Is the United States, as some Christians claim, engaged in a war on Christmas? In most dictionaries that I’m familiar with the very first definition of war is normally given as a state of armed conflict between two or more groups. If that’s the case, let us hope that the city of Santa Monica, California’s recent decision not to allow a crèche scene to be displayed openly on publicly owned land is not going to wind up with gun-toting policemen stationed on that lovely bluff overlooking the Pacific, lest guerilla Christian groups sneak in during the dead of night in an attempt to set baby Jesus up in a makeshift manger. I can see the headlines now: COPS OPEN FIRE ON CHRISTIANS! CRECHE CRUSHED, MARY AND JOSEPH ARRESTED. And all this to placate those God-hating atheists, and God-questioning agnostics, and maybe the Jews and the Buddhists and the Muslims, to say nothing of the Hari Krishna people. (Are the Hari Krishnas even still around any longer, by the way? I haven’t been accosted by one at LAX for the longest time.)
Maybe the real question that needs to be asked is whether the United States is a Christian country. There are lots of people who would say that it is, even if I happen not to be one of them. At very least, I don’t suppose anyone can argue that by and large the country isn’t very interested in religion, if we can judge from the fact that some three-quarters of the population claim to be members of some sort of church, mosque, or temple. Personally, however, I don’t see the evidence that we’re specifically Christian. As a matter of fact, there’s always that pesky First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, the one that talks about how “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It then goes on as well to prohibit making laws abridging the free exercise of speech, of the press, of people’s ability to assemble, or to petition their Government for redress of grievances. There’s definitely a lot packed into that one amendment.
Still, the question remains, is it wrong to set up a crèche, or a cross for that matter, on land owned by the public? And if the answer is yes, that it is wrong, as I would argue that the “Establishment Clause” seems to say, then does that constitute a war on Christians and their celebration of Christmas? Or does that other part of the amendment, the one about the “free exercise thereof,” imply instead the right to build those mangers right there on that grass-covered bluff above the Pacific? If that were the case, then why shouldn’t the Jews be allowed put up a giant menorah, or the Buddhists a huge Dharma Wheel, or the Muslims a minaret, or the agnostics a – I don’t know – maybe a giant question mark? And if we were to allow all that, pretty soon there wouldn’t even be enough room for the homeless people, who actually use the park.
So, that’s the problem with pluralistic societies; they’re plural, that is to say, no one group gets to have rights that others don’t have, and nobody is supposed to lord it over others, who maybe have less power or money or influence, or fewer people to advocate for their point of view. And if you want a country that is not pluralistic, one dedicated to a specific religion, and not even just one religion, but one sect of one religion, then you could try moving to Saudi Arabia, and see how that suits you. It would not suit me very well, but there are apparently those who like it.
Just for fun, let’s try to imagine for a moment what the United States would look like if it truly were only a Christian country. Of course, we run into a problem immediately when we attempt to figure out which Christian it ought to be. That said, now that the Catholics seem an awful lot like the Protestants, maybe that doesn’t matter so much. Except then there’s a whole boat load of Protestant types, and many don’t seem to particularly agree with each other. And what about the Mormons? Are they really all that Christian? But maybe we’re quibbling too much. Let’s assume that we might arrive at some sort of common ground as to how the country ought to be run Christianly.
Well, first of all, right off the bat, there’d be no smoking and drinking. Oh, wait, except the Catholics, and a bunch of others too, don’t mind those disgusting habits. And who’d want to go through the pain and misery of Prohibition once again? All right, then, at least we can agree on no divorce, can’t we? After all, doesn’t the Bible specifically forbid divorce? Oh, but what about that lousy, no-good, miserable cheating husband of mine, who connived behind my back with that new bimbo of a secretary of his? I can’t be expected to go on living with that rat, can I? Of course, the Bible decrees both for and against a whole lot of things, like cutting your hair, or eating certain foods, and not eating others, and says that wives must obey their husbands. So, what about that, wives? Maybe you wouldn’t mind being permanently relegated to ex-candidate Romney’s lower 47 percent? And what about the barbers, hair salons, and restaurants? No more shellfish? I don’t think so. People really like shrimp. Still, if we were to have a truly Christian country, wouldn’t we all have to convert to Christianity? But that’s something the Jews and the Muslims and a few others, to say nothing of the atheists and agnostics, might not care too much for. So, what else could a Christian country possibly imply? At very least, one thing we could finally agree upon would be a complete cessation of all abortions, and an outlawing of, well, gay-everything, couldn’t we? Except, here we are again up against those liberal Protestants who don’t make much of a fuss about abortion, and who even let gays take on leadership roles in their churches.
Well, it’s all getting awfully complicated. I’m afraid I’m just not sure exactly what a really Christian nation could possibly look like. So, maybe – what do you think? – that could have been why the founding fathers decided to decree that we ought not to set up any one religion as the religion in this country: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
My suggestion is that, if you want to celebrate “the Holidays,” why not try the newest thing? Why not wish your friends and family a Merry Chrishanusolkwan (that’s Chris-Hanu-Sol-Kwan). That way, we pretty much incorporate Christmas, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, and Kwanza all together. Of course, unfortunately, I guess this does go on to leave out the Buddhists and the Muslims, and I suppose the Hari Krishna’s, too. And in a truly pluralistic country like ours, that would be a shame, wouldn’t it? So, in the end, it’s maybe best if I just suggest we forget all about the above nonsense, and that I simply wish you and your family (however you define that) THE VERY HAPPIEST OF HOLIDAYS.