Every Holiday season, news of fresh attempts to divorce Christmas from any vestige of its adopted Christian themes emerges (we first featured it in 2001). No one argues the fact that the secularization of Christmas is nearly complete. (Some orthodox Christian believers even question the validity of Christmas as a Christian Holiday in the first place, as did the early Puritans in the American colonies.) But even the sublime, generic sense of cheer associated with "the Christmas spirit" is now being stripped away, many feel (see Featured Article below by Veith).
This year, nowhere was the stark irony of Christmas sans Christ (or anything remotely related to the Christian religion) more apparent than in Denver. There, the Parade of Lights rolled along, replete with secular symbols of the season like gingerbread houses and Santa Claus mixed with what organizers claimed would be an "international procession to celebrate the cultural and ethnic diversity of the region," according to the event Web site. This included homosexual/bisexual Native Americans, belly dancers and a ceremonial Chinese dance which purpose was to "chase away evil spirits," reported the Rocky Mountain News. So what's the rub? Christian-themed floats were disallowed. WorldNetDaily reports, "Parade spokesman Michael Krikorian said the event does not allow 'direct religious themes.' Included in the ban [were] signs that read 'Merry Christmas' and the singing or playing of Christmas hymns. 'We want to avoid that specific religious message out of respect for other religions in the region,' Krikorian told the Rocky Mountain News. 'It could be construed as disrespectful to other people who enjoy a parade each year.'" (The rejected church group walked the parade route before it began singing carols.)
"Christmas is under siege throughout our nation, and...[several recent cases] demonstrate the kind of hostility and double standard being used by officials to deny Christians the right to publicly celebrate one of their holiest seasons," said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, which represents defendents in several such cases. "All I'm asking for is inclusiveness," Sandra Snowdon, discrimination plaintiff in a case involving a manger scene in her own yard, told the St. Petersburg Times one year ago. "I do not know why a baby Jesus in a manger would be so offensive to this town." (Nativity Banned, But Muslim, Jewish Symbols Allowed, WorldnetDaily.com, accessed 12-10-04). "...A high school principal in the Seattle area canceled a dramatic performance of Charles Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol," partly because he feared it would raise questions about the place of religion in public schools" (School Censors Christmas From Student Performance but Superintendent Leaves References to Hanukah, Kwanzaa, WorldNetDaily.com, accessed 12-10-04). The article continues, "Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat describes himself as a 'secularist and agnostic,' but, pointing to a wider trend, he wrote... 'even a lifelong doubter like me can see that something crucial is being lost, especially in the schools. If kids can't see a Charles Dickens play, hasn't the cause of separating church and state gone too far?' he asked.... Seattle area commentator Ken Schram commented, 'As the principal of Lake Washington High School, Robertson has joined the ranks of a sanitized society; the oh-so-nice, homogenized world of the politically correct,' said Schram, known for his blunt commentaries. 'PC paranoia,' he said, 'has led to the banning of a Dickens classic, by a seemingly nice guy who probably thinks he's doing the right thing. 'God help us, everyone''" (Dickens Classic Too Religious for School, WorldNetDaily.com, accessed 12-10-04).
In another case just this week, an Oklahoma school superintendent cancelled the singing of Silent Night and a nativity scene from a school play. He said, "I just could not break the law," Springer said. "We may have sins of omission occasionally, but we won't have sins of commission. If I know about something that I believe to be against the law, (then) we will take action on it." This telling ignorance of the law and fear of church-state separation issues plays out nationwide more and more each year, thanks in no small part to the secularizing force of the American Civil Liberties Union. More conservative legal rights organizations like the Alliance Defense Fund (www.alliancedefensefund.org) and Free Market Foundation (freemarket.org) routinely mail letters on behalf of hapless Christians to school boards and officials informing them of case law and the Constitutional right to freedom of speech in such cases. Kelly Shackelford, president of the Free Market Foundation says, "Censoring Christmas is not what the Constitution says, not what the law says and not even what the Supreme Court has said. You can even study the Bible in public schools as an appropriate subject of literature or history."
"This is only the beginning of the Christmas season and already the anti-Christmas crusade is in high gear," said Catholic League president William Donohue. "In the name of 'separation of church and state,' they distort it. In the name of diversity, they crush it. In the name of tolerance, they obliterate it. Which is why we need to call them for what they are–cultural fascists." (Christmastime Event is a No-Christian Zone, www.WorldNetDaily.com, accessed12-10-04).
