Numerous commentators, with Fox’s Bill O’Reilly chief among them, are busy this time of year building up the idea that contemporary American culture has been carrying on a “War on Christmas.”
In support of this view, its proponents cite example after example of demands to remove crèche scenes from public property; officials canceling Christmas concerts in public schools (or renaming them Winter concerts, while limiting them to songs like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”); or leaders calling a Christmas tree a “Holiday Tree,” as the governor of Rhode Island, Lincoln Chaffee, was recently caught doing.
One North Carolina elementary school even censored a student’s poem for an assembly this year because it mentioned an unspeakable word: “God.”
It seems that Nativityphobes are legion, and so anyone wanting to build a case for a War on Christmas can find plenty of reasons—and more of them every year.
Many of those upset at these events note correctly that they violate Christians’ First Amendment rights to practice their faith in the public square, something that our nation’s Founders respected for every American of any faith.
But the reason for the hostility is rooted in changes in our culture that have made it more aggressively secular. Thus, Mary and her baby carry their message to a society that is increasingly antagonistic to it, unless its meaning is watered down to the point where Santa Claus gets awarded exclusive rights to the day—and even poor old Santa is too much for some folks.
Nevertheless, that trend—in some places, an open campaign—is not the central fact of what’s going on here.
WHILE THERE IS a war going on that is indeed centered on Christmas, it’s not the secular, unbelieving culture that started it.
What really happened is that, on a Judean hillside a bit more than 2,000 years ago, something happened that was in itself an act of militant intent.
I know, I know. It is not common or easy to think of the quiet birth of a baby, even one that billions of Christians believe to be divine, as a declaration of conquest.
Many reading this are probably offended that the language of conflict could ever be applied to the birth of the one whom the prophet Isaiah called “the Prince of Peace.”
And yet, the child born that day would grow up to say, “I came not to bring peace, but the sword,” and that spiritual metaphor runs alongside the message that thousands (or more likely millions) of angels sang from the heavens to a handful of shepherds below.
It is also underneath and behind the journey of three Magi from Persia to bring their precious gifts to a far more precious baby. What happened two millennia ago in the small hill town of Bethlehem, the “City of Bread” where King David had been born many years before, was in effect a declaration of war against an enemy who had been rampaging powerfully across all of human history.
That enemy is evil. Whether you personify it as Satan, or locate it in the depths of the heart in human monsters like Hitler and Stalin (or someone who can murder 20 children in an elementary school), Christmas took place to defy evil just as much as it established goodness.
What our culture denies is the central fact of Christmas: You can’t support the good without also standing against its negation.
In that way, those who do want to turn their backs on the good have no choice but to wage war on that truth.
Certainly, not everyone who finds Christmas offensive does so out of evil motives. Some are mistaken, some are misled about the nature of our freedoms, some are simply blindly following the social or media majority.
But there are also others. As the Media Research Center’s Culture and Media Institute (www.mrc.org/special-reports) noted on Dec. 11, “While the Christmas battles tend to be about symbols and signs of Christianity, what drives the animus the rest of the year is outrage that Christians take their faith seriously and try to live by its precepts. Liberal journalists who loathe religious principles also seek to marginalize any expression of traditional Christian morality.”
Note, for example, the mocking and slanders directed in the Maine media during the last political campaign against Christians who defended traditional marriage. There are plenty of national examples as well.
And it’s not just journalists. The entertainment industry routinely makes fun of Christians (remember the fuss over “Tebowing,” as Tim Tebow was mocked for thanking God) and Christians are held up to ridicule everywhere on television, with Fox network cartoons, Saturday Night Live and “comedians” like Bill Mahar at the head of the pack.
Then there’s our own government. President Obama has decided that the Department of Health and Human Services can overrule the basic theology of the Roman Catholic Church by ordering it to provide abortion-causing contraceptives to its workers.
And who can forget Democratic Party delegates loudly booing a move to add the word “God” to their party platform, a proposal that only succeeded because the person at the podium overruled the delegates on the floor?
It even happens abroad: As the MRC reported, “When German Prime Minister Angela Merkel declared in a November speech that Christianity was the ‘most persecuted’ sect in the world (primarily in Muslim nations, but also in Hindu-controlled regions of India and everywhere in China), the Associated Press’ recounting of Merkel’s comments featured the headline: ‘Merkel’s “Christian Persecution” Comments Draw Ire.’”
That’s right. It wasn’t the persecution that kills or imprisons tens of thousands of Christians every year across the world that drew “ire,” it was pointing out that it occurred.
THIS CONFLICT HAS BEEN GOING on for thousands of years, and one of its primary targets is the young—which is why fighting Christmas is so important to it.
One person who recognizes that clearly is Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration at The Southern Baptist School of Theological Seminary, where he also serves as professor of Christian Theology and Ethics.
In a Dec. 14 column, “School Shootings and Spiritual Warfare” (www.russellmoore.com), he wrote, “Throughout the history of the universe, evil has manifested a dark form of violence specifically toward children. Not only did the Canaanite nations demand the blood of babies, but the Bible shows where at points of redemptive crisis, the powers of evil have lashed out at children.
“Pharaoh saw God’s blessing of Israelite children as a curse and demanded they be snuffed out by the power of his armed thugs. And, of course, the Christmas narrative we read together this time of year is overshadowed by an act of horrific mass murder of children. King Herod, seeing his throne threatened, demands the slaughter of innocent children.”
Thus, Moore notes, “Jesus was not born into a gauzy, sentimental winter wonderland of sweetly-singing angels and cute reindeer nuzzling one another at the side of his manger. He was born into a war zone.”
And part of that conflict, he adds, is found in the fact that “Children are a blessing, and that enrages the horrifying nature of those who seek only to kill and to destroy.”
So, the murder of 20 helpless children in a school in Connecticut is a sign that things haven’t changed in all those centuries—especially in a nation where 800,000 babies die every year, not from a mentally deranged individual’s gunfire, but quietly and individually and alone in a doctor’s office by the stab of an abortionist’s knife.
If we truly wanted to save children’s lives, there’s the weapon we should be controlling.
Some people think we stand in solitude against such atrocities, but others think that in our boundless grief and sorrow, we are the furthest thing from alone.
Let Moore speak: “Let’s not offer pat, easy answers to the grieving parents and communities in Connecticut. We don’t fully understand the mystery of iniquity. We don’t know why God didn’t stop this from happening. But we do know what this act is: It’s satanic, and we should say so.
“Let’s grieve for the innocent. Let’s demand justice for the guilty. And let’s rage against the Reptile behind it all. As we do so, let’s remember that Bethlehem was an act of war . . .
“The mystery of evil is a declaration of war on the peace of God’s creation. The war goes on, but not for long. And sometimes the most warlike thing we can say, in an inhuman murderous age like this one, is ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.'”
Even so. And we can hope and pray that the day will soon come when we can joyfully add:
“Everywhere you go.”
M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where is Santa?
Where is the NRA?