Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Christ and Christmas

Nothing, it seems, not even the Season of Peace and Good Will Towards Men, can evade today's great secular idol, the conservative kulturkampf. Until I read E.J. Dionne's column in today's WaPo, I was only dimly aware of, and in some sort of unconscious mental triage had decided to ignore, the right-wing campaign to convince Christians there is some sort of conspiracy to deny them the right to celebrate their religious holiday.

Frankly, I don't much care that Fox News types or conservative politicians are fishing in these religiously divisive waters. But it bugs me no end that (it appears) some Christian leaders and rank-and-file, at the very time of year when they ought to be pondering Christ's gospel of humility and reconciliation, are instead posing as victims and demanding universal recognition of their faith.

Have Christians forgotten how many early martyrs died because of their refusal to pay homage to the "universal" religion of the Romans? And have Protestant Christians (who undoubtedly make up the vast majority of those upset at the resistance of Jews, Muslims, and the irreligious to the idea of demanding univeral acknowledgment of Christmas) forgotten that the imperial establishment of Christianity by Constantine was the beginning of what the Reformers considered the "Babylonian Captivity" of the Church?

And speaking of the Reformers, have today's heirs (including Presbyterians, and indirectly, Southern Baptists) of the Scots Reformer John Knox forgotten that official celebration of Christmas was actually banned in Scotland until well into the twentieth century, as a "pagan" feast?

I'm prejudiced on this subject, believing, as I do, that Knox might have been right for the wrong reasons: Christmas is spiritually dangerous not because it's a holdover from "idolatrous" Roman Catholicism, but because it has become intimately associated with values--greed, commercialism, and insincere family conviviality--that have nothing to do with the Feast of the Nativity, and its profound underlying idea, the Incarnation.

The Incarnation is as radical, unsettling, and difficult an idea as ever, and Christians would do well to spend the season meditating on it, and respecting the Divine Image in everyone they meet. That approach is incompatible with a triumphalist demand that everyone they meet bend the knee to the questionable trappings of their holiday tradition, and even more incompatiable with the claim that Christians in a free country are being persecuted if they must suffer under the handicap of equality.
-- Posted at 9:19 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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