Ironically, Newsweek found this week in a nationwide survey (U.S.) that "Sixty-seven percent say they believe that the entire story of Christmas—the Virgin Birth, the angelic proclamation to the shepherds, the Star of Bethlehem and the Wise Men from the East—is historically accurate." One quarter of respondents believe the story is an invention designed to affirm faith. Additionally, a full 55 percent of respondents believe "every word of the Bible is literally accurate." The disconnect between personally held beliefs and religious expression in the public square continues to be a complicated mix indeed.
What has engendered this seeming paranoia regarding church-state separation, especially in relation to Christmas themes? In a culturally diverse milieu, what is fairest to all? Do Christians and their beliefs get singled out and what does that bode for our entire society? Are the promoters and protectors of tolerance really tolerant? Whatever the roots of the Holiday we call Christmas—whether it is Christian celebration turned pagan or Christianized paganism—what is apparent is the propensity at this time of year for secularizing influencers in American culture to make their most public (and transparent) stands. We pause to consider tolerance, some of its definitions and implications, thanks to the Yuletide rush of challenges.
—Leadership University Editor/Webmaster, Byron Barlowe
Empty Bromides: It's hard for anyone to be jolly about a secularized Christmas
Gene Edward Veith
Opposition, even by Christians, to Christmas, is nothing new. But according to professor and cultural critic G.E. Veith, "The new opposition to Christmas is different. The issue is not just whether Christmas has become secularized. That has already happened. Now, the secularized Christmas seems to be losing its jolliness. When the last vestige of Christian sainthood has departed from even the secular icon, all that is left is Bad Santa," a reference to the depraved film depicting a cursing, womanizing Santa figure.
Tolerance and Truth
"What is tolerance? This may seem like a simple question with an obvious answer. But is it? I suggest we'd better know the answer very clearly in order to respond to those who, in the name of tolerance, impose a frightening intolerance."
Truth or Tolerance?
There are terrible implications if truth is relative instead of absolute. Tolerance has become the ultimate virtue, especially on university campuses. A Christian response to this alarming trend.
On Not Permitting the Other to Be Other
Richard John Neuhaus
The editor-in-chief of influential First Things Journal takes another swipe at the book, Please Don't Wish Me a Merry Christmas: A Critical History of the Separation of Church and State (New York University Press), which he reviewed for New York Times Literary Supplement. This is the main portion of his weekly review of the culture.
What Can We Reasonably Hope for?: A Millennium Symposium
First Things Contributors
Tinder discusses the dilemma of affirming truth in a relativistic culture, which promises to only increase as an issue.
Open Forums for Postmoderns: Chapter 4: Thinking About The Questions Seekers Entertain
Metzger walks the Christian apologist through a set of Socratic questions posed in response to common objections to such concepts as absolute truth and a good God in the midst of evil. Contains a useful treatment of relativism and the contemporary cultural understanding of tolerance.
Living in the New Dark Ages
A review of Charles Colson's important book, "Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages." Colson argues that "new barbarians" are destroying our culture with individualism, relativism, and the new tolerance.
Reaching Youth Today
This is the text of a speech by Josh McDowell on how to minister to contemporary youth. Its message of reaching young people in an post-modern culture conveys many of the ideas from his recent book, "Right from Wrong". Although it is addressed specifically to pastors, this presentation is also relevant for youth ministers, teachers, parents and all who are concerned about issues pertaining to young people.
Why We Can't All Just Get Along
Liberalism neither accepts faith nor God as standards for thought. Without any such restrictions, all questions are open. But are those who do believe in God allowed to participate in public discussions, or has their faith marginalized them?
Why We Can Get Along
Richard John Neuhaus
A response to Stanley Fish's article, "Why We Can't All Just Get Along." The author points out the fine distinctions in the relationship between critical thinking, religious belief and tolerance. This essay was written in response to a previously published essay.
Is Christmas Necessary?
What do you think of when you hear the word "Christmas"? Frantic shopping? Family traditions? A commemoration of the birth of Jesus? Or a combination of all these responses and more?
The Theology Behind Christmas Music
Robert A. Pyne
Most radio stations play some type of Christmas music during the holiday season, but many of the songs have become so familiar to us that we no longer consider their content.