The LA Time
article on Walmart now allowing their employees to say "Merry Christmas" ends with this quote:"Changing store policy to cater to Christmas lovers is a risky calculation, said Keith Tudor, professor of marketing at Kennesaw State University in Georgia."Are they going to offend people or attract people for having the fortitude to come down on the side of the religious right?"
What's wrong with this picture?
Culture is a delicate thing. It is entwined with the past and the future, and embeds us with our family, our neighbors and our country.
American culture, for better or worse, is an enlightenment/Protestant Christian culture.
Now that the Mainstream Protestant churches have surrendered to political correctness, alas, we have lost their lead in defining America's sense of itself.
More rigid Evangelical faiths are more scattered in beliefs, and Catholics are still considered a bit foreign and strange to the culture, so we are left with a culture war in trying to define our sense of self as an American.
So why the fuss about "Merry Christmas"?
After all, the early Puritans didn't celebrate Christmas.
But others did. And the holiday, with it's British overtones of yule and the German Christmas tree became part of the American landscape.
Christmas became a combination of celebrating the birth of Christ, the idea of goodwill for men and giving to charity, a holiday for giving presents especially to children, and the celebration of family reunions. And children up to 30 years ago could have Christmas celebrations at school that mentioned how the Baby Jesus was born in a stable, and could sing the carols of joy, mingling the secular celebration of good will toward men with the religious rememberence of a God who came to shepherds and kings.
The idea back then was that religion was good, and although we didn't believe in the same thing, nevertheless, we tolorated what others believed and didn't make a fuss about it.
Yet for most people, their approach to religion is that of the (Scottish) Masons and enlightenment Christian founding fathers, who tolerated all religions that saw men united as brothers under a benevolent Creator.
Back then, the ideas of freedom went back to the Greek philosophers, who said that freedom meant we were free to act as just men, not that we had the right to do anything we wanted to, which was considered anarchy.
If you honor a deity, then you would see yourself as free within the limits of a conscience that knew moral rules were not tyrannical but necessary to society. No one was above the law, be it the common law of conscience or the just laws of the state.
When men follow such rules, the need to micromanage behavior by the state becomes unnecessary, indeed, is viewed as tyranny.
So what happened to Christmas? Why would a major newspaper quote a professor insisting that wishing someone a "Merry Christmas" is giving into the religious right, and insulting many people?
After all, Muslims honor Jesus as a prophet, most non Christians celebrate the secular form of the holiday, and here in Asia Christmas is celebrated with gusto, not just in the Christian Philippines, but even in the secularized China, and a Buddhist Japan. So why the fuss?
Part of the fuss is the disdain of the elites for organized religion, AKA the culture war.
This is not just a rejection of Christinaity, but a force seeking to remove the secularized Chsritian ethic from society. A lot of this comes from the rebellion of the baby boomers, who saw any rules against sexual expression as tyranny, the bitterness of certain feminists who saw the family (and children) as burdens that limited women's individual freedom, and a rejection of Greek rationality in favor of "feelings" and subjective truth.
Of course, such broad characterizations of culture are not entirely true, yet it is interesting that the Regensburg speech of Pope Benedict warned of these very things- and was completely misquoted and misunderstood by the BBC and the NYTimes, not from malice but from ignorance. It is a sad commentary on our media that these elite institutions lacked anyone with the intellectual ability to understand what was actually said.
C.S. Lewis called these type of people "men without chests", because they have lost the ability to perceive the deeper meaning of things because they have rejected the wisdom of the past, and indeed now lack the ability to even perceive that they are lacking something important.
This inability to perceive the depth and complexities of traditional beliefs points to the second problem: The loss of our cultural heritage.
Thanks to the Supreme Court, and to bureaucrats who exaggerate what the court actually said, any religious term is taboo in school. Yet how does one explain Shakespeare, or Tolstoy, or Endo, or Tolkien, or Dickens, or any of the great books without such knowledge? Are not David versus Goliath, or the Lillies of the Field, part of our cultural heritage? By banning "religion", have we not made our children cultural illiterates who think Judy Blume and Rowlings are great writers?
The current idea is that we are free individuals, but as Mary Ann Glendon, in her book on Rights Talk, points out, few of us actually live as such.
We are not just free individuals, we are men or women, with spouses, children, mothers and fathers, cousins, friends, neighbors, and communities. We are not isolated but enmeshed in relationships with family, co workers, fellow worshipers, schoolmates, and neighbors.
Our environment is not just the biological ecology, but the ecology of our institutions, our customs, our churches, and our history.
Indeed, it is often through these institutions of memory that allow us to remember the wisdom and lessons of the past, and to teach them to our children via story and ceremonies.
That is why the government should tolorate and even encourage these formal and informal celebrations of the community, whether it be the Bols weevil Bash
, St. Patricks' Day, or Veterans' Day. All of these festivals bring together communities, and all of them celebrate past and present, our heritage and the heritage of our neighbors, and behind every celebration lie the lessons of the past that teach us how to live today.
Yet how do we do this in a multicultural environment?
Perhaps what is needed can be found in Paul Woodruff's book
Reverence: Renewing a forgotten Virtue.
Reverence is the idea that everyone has a place, and that we are under heaven. If we don't agree with a person, nevertheless, a reverent person honors that person by listening to them politely. An officer, president, or employer might be disliked, but he is honored for his position, not his personality. And every ruler, king or president, is reverent to the lowest of his subjects because he is answerable to Heaven.
So if we are in a ceremony where a Baptist prays to Jesus or an imman prays to Allah, we listen with reverence even if we do not follow their faith, because we are honoring their belief because they are honorable human beings.
We saw this in the celebrations after 9-11, and it is a lesson that we need again to learn.
So if I am Christian and my Hindu friend celebrates the Durga Puja
, the victory of light over darkness, my Muslim friend celebrates the end of Ramadan, where fasting remind one of the poor and the need to find God, or a Jewish friend celebrates the victory of religious freedom at Chanakah, then I too am happy for them and celebrate with them, because they are friends and I love them, because they are human beings and I honor their beliefs, and because the core of what they celebrate is good, even if I don't share their actual beliefs.
And if so, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus the Son or God, or of Jesus the prophet of Allah, or the mythological birth of a philosopher of Western civilization, or just a happy day to give gifts to friends and children and feel good will to men, why not say "Merry Christmas"?