Sunday, December 12, 2004
Holy Holy War!
Has anyone noticed that Christmas is under attack? On Friday I put up Bill O'Reilly's wonderful Christmas nonsense as the Quote of the Day and thought we were done with it. Many's the time that O'Reilly has raved all by himself. Anyway, here's what he said—
You criticize anybody, you challenge anybody, then you are a bigot. And that's the — that's why nobody does it. That's why nobody sticks up for Christmas except me. Did Peter Jennings stick up for Christmas last night? I don't believe he did. How about Brian Williams, did he? Did Rather stick up for Christmas? How about Jim Lehrer — did he? Did Larry King — hello — I love Christmas — did he? No.
Weird, huh? It's as if Christmas were under attack!
But I had scarcely laid down my poison pen when I turned on the telly and arrived in the middle of the Charlie Rose show. There was this unctuous but vaguely familiar man talking about the Nativity. I thought Rose was doing an interview with a pastor of some sort. But no! It turns out "the preacher" was Jon Meacham, Managing Editor of Newsweek. And along with him was David Van Biema, who is a "religion writer" for Time.
As usual the two magazines have conspired to produce the same cover. And what might that be? Why, the Nativity!
Time takes us backstage with "Behind the First Noel." The cover tittilates us with Secrets of the Nativity: Why the story of Jesus' birth inspires so much scholarly interest — and faith. Newsweek teaches: The Birth of Jesus. Faith and History: How the Story of Christmas Came to Be. The Rose interview ended with Jon Meacham's quoting cryptically from the Bible, "Now I see but through a glass darkly, ..."
I too was beginning to see through a glass darkly.
The sudden and simultaneous discovery of Christmas by two of the nation's leading magazines induced the Indianapolis Star to write a piece about it. According to the Indy Star, here are some data "from a poll [Newsweek] took about people's beliefs concerning the Christmas story" that Newsweek thinks you should know—
- 84 percent of American adults consider themselves Christians.
- 82 percent see Jesus as God or the Son of God.
- 79 percent say they believe in the virgin birth.
- 67 percent think the Christmas story is historically accurate.
One Christmas story too many
Now on that last point there's a bit of a problem, since, as the Newsweek article notes, there are actually two Christmas stories and they don't agree. In an infallible reference work, this is considered bad form. In case you thought that noticing the obvious (Why, the emperor has no clothes!) was slightly sacriligious, not to mention unhealthy and abnormal, the Indystar's John Shaughnessy reassures us—
Raising these issues can be healthy for people of faith because it makes them examine their beliefs more deeply, University of Notre Dame theology professor Lawrence Cunningham told The Star.
"I don't think it's heretical, this idea of historical investigation," Cunningham says. "Those things are both good and helpful. They only become bad when people assert they can show things with rigid certainty.' [emphasis added]
I feel relieved, somehow, that scholars will still be permitted to study the matter. But I'm rigidly certain that the historical accounts don't agree, and I note the stern warning here—"they only become bad"—for those of us who might frighten the horses with our historical quibbles. Also, it may not be healthy for people who are not "of faith."
Shaughnessy closes with some words of wisdom from Time—
"Most Christmas worshippers, of course, are not currently focusing tightly on the Gospels' backstory," Time's article notes. "In this holiday season, they will be less interested in analyzing Matthew's message than in celebrating it, less concerned about parsing Luke's sentiments than in singing them."
And that's how we all should be. Deck the halls! ... Tra-la-la-la-lah!
But I just can't get over this rush to defend Christmas. What is going on?
As the IndyStar's Shaughnessy quoted in his intro—
"Throughout much of my life, there has been a diminishing public interest in religion," says Allen, 55, a professor of preaching and New Testament at Christian Theological Seminary.
"That has been changing over the past five to 10 years. That both of these national publications would take up the Christmas story is a recognition that religion is a deep and important part of our culture."
Is that it? I thought news magazines wrote about current events and near-history. So what is the "current event" that they think they're writing about? I'm getting the feeling that the topic might be headlined in their befeebled brains as "The triumph of Christianity."
When Jon Meacham spoke with what I took to be Anglican fervor on Charlie Rose, I knew we were way beyond the "cynical journalist" stereotype. Here was a true believer—who delivers up our news.
No wonder the pundits were asserting the importance of "moral values" in this election when in fact moral values had precious little to do with anything. Many members of the press have become Christianized and are actively promoting Christianity.
