Merry Christmas and welcome back! Hope you had a wonderful holiday. Today I want to talk briefly about this really interesting piece I saw about the annual “War on Christmas” that Fox News (Faux Noise?) trumpets and bleats about with more stridency every single year.
In this piece, Chris Stedman discusses an interview he did on Fox News a couple of years ago about some atheist billboards that had gone up poking fun at religious beliefs around the holidays. Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly sounds like he really wanted Mr. Stedman to be some kind of strident, nasty atheist, but instead he got a reasonable, perfectly sane-sounding atheist. Unsurprisingly, this year the show did not have Mr. Stedman back, and instead featured some quack psychologist who attempted to psychoanalyze the atheists who’d put up this year’s billboards:
. . . I got a call saying they weren’t able to book a studio in time. Instead, they had a psychoanalyst on the show to “diagnose” the atheists behind the billboard as “sadistic.” (I felt this was particularly ironic since O’Reilly pressed me last year on why American Atheists puts up these billboards and I explicitly said we shouldn’t psychoanalyze. To emphasize what should be obvious: It’s professionally irresponsible and dangerous to psychoanalyze someone you haven’t met.)
Mr. Stedman asks in this piece why Bill O’Reilly–and Fox itself–does not choose to talk about atheism in any other context other than to present it as a strident force out to steal all the Whoville children’s toys on Christmas Eve.
I would think that the answer to Mr. Stedman’s question is pretty damned obvious.
The Christians who genuinely believe that they are being persecuted–when they are not in fact being persecuted–are getting something out of this belief.
The bleating happens because Christians are angry–and a little scared. Fox kicked off this pity party by pandering to its terrified base of furious Republican!Jesus Christians; they responded to it bigtime, so Fox got emboldened and began pandering harder and harder to them and manipulating them based on this made-up panic. At this point, even knowing non-Fox viewers think the idea is a laughable joke, way more Christians than I feel comfortable thinking about believe that there really is some effort on the part of non-Christians to ruin everything wonderful about Christmas.
Their solution to this problem is for the rest of us to shut up and leave them to their fun time pretendy games in peace, even if what we’re actually doing is trying to halt their encroachment on American civic rights and liberties.
The more we speak up about the illegal encroachment of religion into matters of government, the more they are stung by our lack of participation in the fun time pretendy games they are playing.
The problem is that their fun time pretendy games need everybody around them to play along or everything is ruined for them. We remind them that why no, their religious claims are not actually obviously true, universal, or even completely dominant. So our very existence is a challenge that must be destroyed.
I really think it feels threatening to such Christians to imagine a time coming in the very near future when their religious ideology is just one voice out of many that clamor to be heard in the marketplace of ideas. When I was Christian, that kind of thinking made me afraid of what my church insisted was a coming apocalypse filled with Raptures and persecutions unheard-of. But this level of frenzied panic is just getting out of hand, and you can tell by how they’re ascribing “sadistic” tendencies to groups whose billboards say things as innocuous as sharing the fact that atheists exist at all.
It really doesn’t matter what non-Christians say, how we say it, or how nice we dress up and smile when we say it. Our mere existence sends these “war on Christmas” types into fits; one Christian civic leader, Mayor Margie Rice, even said that one of those billboards “turned her stomach”. What did that billboard say that disgusted and sickened her so badly? Was it pictures of kitten abuse? Did it advocate the eating of babies in garlic sauce?
The billboard that “turned her stomach” said, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” All it took was just a public declaration of non-belief to sicken her like she was on a cruise ship. Surely it wasn’t even a real surprise to her that some people don’t believe in the same superstitious nonsense she does, but what she seems to have really disliked was that a group of people publicly declared disbelief. She didn’t want the reminder that atheists exist. She wanted to have the joy of going through her life with blinkers, blind to the stark reality of atheists, atheists just everywhere not being ashamed and silent.
In the same exact way, Christians are well aware that gay and trans people exist and want to live their lives free of interference. But they are far more concerned about society “cramming homosexuality and lesbians down our throats,” to quote Dee Wampler, a fine upstanding long-time Christian lawyer who wrote a letter protesting the idea of giving a lesbian couple healthcare coverage. They’re more worried about being confronted with the existence of LGBTQ people than they are with their own oppression and marginalization of such people. Christian bigots like Mr. Wampler are more upset about who is participating in the social conversation than they are about the rampant injustice and unfairness happening as a direct result of Christian bigotry and hatefulness.
