting or atheists from holding public office) that eventually were recognized as major civil rights issues and corrected. Please understand, I am not trying to suggest that the issue of nativity scenes on courthouse lawns is of even remotely equal importance as the issue of women’s suffrage; I’m merely trying to illustrate that judging and issue by what has “historically” been acceptable may not lead you to a good conclusion.

            To me, whether or not something is constitutionally acceptable is of infinitely greater importance than whether or not it is historically acceptable. Since I’m not an expert in Constitutional law, I’m more than happy to let the courts sort out these matters (even when I’m less than happy with their decisions). While I did say in one of my previous comments that it is my *preference* that governments simply distance themselves from things like religious displays, I didn’t say that I thought it was (or should be) legally *required* that they do.

            It is my *opinion* that, even if the Constitution and every single Founding Father (and, in response to your second comment, a few other non-Christian religions) are 100% behind the idea of putting the Ten Commandments in front of a courthouse, it should not be done. I cannot think of anything positive to be gained from it, particularly anything that would balance the injustice of a single polytheist who, before walking into their own jurisdiction’s, has to first pass by a stone monument that tells them (in multiple places, depending on which version is written and the religion to which the hypothetical polytheist belongs) “Your religion is wrong.” What good does that serve and what sort of message does it send when coming from (or even just appearing to come from) a government who, as you yourself said, should not deny someone their rights based on their religion?

    • http://southerngospelyankee.wordpress.com yankeegospelgirl

      Comparing the Nativity to a Church of Satan display. I’m gonna mull that one over. I am gonna MULL that one over.

      • Val

        Please do; I’d love to hear your thoughts.

        • http://southerngospelyankee.wordpress.com yankeegospelgirl

          Nah, you wouldn’t. ;)

          • Val

            I guarantee you I would. If you don’t want to share, that’s entirely your prerogative; just don’t make it about me, please.

            • http://southerngospelyankee.wordpress.com yankeegospelgirl

              No thanks, your arguments aren’t worth it and I’m a little tired right now for a rant that meets my personal standards of rant quality—appreciate the invite though.

              • Truth

                I know you can’t refute his arguments. That is often the case with people who are told what to think. If the government can sponsor Christianity, it can sponsor any other religion, including the Church of Satan.

                • Douglas Johnson

                  I’m going to give myself only 3 minutes to respond to this comment from the moment I type this colon: what you’re saying is you can see no difference between, say, a courthouse that has always had the 10 Commandments on the wall and a courthouse displays the tenets of Satan Worship. What you’re saying is there is a moral equivalence to discussing Christianity’s moral foundation to Western law and civilization on the one hand, and the moral foundation of Satan worship and Western Mall civilization on the other.

                  Okay, thanks to voice recognition, that only took me two minutes but now I’m embarrassed I gave it even that much time. Of course yankeegossipgirl isn’t going to mull this over.

                  It’s awful to see this kind of thinking on display.

                  • Alan

                    Yes everyone knows that the commandment to worship only one god is the foundation of our Republic.

  • http://southerngospelyankee.wordpress.com yankeegospelgirl

    I don’t think evangelicals were “shrugging” over the HHS mandate, unless they were liberals of course. I saw lots of concern about religious liberty among those who actually understood what was going on (but we already excluded the liberals).