Dear Catholic League: Please Stop Helping

Dear Catholic League: Please Stop Helping December 3, 2014

Here’s CL’s latest Holiday Offering/a>

Because putting a wordy, confusing, hostile, defensive, and passive-aggressive billboard up to baffle and assault innocent motorists is what Christmas is all about.

Had a conversation recently on FB with somebody who announced “I love saying ‘Merry Christmas’ because it makes liberals squirm” and who followed this up with the strange remark that saying “Merry Christmas” is like giving rat poison to liberals.

Cuz that’s not at all pathological or anything.

Here’s the thing: when you turn a blessing like “Merry Christmas” into a culture war weapon against Teh Damn Libruls, the problem is with you, not the people you seek to make “squirm”.  Hoping that somebody will hate Christmas so you can make them squirm is an excellent way to make yourself hateful.  Comparing Christmas to rat poison is serious Mission Creep.

And, of course, the irony is that these mythical squirming liberals are mythical.  I live in ultra-violet blue Seattle and regularly wish people “Merry Christmas” all the time during the season.  Nobody takes offense or squirms.  They just say thank you, offer some similar sentiment, and smile and everybody goes on their Merry Christmas way.  The *only* people I ever run into who talk about how allegedly offensive “Merry Christmas” is are Culture Warrior Right Wing Christians who dream of making somebody squirm by saying it.  I have never in my life been told by any Lefty that “Merry Christmas” offended them.  I have often been wished “Merry Christmas” by Lefties (and by non-Christians of various stripes).

Christians who run around looking for reasons to be offended when some harried department store clerk says “Happy Holidays!” or “Season’s Greeting” (since they don’t know if the customer is Christian, Jewish, Muslim or None of the Above) have a total net impact of affecting harried clerks and normal people as 1) butthurt human toothaches and/or 2) belligerent bullies looking for a fight. That is not what Christmas is about, Charlie Brown.

And, of course, the grand irony is that the real driver in the neutral “Happy Holidays” approach to Christmas is not Squirming Secular Humanist Liberals.  It’s good old-fashioned beloved-by-conservative-Christians Capitalism.  Corporations and businesses who don’t want to offend customers are the ones who opt for the cheery neutrality.  Ordinary people, however, still tend to take any greeting cheerily.  If a clerk says “Happy Holidays” the sane response is “Thanks!  Merry Christmas to you too!”  If a Jewish friend says “Happy Hannukah!” the sane response is “Thanks!  You too!” not, “Merry *Christ*mas, Jew!”

I would tell you how to apply this to people who wish you a happy winter solstice or Saturnalia, or some other outre holiday, but here’s the thing: those bogeymen live almost entirely in the imagination of the Culture War militant who spends his time dreaming of making liberals crawl and squirm for Christmas.  It’s not a real issue.  It’s a ginned up Culture War issue invented by people who think that Christmas is a tool in the culture war and not the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ.  I’ve never in my life  run into somebody who wished me a “Happy Solstice” as anything other than a gag.  Don’t get manipulated into reducing Christmas to something as petty as an opportunity to make some tribal enemy squirm.  Be counter-cultural and joyous.  It’s not every day that the God of the universe places himself in our midst, not as a conquering tribal warrior, but as a helpless baby.

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  • The Lost Dutchman

    Happy Festivus!

    • Evan

      You beat me to it.

  • petey

    the Catholic League are christian haters?
    [/pedant and proud]

  • Dave G.

    Speaking of postmodernity.

  • Diana

    Merry Christmas, Mark. Blessings of the season, and happy all-the-holidays!

  • AquinasMan

    It’s good old-fashioned beloved-by-conservative Christians Capitalism.

    Ugh. That’s quite the unsupported generalization. Tell that to the biggest supporters of capitalism: Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Tim Cook, George Soros, Eric Schmidt, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Jeffrey Immelt, Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, Tim Geithner, Kenneth Cole, Jeffrey Brotman, everyone in every Hollywood hot tub — all liberal democrats. And each of their respective outfits are in the vanguard of normalizing sexual perversion and the marginalizing of Christianity in the culture and workplace.

    That said, CL does a nice job of making sure we all know that Christmas is all about confrontation. I may not appreciate atheists and other religious groups trying to hijack public spaces that are set aside for a uniquely Christian holiday — just to counter the Christian holiday — but this billboard is straight up tacky.

    • petey

      “And each of their respective outfits are in the vanguard of normalizing
      sexual perversion and the marginalizing of Christianity in the culture
      and workplace.”

      my shea can speak for himself, but i think that’s the point. capitalism, beloved of conservative christians, is necessarily (imo) corrosive of culturally cohering institutions and mores. how to square this contradiction?