It’s hard not to think that what they’re most upset about is that we’re talking at all.
The more we push back against Christianist encroachment into our lives, bodies, business, and educations, the more these zealots are reminded that they aren’t our owners or caretakers, and that their voices–once the loudest in the discussion–are no longer dominant, and that their opinions–once considered of vital importance–are now irrelevant to anybody but themselves.
Their reaction to our pulling away from their control really seems like the tactic of an abusive romantic partner. Ever had a partner who you had to walk on eggshells around? I sure have. I eventually got spooked by my own shadow because my then-boyfriend blew everything out of proportion so much and so often. He did it to make me question my own sanity and trust his version of reality more than my own, which makes this tactic a form of gaslighting. I had to very carefully choose just what I would object to and how I’d object to it because some subjects just set him off like it was World War III. He used his anger and bizarrely disproportional reactions to manipulate me into behaving the way he wished. Over time, it got much easier for me to just comply with whatever he wanted rather than spark inevitable fights. (I was fresh out of Christianity and had no clue what personal boundaries were, but as I learned that lesson, the relationship spiraled into weirder and weirder territory until it finally imploded. And incidentally, he wasn’t and had never been a Christian.)
Live and learn, right? But now I see Christians reacting to simple statements of non-belief like it is A WAR ON CHRISTMAS, like it is a literal war, like it is literally warlike behavior, when the evidence is in, amigo, and there’s nothing left to ponder: almost all non-Christians in America like Christmas just fine and celebrate it to one extent or another and certainly enjoy it. We aren’t interested in fighting against Christmas, just violations of the Wall of Separation–a wall that benefits Christians just as much as it does non-Christians.
What freaked-out persecution-fantasizing Christians are doing is trying to prime us not to dissent any further or any harder than we already are. They want to move the focus from the illegal encroachment in question to a straw man that is far easier for them to attack.
If they’re freaked out over us not wanting Nativity displays on public land to the point that they’re comparing our request that they follow the Constitution’s directives to us attacking them as people do in warfare, then they’re not going to be in the slightest interested in critically evaluating what we’re saying. IT’S WAR, OMG! WAR WAR WAR! Didn’t you see? WAR!
War justifies any excessive reaction. Defending oneself in a war is a kneejerk reaction that calls for pulling out all the stops. All is fair in love and war, after all. Christians paint themselves as the good guys, which makes those fighting them the bad guys. And in war, good guys try to eliminate bad guys.
And oh honey, there ain’t nothing that Republican!Jesus likes more than a good war. (If you see me using a adjective!name construction, that’s a fanfic convention that denotes “an emphasizing of that facet of that character,” like how Hurt!Snape is a version of Severus Snape who is in emotional or physical pain. Republican!Jesus is that characterization of Jesus that Republicans tend to favor–one who loves guns, hates immigrants, wants to control women, despises LGBTQ people, and gives the finger to poor people. You can have a lot of fun with this convention; a crack!pairing is a fanfic story about two characters who not only have no business being paired romantically but who are never paired in their canonical universe.) Republican!Jesus said that there’s a war on, and Fox News agrees, so Christians better get on it! Fuck that “turn the other cheek” horseshit. To hell with that namby-pamby lovey-dovey crapola about walking the second mile or comforting the mourning or feeding the hungry. That was then; this is now. Obviously when he said “love your neighbor as yourself” he meant to add a whole page’s worth of asterisks for when loving one’s neighbor means vandalizing anything they say that’s critical to his religion. Even if that hypocritical violence just distances people further from the religion and makes people think even less of a religion whose reputation and credibility are already in the deepest of deep shitters, a war justifies any action.
In the absence of any real excuse to make war on non-believers, and to save themselves from confronting the awful truth about their own culpability, the followers of Republican!Jesus are more than happy to make something up. The truth–that they are in fact the ones removing rights from others; that they are in fact the ones trampling others’ lives and interfering with their private business; that they are in fact the ones violating the goddamned law here and not their enemies; that they are 100% in the wrong about there being any kind of War on Christmas and also 100% in the wrong about what they imagine is involved in the Constitution’s protections against religious overreach–oh, that isn’t even whispered, much less discussed.
Not in times of war.
In war, one asks forgiveness, not permission.
In war, the end justifies the means.
In war, the only thing that matters is victory over one’s enemies.