Happy Holidays, Bill O’Reilly! Or, Yet More War on Christmas

I’m pretty sure that the the world can survive without another blogger commenting on the “War on Christmas,” but I have an irrestible urge to do it. For those of you who successfully managed to avoid knowing what this semi-controversy is (and I congratulate you on that), I’ll give a quick summary. From what I understand, Steve Gibson, a reporter for Fox News wrote a book arguing that Christmas is under attack, pointing out that there’s a movement toward saying “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. From what I’ve seen in a clip from Bill O’Reilly’s show, they link this to the decline of religion in Europe, saying that once you push religion out of the public square you get things like legal prostitution and other social ills.

I don’t agree.

Personally, I think that the source of the decline of the European church can be traced to state sponsorship of religion. In Europe, the state sometimes owns the church buildings, pays the clergy, and generally makes it possible for the state sponsored church to be completely disconnected from public wants.

By contrast, the US has a more “free-market” approach to religion. We give churches no support other than tax exempt status. Our churches have to be dynamically engaged with the culture they live in or die. And they do die. Where are the Shakers now? They used to be huge. By contrast, Pentecostals have grown immensely and so have other religious groups.

It seems to me that what Bill O’Reilly and Steve Gibson are advocating is more akin to state sponsorship of churches than anything else. In this case, of course, it’s more pressuring companies than passing laws, but, what’s the best case scenario if the general culture listens to them? Employees of various stores will say “Merry Christmas” whether they are Christian or not. More stores will have “Merry Christmas” signs instead of “Happy Holidays” signs. This won’t represent an honest desire to honor Christ. It will just be a realistic approach to avoiding a boycott.

I’m trying hard to think of anything good that can come of it.

Honestly, I don’t think anything bad is going to come of it either since I suspect this issue will evaporate once Christmas passes just like the whole “Christmas is getting too materialistic” concern seems to evaporate every year.

At core, the whole “War on Christmas” thing points to a larger anxiety that Christianity is disappearing from our culture. I don’t know if that’s true. Assuming that church attendance represents some level of commitment to Christianity, I’m told that the percentage of people attending church (around 40%) and the sex ratio (trending female) has been roughly the same for much of the country’s history.

If this is true then the “War on Christmas” is more perception than reality.

On the other hand, it might be that numbers don’t tell the whole story. It may be that Christianity is getting less influential and less important to the people who profess it. If so, pushing stores to continue saying “Merry Christmas” strikes me as more of a band-aid than a solution. If people believe in Christ, then it doesn’t matter whether the religion’s holidays are part of public life or not. If people don’t believe, you’re doomed from the start.

It’s in reference to things like this that I envy Orthodox Christians. They use a different calendar for determining when they celebrate religious holidays. As a result, there’s no confusion between what’s going on in public life and what they celebrate religiously. They get to have a Santa Christmas and a “real” one a few weeks later.

It makes obvious what I think is the real truth of things–the public Christmas has little if anything to do with Christianity. It’s a civil, commercial holiday that piggybacks on the religious holiday. I’m inclined to enjoy it for what it is and try not to confuse it with the celebration of Christ’s birth that goes on at the same time.

2 thoughts on “Happy Holidays, Bill O’Reilly! Or, Yet More War on Christmas”

  1. Excellent post, Jim!

    I agree that the decline of religion in Europe can be traced to state sponsorship. Such sponsorship makes religion just another government service, ensuring the goverment can care for you from the cradle to the grave and even beyond.

    I am greatly bothered by the whole notion of a “war on Christmas”. Those who speak of it are concerned that pagan (yes, I said that) Americans are removing Christ from Christmas. As one pastor I read recently (I do not recall his name) said, the bigger, more relevant problem is that too many have removed Christ from Christians. Rather than truly live out their faith, Christians in America would rather organize to get their guy elected or boycott Disney until Disney gets redeemed or somesuch. I teach an adult Bible study at my church and occasionally the idea of boycotting a large company (frequently Disney) comes up as a means of gaining some sort of national righteousness. I patiently (well, sometimes impatiently) point out that if Disney “learns” anything from a boycott by Christians, it will be how to better market to Christians.

  2. Amusingly, Disney is getting better at marketing to Christians as things are (and possibly for all I know in response to threatened boycotts).

    The guy responsible for promoting “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (a Disney film) is the same guy responsible for promoting “Passion of the Christ.” Whoever he is, he’s pretty good at it.

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