    • chezami

      I didn’t say all capitalists are conservative. I’m pointing to the fact that conservative Christians go to the mat defending capitalism, even when capitalism is often busy doing things they hate. The myth that Big business is conservative drives a lot of GOP (and therefore conservative Christian) rhetoric:

    • Peggy

      David Horowitz, reformed former member of the New Left, told the story of trying to get corporate sponsors of a pro-market and conservative event. Not one corporate big-wig was on board. They were a bunch of socialists as well as socially liberal. So, they wanted wealth for themselves, but dependence for the rest of American society?

      I am grateful that there are some wealthy businessmen such as the Koch’s standing for economic and political freedom. I don’t know that they took a stand on religious freedom, ie, HHS mandate.

      • chezami

        The Koch’s don’t stand for freedom. They stand for enslavement.

        • kirthigdon

          I have a close friend who works for the Koch brothers’ Flint Hill Resources and is raising a Catholic family of six kids in a pretty comfortable life style. If he is any example of how the Kochs treat their employees, I’d say American workers need a lot more of Koch style enslavement.

          Kirt Higdon

          • Kurt 20008

            Does your friend perform working for the Koch’s or are they just handing him money out of charity?

            • kirthigdon

              As I wrote, he works for one of their companies and I’m sure he does a good job, so no they are not handing him money out of charity. But just as clearly they have not enslaved him. My comment was addressing Mark’s statement that the Kochs stand for enslavement.

              Kirt Higdon

  • Mark R

    To say “Happy Holidays” is fine. In sort-of Catholic Poland 🙂 the standard greeting is literally translated as “Happy Holidays”. This at least acknowledges that the season has more than one day to keep holy, unlike we religious minimalists in the U.S.
    And really, a lot of liberal types don’t really care what you say. I live in a high Jewish population area and a lot if them say “Merry Christmas” to their neighbors too.

    • “Good King Wenceslas”

      Do they take Advent more seriously in (Catholic) Poland’s culture? Or is it like in American culture where Advent is pretty much ignored & the Twelve days of Christmas (Dec. 25-January 6) also ignored?

    • sue

      Many non-Christians celebrate Christmas, even some Muslims I know. So the holiday really isn’t a religious one for many, but a social celebration…

  • Ken

    Is there another religion that is upset that it isn’t being hijacked to push consumerism? Why do we care if these companies use “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays?” Is the Catholic League aware that Christmas trees and shopping has nothing to do with our faith? Twenty years ago Catholics were complaining about the consumerism of our faith now we want them to use it sell products? I don’t get it.

    • Elmwood

      it’s called “americanism”. that somehow america is the best place for catholicism to flourish and we can in good conscience uncritically support all things GOP or Democrat (pre-emptive wars, arms race, materialism, culture of death, capital punishment, anti-intellectualism, fundamentalism.. etc.). The Fox News culture war is something americanists support.

      • Ken

        Thanks. You’re right the whole Fox culture war thing is totally lost on me maybe because I live in reality.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    The Catholic League is an embarrassment to the Faith. “They mean well” no longer holds any water.

    • “Good King Wenceslas”

      Sir, I’m a card-carrying, first-degree, fully-sworn member of Grandmaster Donahue’s The Catholic League… take back your statement or face the guillotine (& die)!!!!

      • Mark S. (not for Shea)

        Lemme see your card.

  • Deacon Chuck Stevens

    I have to admit the first time I read it, it seemed to me that the Catholic League was identifying themselves as Christian Haters….the grammar seems to lend to the context that abroad Christian haters are beheaded, etc….. go figure….

  • Amanda

    I completely agree with this point. I used to work in a small independent children’s bookstore owned by a lovely Jewish lady and with a large Jewish clientele–we did a huge business in December for both Hanukkah and Christmas gifts. Especially in that context, it simply didn’t make sense to wish customers anything other than “Happy Holidays!

    I did, however, have a friend (raised a conservative Catholic but now rejects all of that and into truly bizarre stuff, e.g. reptoids) once pointedly wish me a “Happy Winter Solstice” on Christmas Day. That was fairly easy to respond to, managed to suppress a visible eye roll as I chuckled and said, “A few days late there! Merry Christmas!”

    • aj10

      I must have ADD because the word “reptoids” immediately had me Googling. They are defined as half man/half reptiles living in tunnels underground. What!!!???

      • Amanda

        Yeah…like I said, truly bizarre. The reptoids also run every major government in the world, dontcha know.

