By Louis Avallone
“I am so sick of myopic, self-centered, ‘persecuted’ Christians who complain about a fake war on Christmas by the people in this country who don’t happen to share their particular views,” a letter to the editor of the Dallas Morning News started out.
The letter continued, “So please, Christians (‘persecuted’ Christians, not the kind who actually do unto others as you would have others treat you), open your eyes and see that the U.S. is not a Christian nation but a giant melting pot of many different cultures and beliefs. The world does not revolve around you.”
Maybe this describes your opinion of the matter, as well. Maybe you feel Jon Stewart from “The Daily Show” said it best when he said, “You’ve confused a war on Christianity with not always getting everything you want.”
Or, on the other hand, maybe you would have shouted “Amen!” to Ronald Reagan when he said, “Christmas can be celebrated in the school room with pine trees, tinsel and reindeers, but there must be no mention of the man whose birthday is being celebrated. One wonders how a teacher would answer if a student asked why it was called Christmas.”
But whichever pew you sit in, the religious celebration of Christmas faces trivialization every year, and this is what many characterize as the “war on Christmas.” It draws attention (and controversy) whenever folks demand that a Christmas tree be referred to as a “holiday tree,” or when seemingly benign Christmas carols cannot be sung in our schools, or whenever Christmas decorations are not permitted to be displayed in our public squares, for fear of offending others.
Just a few years ago, for example, even the White House was not planning to display the Nativity scene, which has been a longtime East Room tradition. Instead, according to the White House’s former social secretary Desiree Rogers, the “Obamas were planning a nonreligious Christmas.”
But good grief. Does hearing, “Peace on earth, good will toward men” really sound oppressive? Does “Joy to the world” bring despair to those who hear it? Is there such a scarcity of darkness in the world that a few twinkling lights might not brighten one’s day, or where the innocence of Santa Claus might not teach us all that it is in giving, that we receive?
Poll after poll has shown that the fear of offending others with “Merry Christmas” is misplaced. According to the polling firm Zogby, 95 percent of Americans are NOT offended when they hear “Merry Christmas.” In fact, even 62 percent of non-Christians (including Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists) all celebrate Christmas, in some form or fashion, plus more than half of self-identified atheists and almost 90 percent of agnostics.
Interestingly, this misplaced fear of offending others, through religion, was the reason that the CBS network executives almost canceled “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” back in December, 1965. You see, the executives did not want Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. It was thought that viewers would not want to be preached upon by an animated cartoon, especially from Biblical passages.
Yet 15 million viewers, or one-half of the television viewing audience, tuned in to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” when it first aired in 1965 and it has become the longest-running cartoon special in history, having aired now for 48 Christmases, and receiving an Emmy and a Peabody award along the way. Those CBS executives just got it wrong when it came to religion.
So, what’s the commotion about the “war” on Christmas? It’s really about a larger “war” on Christianity, and not just here at home, but around the world where Christians are persecuted, and even killed. It is estimated that 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed against Christians. Even Pope Francis recently pointed out, “So many Christians in the world are suffering,” and “giving their lives” for their Christian faith.
When your waitress at Denny’s says, “Happy Holidays,” or your local Radio Shack doesn’t even acknowledge the reason for the season, that’s not the same as taking machine gun fire to your soul, but some Christians are arguably concerned that it’s an awful, slippery slope.
You see, history teaches us that imperceptible changes can have a lasting, irreparable effect on society. Dictators understand the effectiveness of eroding freedoms by imperceptible reductions. As Adolph Hitler wrote in his book, “Mein Kampf,” “the people will not see those rights and freedoms being removed until past the point at which these changes cannot be reversed.”
And it is this feared, imperceptible erosion to the freedom of religion, and persecution for one’s beliefs, that concern folks so much that they characterize the trivialization of Christmas as a “war.” Those that mock their angst, or making fun of their concerns, simply aren’t digging down deep enough.
Yes, the true Christmas spirit still comes from within, and it is not just a time of year, but a state of mind. I just pray now that Charles Schulz is still right when he said, “There will always be an audience for innocence in this country.” Well, I hope so. Our nation’s future literally depends on it.