Background source: eclair (Flickr)
Assholeville, USA – 2010 has been a rather disappointing year for “War on Christmas” enthusiasts. The “war” has barely been a blip on the radar of the mainstream media while reporters have directed their attention on more pressing matters like Black Friday, the Tea Party, and WikiLeaks.
As the war approaches its 10th anniversary, the war seems to have dropped from the consciousness of a lot of people. Maybe it’s the fault of the “mainstream media” or, perhaps, maybe folks like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity haven’t frothed about the war quite so much this year. If they’ve prattled on about the war recently, I sure haven’t heard too much about it.
Why do I put the word “war” in quotes? To be clear, those are sarcastic air quotes and used to denote my lack of respect for the term.
Simply put, there is no war. It’s a conjured phrase that has been spoon fed to those hungry to believe by a few demagogues under a spotlight who are prone to histrionics and hyperbole. In fact, claiming there is a war on Christmas may be one of the greatest exaggerations of all time. (Perhaps right up there with The Greatest Story Ever Told.)
The logical disconnect behind the War on Christmas fallacy is simple. Some would claim that because of concepts like political correctness and offense that there is an effort to eliminate Christmas from our society. There is no such effort.
The belief that Christmas itself is under attack is part of what I call the “My Rights Extend Everywhere” mindset. There is a prevalent belief in our society that if one has the “right” to something, any impingement of that right in any situation or location is an attack against that right. That is a very common mistake to make.
My favorite example of this is smoking. In our society, individuals still have the right to smoke, whatever you may have heard to the contrary. However, that right doesn’t extend to all possible situations. You can’t smoke at work, in bars, on airplanes, around schools, etc. The right itself is still maintained only not to “everywhere” like it used to be. You want spend your money on a product that kills you (and those around you) and suck it inside your body, right into your very lungs? Go for it. You can do it at home. You can even legally do it to your children. You can even do it in your car. But you can’t do it everywhere. The “right” doesn’t extend that far.
My other favorite example is sex. I have the right to have sex. But where does that right extend? Basically it extends as far as my bedroom within my own home. Perhaps even as far as the laundry room if I’m feeling particularly ribald. But it certainly does not extend too much further that my house. I think you’ll find that most have a very narrow definition of the mobility of this particular right. The locations where I can’t have sex are legion. Just like smoking, I can list a few: church, work, school, a public sidewalk, a public park, airplanes, etc.
It turns out that many of our “rights” have such built-in limitations. Normally we accept these limitations as logical and practical. I have the right to bear arms. But I may be asked to temporarily give up that right to enter certain locations, such as private property (based on the wishes of the owner) or a courthouse (metal detector operated by a sheriff deputy).
“Do it at home” seems to be, in my humble opinion, a very integral piece of a lot of our rights. I have the right to teach my child the religious beliefs of my choice. And the proper place for that is in my home, and, obviously, in my church, if that’s how I choose to spend my free time on Sunday. That does not mean, however, that my right to do so extends to the public school system. It doesn’t. Yet this is a major bone of contention in our society and I simply don’t understand why. Well, actually, I do. It’s about proselytizing. If there is one thing religions need it is a continuous stream of new recruits. That’s an “agenda” if I ever saw one!
I believe this same sort of concept applies to “Christmas.” Just because some might say “you can’t favor one particular religion on public property” is decidedly not the same thing as saying, “We are out to completely eliminate Christmas – and your religion – from our society.” That is way too much of a logical leap. If you want to froth about the latter, such as claiming there is a “War on Christmas,” that is a different matter entirely, and one that must be logically proven on its own merit.
Is anyone out there calling from the removal of Christmas trees from private residences? No. That would be a core component to a real war on Christmas. Is anyone fighting to outlaw festive lights on houses? No. Are retailers free to use any language they want in their advertisements? Yes. They can say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” to their heart’s content.
In one case, a major home improvement store (Lowe’s) ran advertising for something known as “holiday trees.” The ads depicted evergreen coniferous trees decorated with lights. After public criticism and outcry, by some, Lowe’s responded by revising their print advertising. The same sort of trees were then described as “Christmas trees” in later advertisements. Was there “offense?” Yes, by those I would assume to view Christmas as having religious importance. Was the phrase “holiday tree” deemed by some to be “politically incorrect?” Again, yes, arguably by the same people. But did persons with a different point of view try to respond by claiming there was a “War on Freedom?” Did they view Lowe’s freedom of expression as being under attack? No.
Lowe’s legally has the right to use whatever damn language they want to describe their evergreen coniferous trees decorated with lights. But those who objected to one message over another were never painted as engaging in a “war.” Why is that?
When we inverse that scenario, however, it suddenly seems reasonable to folks like O’Reilly and Hannity and their eager followers that the opposite must be true.
The fact is, aside from public monies and public lands, no freedom of expression of any kind (except for the Lowe’s example above) has ever been under attack.
You want to wish people you meet a Merry Christmas? Go for it. The vast majority of people you say that to will not be offended. (You can’t please everyone all of the time.) Personally, even as an atheist, I use the phrase all the time. To each their own. You want to decorate your house? Go for it. You want to put a Christmas tree in your living room? Go for it.
You want to spend public funds and utilize public lands to celebrate a particular religious point of view? Oops. You just went too far. Having an opinion against the use of public monies and lands is not the same as attacking Christmas itself because it only pertains to a narrow slice of the spectrum. Rights do not automatically extend everywhere.
Some make a big deal out of criticizing those who hold such an opinion. They criticize them for being too “politically correct.” Rather than respond with reason and argument they personally attack. (The textbook example of not being able to prove your point.)
I can’t help but wonder. What if the local City Hall put up a creche on public property and labeled it “A Catholic Christmas.” Would Episcopalians and Lutherans and Mormons and the 27 other flavors of Christianity feel left out? Dare I ask, would any of them feel slighted or even offended? I dare say that some of them just might. Jews? Atheists? What about them? Why should a public government activity of any kind favor one religious belief system above another?
I believe that the use of public monies should be extremely limited and used only for the purpose it was taken by the awesome power of force in the first place. (Call it my tea party streak, if you will.) I don’t agree with the Post Office running television commercials. I don’t agree with the U.S. Military spending money on advertising. And I don’t think public monies should be spent recognizing religious events and beliefs. Ever.
So please try to recognize the phrase “War on Christmas” for what it really means. It’s a tool used to portray a discussion about a very narrow sliver of the overall pie as an attempt to take away the whole damn thing, and nothing could be further from the truth.
Next time you hear someone complain about the “War on Christmas” try to think about their position, their agenda (if you will), and what they are really trying to claim. And think about how intellectually honest (or not) they are being when they resort to such a broad brush and frothy hyperbole and histrionics.
Wouldn’t we all be better served if would could debate our opinions more logically and factually?