        • kenofken

          And I’d be ok with that, if they did a better job.

  • benedetti

    The Catholic League is a mirror image of hypocritical liberal groups who refuse to attack liberals. Where was the criticism of Ted Cruz after his outrageous behavior attacking the In Defense of Christians group for not putting the interests of Israel above the interests of Middle Eastern Christians? That is just one example.

  • Doug Sirman

    Like “anal-obssessive,” it just needs a hyphen. …I just thought that needed to be said.

  • Catherine Castillo

    Peter didn’t abandon Jesus because Peter wasn’t willing to fight, he was. Peter abandoned Jesus because Jesus asked him to put away his sword. Being secure in the Truth is the only real weapon one needs. If people would take the time to get what they believe in their minds to travel deep into their hearts they wouldn’t feel so defensive about their faith. All that in your face “Christianity” seems more about insecurity then about spreading the love of Jesus.

  • Joey Odendahl

    Can’t “happy holidays” also be an easy way of mixing Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years into one easy phrase?

    • Shh! We must assume the worst on the part of other people!

    • Tracy

      That was what I always thought it meant, anyway. Just a way to combine all three holidays.

    • cmfe

      “Holiday” = “holy day”, therefore “Happy Holidays” is A-ok, folks!

  • Dave G.

    I’m of two minds about this. On one hand, I think much of this is silly, and missing the point that we’ve been secularizing the holiday for some time. Run by a big eastern syndicate and all. And I’m sure many say such things as ‘happy holidays’ for reasons that mean nothing other than it’s what they do.

    On the other hand, I can’t bring myself to believe that there are none who don’t have other reasons for discouraging the open expression of certain religious expressions at this time of year. Ones who could be seen supporting things like the HHS mandate, or punishing certain religious views about homosexuality in the public square.

    A priest from Nigeria was at our parish a year or so ago, and he mentioned this and other cases of pushing religion out of the public forum, and he did so with a warning. Don’t wait until the government is passing laws against you, because then it will be too late.

    So the above billboard? Yeah, that’s a bit over the top. Or possibly the low road. But to just walk away and act as though it couldn’t possibly be a big deal, especially when we bemoan so many similar things not to do with Christmas, might also fall short of the best solution.

  • kenofken

    I’m probably the biggest secular liberal on this blog anymore, and I can honestly say it doesn’t bother me when anyone wishes me a Merry Christmas. If they try to put up a Nativity creche on the front lawn of city hall, I’ll fight them tooth and nail, but if you’re Christian and saying it out of genuine good will, you’ll never get a rise out of me. This fight only exists in the Bizzaro World of the conservative culture war. Fortunately their “war” now has the credibility and strategic prospects of Japan’s Imperial Army in the Philippines circa 1970, a few crackpots sniping at whatever sad target of opportunity they can find.

    Oh, and Mark, on the chance ritual duties prevent my doing so on Dec. 21……Happy Solstice! 🙂

    • “Good King Wenceslas”

      Merry Christ-Mass to you! Happy Hanukkah! Feliz Navidad! Buon Natale! Joyeux Noel! But honestly, nobody celebrates “solstices” except for bitter, disgruntled American Internet Atheists (I’m not saying you’re one). And the only celebration they do for their Day (not even ‘holy’-day) is go online & ignorantly criticize Christians 🙂
      American Atheists’ “solstice day” is even more irrelevant to everybody/culture as Americans’ Kwanzaa holiday 🙂

      • kenofken

        We have a pretty cool celebration which includes a nice ritual and a sort of mini-play where we get the kids involved when possible. I concede even we don’t usually refer to it as solstice. We tend to refer to it as Yule. We’re not Internet Atheists though (or any other kind).

        • “Good King Wenceslas”

          So it’s just simply a family-get-together, not an actual religious holiday? If you celebrated Christ-Mass, you’d get the whole thing- Christ our Saviour, Mass, Jewish Old Testament readings & fulfillments, Family, beautiful Carols/hymns (one of the best music that Western Heritage has to offer), Yule traditions (that were deemed worthy to be “baptized” into Christianity), & countless other cultural Christian traditions (from Italy to Mexico, Poland & Argentina to Philippines).
          Not to mention Eastern Catholic Christ-Mass cultural traditions (Lebanon, Syria, Bethlehem/Holy Land, etc.)
          kenofken, Join the Christ-Mass celebration! It’s a better deal.

    • “Good King Wenceslas”

      Enjoy “Good King Wenceslas” for your Christ-Mass carol

    • Dave G.

