Humanists, atheists, Christian fundamentalists and cable talk-show hosts are again launching verbal grenades in the Christmas wars.
Last year’s outbreak was so successful that the American Humanist Association (AHA) has launched another holiday campaign with signs on buses and rail cars in five American cities. The ads show the smiling faces of individuals wearing Santa hats. One sign says, “No God…No Problem!”
“This year’s holiday campaign aims to promote the idea of being good without God,” said AHA’s press release. It quoted the organization’s executive director saying, “Religion does not have a monopoly on morality – millions of people are good without believing in God.”
One AHA board member defended the ad campaign: “For too long, humanists and atheists have been marginalized, ignored or demonized in what many refer to as a ‘Christian country’ or a ‘Judeo-Christian country.'”
Harvard University’s humanist chaplain endorsed the AHA campaign with the claim that “if Humanist organizations are celebrating the holidays more publicly these days, it is because the holidays are not about God.”
On the other side, the American Family Association (AFA) has launched a boycott against three stores owned by Gap Inc., accusing the company of censoring the word Christmas.
“The boycott is part of our ongoing campaign to encourage businesses, communities and individuals to put Christ back in Christmas,” read an AFA press release. “Christmas is special because of Jesus…For millions of Americans the giving and receiving of gifts is in honor of the One who gave Himself. For the Gap to pretend that isn’t the foundation of the Christmas season is political correctness at best and religious bigotry at worst.”
Several weeks before AFA announced its boycott, Gov. Steve Beshear (D-Ky.) came under fire when his administration called the evergreen on the Capital lawn a holiday tree, rather than a Christmas tree.
Under pressure from a Baptist preacher, a Republican Party leader and a Christian Right leader, who accused Beshear of stealing Christmas, the governor soon reversed himself, reinstating the name Christmas before tree.
Bill Donohue, president of Catholic League, a right-wing advocacy group, saw signs of a war on Christmas when an annual Christmas parade was canceled in a community outside of Cincinnati.
The day after Thanksgiving, a Washington Times editorial said, “The war on Christmas is really an attack on Americans’ independence. We can’t do anything anymore without our betters supervising what we drink, drive, eat, smoke or read. Surely we can’t be trusted to celebrate on our own, either.”
Fueling the conflict, Fox News claimed there was a war on Christmas at an elementary school in the Boston area. Bill O’Reilly weighed in on his show calling the school principle “a nut” and asserting “that this is the kind of fascism…that is just unacceptable.”
Other cable channels can’t be far behind.
Caught in the crossfire are Americans of all religious convictions and no faith commitments who want to enjoy the Christmas season without the culture war. When our nation is already fatigued from two real wars, we really don’t want fatigue from a fake one.
As a Christian, I must confess that the American version of Christmas is too materialistic and narcissistic. It’s more about getting than giving, more about ourselves than others, more about Santa than the Savior.
If there is a grand conspiracy with Happy Holidays, instead of Merry Christmas, it has to do with commercialization of a sacred event for the singular purpose of profit, not purging faith from the public square. I wish Christian fundamentalists felt less alienated from our culture and were more on target with moral critique.
I also wish humanists and atheists felt accepted enough in the public square that they didn’t need to defend themselves with an ad campaign and could spend those dollars on advancing the common good.
Surely if “the better angels of our nature” prevailed, then we would all profess that what everyone of goodwill really wants at Christmas is what the angels proclaimed at Jesus’ birth – “on earth peace.”
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. This editorial appeared originally on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” Web page in a shorter and different version.