Smile Politely

The War on Tolerance, 2008 Update

What can be said about The War on Christmas® that hasn’t already been angrily shouted by Bill O’Reilly or snidely lampooned by Jon Stewart? Apparently, not much this year.

Christmas warrior James Dobson has had to recycle his list of sinful retailers that have the audacity to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” The biggest news item so far seems to be a Utah state senator who wants to mandate encourage retailers to say “Merry Christmas.” Ho Hum. Yawn.

Is it possible that most people are finally tired of focusing on such a trivial non-issue? After all, The War on Christmas® was never about Jesus. It is about the rejection of separation of church and state. It is about intolerance of other religious traditions. It is about shopping.

And perhaps that’s the rub this year. This time around, The War on Christmas® is not being waged by retailers or atheists. It is being waged by Capitalism itself, which seems to be eating itself from within. This year, Capitalism is failing to provide many people with the opportunity to express their faith by shopping. And there’s no way O’Reilly or Dobson are going to go after Capitalism, after having lifted it up as a shadow god to Jesus for so long.

I recently saw God Grew Tired of Us, a documentary that follows Somali refugees who come to live in America, and their adjustment to American culture after growing up in internment camps. Their perspective on the Christmas season is quite poignant. For one, they are confounded by Christmas trees: “Yeah, it is a bit beautiful, but what is the meaning? Is it in the Bible?” asks one.

He goes on:

“Is Santa also in the Bible? And how does it connect with the birth of Jesus? You have so many things to use to celebrate the Christmas. What we have in Africa is also good, but ours is mainly celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. That Jesus Christ is going to be born in our heart. So we have to prepare ourselves spiritually. Christmas Eve in Kakuma camp people march around the streets, dancing and singing.”

Notably missing from the Somali’s critique is any mention of offense from someone wishing them “Happy Holidays.”

In concentrating so hard on exclusion, O’Reilly and Dobson miss something fundamental about their own religion. Whether you believe Jesus is a wisdom teacher, political activist or God incarnate, celebrating his birth is not reduced one iota by which happy phrase you use to greet someone. What matters in following Jesus is providing hope to the hopeless, food to the hungry and clothes to the cold. It is speaking truth to power in love, advocating for the least among us, loving others as ourselves. It’s not about demanding that church nativities be placed in front of courthouses.

Some Christians that I think get it right are over at Advent Conspiracy:

They are not just doing the usual complaining that Christmas has turned into mass consumption. Instead, they advocate for the least among us, for economic justice. All rooted in Jesus’ message of compassion for all.

Nonetheless, the Christmas season is still young. There is plenty of time to publicly crucify some poor sap who believes in the separation of church and state or the inclusion of many religious traditions during this season of love.

I hold out hope that in our new post-Bush world, we’ve grown tired of this war, and perhaps, all wars.

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