David Brooks and the Evangelical Pope
Consider David Brooks, a Jew. He begins a column titled "Who is John Stott?" by decrying the appearance of Jerry Falwell and Al Sharpton with Tim Russert.
Naturally, they got into a demeaning food fight that would have lowered the intellectual discourse of your average nursery school.
This is why so many people are so misinformed about evangelical Christians.... Falwell and Pat Robertson are held up as spokesmen for evangelicals, which is ridiculous.
They sure had me fooled.
So Brooks hastens to tell us what a "real" one is like—John Stott, who "if evangelicals could elect a pope, Stott is the person they would likely choose."
When you read Stott, you encounter first a tone of voice. Tom Wolfe once noticed that at a certain moment all airline pilots came to speak like Chuck Yeager. The parallel is inexact, but over the years I've heard hundreds of evangelicals who sound like Stott.
It is a voice that is friendly, courteous and natural. It is humble and self-critical, but also confident, joyful and optimistic.
Yep, I've heard that voice. They teach that voice in evangelist school.
Brooks admires Stott's uncompromising "backbone of steel"—
Stott is so embracing it's always a bit of a shock - especially if you're a Jew like me - when you come across something on which he will not compromise. It's like being in "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," except he has a backbone of steel.
And where does Stott draw the line?
He does not accept homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle, and of course he believes in evangelizing among nonbelievers. He is pro-life and pro-death penalty, even though he is not a political conservative on most issues.
And where does David Brooks draw the line? Apparently not at Stott's implied degradation of him as a "nonbeliever," someone who needs "evangelizing."
Most important, he does not believe truth is plural. He does not believe in relativizing good and evil or that all faiths are independently valid, or that truth is something humans are working toward. Instead, Truth has been revealed.
And Guess Who knows what that truth is!
It is not because we are ultra-conservative, or obscurantist, or reactionary or the other horrid things which we are sometimes said to be. It is rather because we love Jesus Christ, and because we are determined, God helping us, to bear witness to his unique glory and absolute sufficiency. In Christ and in the biblical witness to Christ God's revelation is complete; to add any words of our own to his finished work is derogatory to Christ.
So if you have any questions about anything, just ask.
The media are holy-rollering with the best of them, and I won't be surprised if before long someone writes a column "in tongues."
With all this Christian triumphalism in and from the media and with a war going on with the infidels, the need to "defend" Christmas is becoming a little clearer. We're in a Holy War.
This is a Holy War, however, on two fronts. There is also the home front, or perhaps better—the homeland front. Here the heathen are to be converted, not killed—at least for now. Crèches need to resume their rightful places on the courthouse lawns. The Ten Commandments need to go right along with the flag in the schoolhouse and courtroom. Pat Robertson1 has declared Kwanzaa to be a fraud. There will be none of this "Season's Greetings" falderole. We will have a "Merry Christmas." That's Christmas spelled with a C-h-r-i-s-t in it, do you hear?
So why should you care?
My concern, of course, is not with the Muslims or African Americans or Jews but the markets. This new pietism could wreck the best shopping season of the year. Dresses at J.C. Penney's are already at half-price and we're only halfway through the annual Thanksgiving-to-Christmas buying binge.
Santa Claus brings good little boys guns and toy soldiers and Evil Empire games. And he brings good little girls dolls and coloring books and paint sets and clothes. But would Jesus buy them these things?
If the media succeed in putting Christ back in Christmas, the collapse of the economy may be more imminent than even I had believed. You know, there are many fundamentalist Christians who do not believe in Santa Claus and would put him right there alongside evil witches and warlocks—a Devil's idle idol idyll.
The Christmas Spirit
When I was about eight, Santa gave me a chemistry set. I and my best friend—the minister's son—tried for weeks to build a bomb. It was fun. But only because we
Some hackers are having fun at the expense of broadcaster Pat Robertson, specifically with his new book, Six Steps to Spiritual Revival. Last Friday, Amazon quickly deleted the page's recommendations under "Customers who shopped for this item also shopped for these items" when it listed The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Men as one of the titles.But Robertson has had some good news too—
Mr. Pat, finally won its first race Friday. After several supporters complained that he was supporting gambling, Robertson promised he'd sell all of his horses by the end of November, but he still owns and races Mr. Pat, who has been a bit of a loser up to this point.
I just hope Mr. Pat is staying off the performance-enhancing drugs. [back]