Fox News, from what I’m told, is again fighting the War against Christmas battles. It’s a canard, of course, since no sensible human being can seriously engage in an effort to deny Christmas. But for the denizens of that “fair and balanced” network, claiming that atheists and other “radical/liberal” non-believers are out to destroy the holiday feeds into the mania that apparently keeps viewers hooked to the message, which, of course, is anything but fair and balanced.
In truth, if there is a war against Christmas, it is the one that our capitalist economic system has devised over the decades since the “greed is good” view of wealth and possessions gained traction (circa 1980 from my historical perspective). Until then, Christmas was a joyous time, to be sure, but it was far more rooted in the spiritual essence of the holiday than in the commercialism that has consigned the newborn babe in the manger to a cameo appearance at best in most current depictions of the holiday.
As one who once worshipped the day as a devout Christian but long ago relinquished that faith in favor of a more rational view of reality, I would love to see the holiday taken back to the spirit of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” or of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” More specifically, I would greatly appreciate having Christmas celebrated for what it truly commemorates.
Here is what I understand that commemoration to be:
For true believers, Christmas commemorates the birth of God’s son, who was born to save humanity from the eternal damnation that awaited all who led un-righteous lives. Simply stated, Jesus died on the cross to cleanse our sins. The Gospel of John captures the significance of that death and, concomitantly, of that birth, perfectly: “God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not die but have everlasting life.”
Okay, so that’s what true Christians believe, and for them, the celebration of Christ’s birth should most assuredly be an event of great joy. For if you believe that there is a judgment to be made of your life when you die, and if you further believe that there is a potential not to die spiritually, but rather to live forever in some kind of soulful existence, then the birth of Jesus is most certainly a day to be celebrated and commemorated.
But, and I hasten to add this point before going to the non-believers’ reason for commemorating his birth, that commemoration is desecrated with the very kind of vainglorious commercialization of the holiday that Christmas has become. Buying the most expensive gifts, moreover receiving them, cannot be, in any way, a means to stay in touch with the spiritual significance of the holiday.
Okay, so it is probably not all that appropriate for a non-believer to be preaching on that subject to those who claim to have the kind of faith marked by John 3:16, so let me leave that sermon where it is and move to the significance of the holiday for those of us who don’t worship the Lord, but do respect the teachings that the Bible attributes to Jesus.
And that’s where this War against Christmas nonsense really gets me angry. No thinking humanist can deny the power of the lessons Christ provided in the short year (two at most according to the scriptures) of his ministry. Those lessons are timeless, albeit they are not unique to Christianity. And why wouldn’t it be appropriate to celebrate and commemorate the birth of a historical figure who preached of the power of love and the true meaning of that word. We do no less for other great historical figures, many of whom incorporated parts if not all of Christ’s teaching into their lives. (I’m thinking specifically of Nelson Mandela here, but others could also be mentioned.)
Now I will acknowledge that there are die-hard atheists whose zealotry rivals that of the most devout evangelical. Those in this camp are engaged in a war, if you want to call it that, against all religion. Bill Maher, who is otherwise greatly to be admired, appears to fall in this camp, although it may also just be part of his shtick. But the argument Maher often makes is that all religion is counter-productive in terms of furthering the real needs of modern society. He points to the many wars throughout history that have been fought in the name of religion, the current example being radical Islam.
But whether that argument is valid (and it may well be), the core teachings of many established religions, especially those that marked Christ’s Sermon on the Mount and his Golden Rule, are undeniably positive messages for a modern world that is often teetering on destructive paths.
And so, yes, I’m more than happy to celebrate Christ’s birth, not as the son of a God in whom I do not believe, but as a teacher from another time in the history of mankind whose lessons are even more valid and necessary today.
“Love one another.” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Are any of these aphorisms hostile to the kind of world all thinking human beings, whether they are non-believing humanists or faith-based believers, yearn for? Is there anything contrary to the betterment of human kind in what they espouse? Does it matter that they were spoken by someone whom some consider the son of God and others consider a remarkably insightful and wise man? The answer should be self-evident and should put the lie to any claim that there is a serious War against Christmas.
I celebrate the birth of Jesus just as I do the birth of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. They were all great men who tried to live the kind of lives Jesus taught. And since the celebration of Christ’s birth is met universally with such good cheer, bonhomie, even, why shouldn’t I welcome its annual return?
So let’s celebrate the birth of this great man. Believers and non-believers alike can rightfully commemorate his teachings and rejoice in the fact that he lived.
Happy Holidays, er, Merry Christmas, then, to all. God bless us, everyone.