      The comparison to the Japanese is correct. The Conservatives are that irrelevant in the culture war because they lost. And just like Japan wrestled with how to accommodate the victors of WWII, so most have moved on to figure out which parts of the victor’s ideals will be accepted, and which ones won’t. Often with contempt visibly displayed toward others who don’t agree with which parts should or shouldn’t be embraced. Those few who hold out are, it must be admitted, pretty irrelevant at this point.

    • Kurt 20008

      Which is what puzzles me about the culture warriors. You as a secular person are fine with Christmas greetings but not with the crèche on the city hall lawn. I take it the later seems to you religious while the greeting can be devoid of denominational meaning. Why are the cultural warriors promoting a secularization of the meaning of this greeting.

  • Rosemarie


    At the risk of giving culture warriors another cause, there may arguably be a “war on Thanksgiving” now, with retailers effectively trying to turn it into Black Thursday. The “holiday shopping season” is threatening to swallow it whole.

  • Sue

    Thank you for this message. I, for one, really needed to ‘hear’ it. I have now been recalled to sanity.

  • Djk2450

    I try to be a good Catholic, and I also realize that there is a “war” against all things Christian. I do not believe in total passivity when we take a beating from liberals, muslims, atheists, or anyone else who thinks we are “nuts” or blasphemers. I love saying “Merry Christmas” for 1 reason: It is proper and not because it might tick off some earth mothers or fathers. PC has gotten us into a minority think-trap. I will continue to do what is right and not necessarily what is correct. Peace and God bless. Merry Christmas!
    PS: I think Bill D. of CL is pretty much on the mark.

    • traveler1405

      I work with a lot of friendly god-fearing Muslims. Half my family are athiests. All wish me a merry Christmas. So I don’t feel like me and my wife or my parish are under assault by these groups. I also have a little experience with war and don’t think advent in the USA resembles it in the slightest. Our brethren in the Middle East, however, are being persecuted, but that is a real war. So I take Marks point that we keep things in perspective about the often exaggerated war in Christmas here in the West.

  • cmfe

    Is that upraised sword really their logo!? Oh, my….

  • D.C.

    The martyrs went to their deaths singing hymns and turning cheeks and forgiving those who were persecuting them, humbled and joyful they found themselves worthy of martyrdom. Sound vaguely familiar? Maybe we can hammer that sword into a plowshare. The first reason would be, and I think we’re all in agreement here, you never see a well-hammered plowshare any more these days. The second? If we live by it, we’ll die by it. I know. Let’s forgive and move on. Life’s too short to argue and bicker. Especially during Advent. “O come, o come Emmanuel!”

    • cmfe

      DC, with your permission I will work, “you never see a well-hammered plowshare anymore these days”, into a conversation at my soonest opportunity!

      • D.C.

        Permission and blessings granted with joy. And giggles.

        • cmfe


  • dasrach

    When I shared this on Facebook, a friend of mine who is active in Renaissance fairs pointed out that she gets “happy Saturnalia” quite a lot from her Renfaire buddies because Renaissance fairs tend to attract a lot of Wiccans. Most of the people who wish her “happy Saturnalia” or “happy Yule” are Wiccan themselves and either assume she’s also Wiccan or simply go on holiday-wishing-at-Renfair-autopilot. She reacts the same way she would if someone wished her happy Chanukah or happy Eid: by smiling and saying, “Thanks! You, too.” There’s a time and a place for evangelization, and spitting people’s perfectly well-intended greeting back into their faces isn’t it.

    • “Good King Wenceslas”

      That’s incorrect. Holiday greetings are a great time for Evangelization. “Happy ‘saturnalia’!” Response: “Thank you! And Merry Christ-Mass to you!”
      Evangelization does not mean being all nice/smiley while hiding our faith/religion inside a small box where no one can see. We are to let Christ shine through us & never hide the Light (St. Matthew 5:14-16). Every opportunity counts since we’re dropping seeds of faith.

  • Sam_Handwich

    tis the season to be surly!

  • Kurt 20008

    Why it is the people quickest to wish non-Christians a merry Christmas are the same one’s most opposed to Eucharistic sharing?

  • Tim Padrick

    This atheist does not believe that the billboard is wordy, confusing, hostile, defensive, passive-aggressive, or baffling. But for many, those adjectives apply to any tome in which the truth is spoken.

  • Steven Allen

    Dear Patheos: I think you totally missed the point.

  • Smoky LaMar

    Spoken like social justice “gospel” adherent. Before you preach to others about their animus toward certain groups, you should examine yourself – your contempt for conservatives oozes from this article.