Is Christmas under attack by militant secularists? Well, sure. As part of their broader effort to marginalize and delegitimize Christianity, the secularists have done what they can to attack Christianity’s most popular holiday. We’ve all heard about this year’s “outrages” on the part of school districts, local government units and chain merchants–although it does seem that we hear about the same handful of incidents over and over.
While thinking about the left’s attack on Christmas a few days ago, I remembered a conversation I had some years ago with one of my partners, who was then representing a tobacco company in litigation brought by the State of Minnesota. Of the claim that the tobacco companies had conspired to prevent people from learning that smoking is bad for you, he said: “If so, it’s the least successful conspiracy in history.”
That’s pretty much how I feel about the left’s effort to drain the religious meaning out of Christmas. There are, for better or worse–and I think it’s for the better–two Christmas holidays, one religious and one secular. In my view, it’s great for non-Christians to partake in the holiday spirit, join in expressions of good will toward men, exchange gifts, or whatever. It’s up to us Christians to maintain the religious significance of the holiday in our own homes and congregations. Singing Silent Night in a candle-lit church on Christmas Eve, with the pews packed with children, always brings tears to my eyes. I really don’t need to hear Silent Night on the Muzak in a shopping mall, and in fact, would just as soon listen to Frosty the Snowman.
Of course, my perspective is influenced by where I live. My state may be blue (slightly), but my neighborhood is about as red as you can get–RVs, big dogs, Democrats an endangered species. At Christmas time, my neighborhood goes all out; in fact, we sometimes see tour buses driving down my street in the evening, full of people admiring the Christmas decorations. Here are a few samples; click to enlarge. My favorite is the third, which is exceptionally creative, I think.
So Christmas is alive and well, as is Christianity, in this country, anyway. And I suspect that a frontal assault on Christmas, the world’s most popular holiday, is the least promising way for the secularists to advance their cause.
I’m pretty optimistic about the broader attack on Christianity, as well. It seems to me that in the big picture, there are two main aspects to the left’s campaign to drive Christianity (really, all religion; the left doesn’t like Judaism any better, when it is actually practiced) underground.
The most general area of concern, I think, arises from the whole concept of separation of church and state. The Constitution refers to no such thing, of course, but merely prohibits the federal government (but not the states) from establishing an official religion. But in any event, in the early years of the republic, the “separation” concept would not have been overly problematic because the space occupied by the state was narrow. Even if one assumed that religion should be banished from the government’s domain–and no one did assume that–the consequences would have been minimal, since the government’s domain was so limited.
As government’s sphere of influence has grown steadily over the past century, the concept of “separation” has become much more problematic. The most obvious example is today’s vast public education system, which impacts most families more than almost any other institution, and which had no parallel in the time of the Founders. As government’s tentacles have grown ever more intrusive, and more and more of our economy, our social institutions and our lives in general have fallen within the sphere of the state, there is a real danger that if religion is excluded wherever government is present, religion may be marginalized and virtually driven underground. This is, I think, the left’s intention and strategy.
I just don’t think it’s working. The American people have stubbornly refused to fall in with the idea that religion is a disreputable anachronism. For whatever reasons, we are in the midst of a religious revival in America that is steadily moving our culture away from its European roots.
We are about to witness a major battle in the war against religion, as President Bush stands behind his nominations of conservative judges. The left is trying to establish a hitherto-unknown principle, to the effect that no conservative can serve as a judge whose veiws are influenced by religious conviction. (Or, as some Democratic Senators suggest, “strong” religious conviction.) This is, of course, a one-way street. No one has ever hinted that a liberal judge who says that his religious faith motivates him, for example, to seek racial equality would thereby be disqualified.
The Democrats’ position is, in historical context, laughable. The world-wide abolition of slavery was brought about more or less exclusively by people who were acting on religious conviction. The same is true of the abolitionist movement in this country and, later, the civil rights movement. The vast majority of Americans think it is not only acceptable, but a virtual requirement for public officials to take Judeo-Christian principles into account in discharging their duties.
I’m looking forward to the Democrats’ effort to explain to the American people why people of faith can’t be appellate judges. It will be, I think, another nail in their coffin. After all, Democratic politicians, when they are running for office, have to pretend that they are constantly influenced by their own religious convictions; just recall John Kerry in the last election, or Bill Clinton carrying a Bible around for the benefit of Sunday morning photographers.
So: religion is undoubtedly under attack, but here in America, at least, the battle is going quite well. That doesn’t mean that people of faith should let down their guard, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we should be oblivious to what is happening around the world. In a number of countries, to be a practicing Jew or Christian is to risk death. But let’s, for now, celebrate the fact that religious conviction is advancing, not receding, as a factor in American life.
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