Sunday, December 24, 2006

The “War” on Christmas

Tibor R. Machan

Some polemics are useful. They help emphasize certain points. I use them myself in my writing, as when I call government regulations “petty tyrannies.” Maybe that is to overstate my point but on the other hand it’s not at all far from the truth—when government imposes burdens on people who have not been convicted of any crime, that is a kind of tyranny.

A local church, however, has gone a bit far when it titled an upcoming sermon “The War on Christmas.” Nothing original in it, of course, given how a great many pundits have been claiming that such a war is being waged, as part of America’s “culture wars,” another bit of polemic that’s over the top. Why?

Well, I don’t know about my readers, but I have actually experienced war first hand, back when I was a kid in Central Europe. I remember very well when I was only about 6, Budapest was under siege and it didn’t consist of people talking in provocative ways as in the "war" on Christmas. No, the war involved heavy bombing, thousands of deaths and injured, near complete destruction of a once beautiful European city, and all the other horrible real ingredients of a war. The so called war on Christmas involves nothing remotely close to this. Instead it is an attempt, at its worst, to undermine the way people think about Christmas.

In a pluralistic society like America, where there are by the last count I am aware of 4200 different religions—with several major ones vying for the faithful “to come in”—one certainly should expect what is perhaps best regarded a competition among various religions. Most belief systems have adherents who would wish those systems to tower over the others. After all, the faithful and their leaders take these systems to be true, the correct faiths, so it is not surprising they would want to spread them, not only in one country but across the globe.

But this is no war. Or it certainly need not be one. If I urge someone to accept my religion, to convert, mostly I would do this by persuasion, not coercion, or at worst by means of some tricky polemics. Which is to say peacefully. The same, after all, goes on in politics. We urge our fellow citizens to switch to our side and so long as this is done through argumentation, even perhaps some intimidation—say when we threaten people with hell fire unless they come aboard—that is entirely civilized and no one has reason to object. If the atheists want to insist that the days Christians call Christmas are, in fact, old pagan celebrations, so there is no need to use the Christian term for them, that’s something people can consider and either accept or reject. There is nothing war like in it at all. If Jews try to spread the idea that Hanukkah is a more accurate term for the season, that, too, is perfectly civilized, unobjectionable as a matter of religious partisanship.

But by labeling these efforts on anyone’s part—Christians, Jews, atheists, agnostics, Moslems or whoever—something even remotely like a war, them’s fighting words, as one might put it. Why besmirch a peaceful effort to get people to adopt one’s point of view a war? I have to consider that this is a trick, a way to make one’s faith out to be some kind of victim of aggression by the dissidents and to solicit vigorous, even physical defense!

Back in the days of the Soviet Empire, when a dissident didn’t use the terminology approved of by the government of the USSR and its various puppet regimes, these dissidents were jailed, sent to labor camps, even murdered. For what? For what was on their minds, for what they believed, even though they did nothing war like at all about their dissent. Calling their views subversive, treasonous, or the like was a way to label them violent when, in fact, they were anything but.

Similarly, to label the efforts of members of competing belief systems to spread their ideas a war is deceitful. Some of the faithful may well accept the notion that if someone is attempting to covert us to their viewpoint, this amounts to aggression and should be met with forceful defense. This, yes, can even lead to church burnings, attacks on the dissidents even though they have done no violence to anyone.

It is interesting that those who are supposedly following the lead of the Prince of Peace would perpetrate such verbal slight of hand that can encourage violence.

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