December 23, 2003,
Christmas is the perfect time to plead for tolerance...of Christians.
I ask this not as a Christian, but as a deist. I do not think the universe erupted from nothing, and even if it did, how on Earth did that happen? I reckon there is or was something or someone greater than mankind. However, things like concentration camps and collapsing skyscrapers have made me regard the Almighty as, at most, an absentee landlord rather than an omniscient, omnipotent, omniphilic being who divinely intervenes. (I know, I know. God lets us choose between good and evil. Try explaining that to a five-year-old at Treblinka or to Christine Lee Hanson, age 2, who was killed on United Airline Flight 175 on September 11.) I consider Jesus Christ an important philosopher rather than my savior. Thus, I am not a Christian.
All of that said, I feel enormous sympathy for Christians experiencing yet another Christmas with diminishing religious significance and growing hostility to Christian symbols and teachings.
As National Review's Jay Nordlinger discovered, several internal corporate calendars list "Memorial Day," "Labor Day," and simply "December 25." San Diego's "Christmas on the Prado" festival is now "December Nights."
The cheerful "Merry Christmas" somehow has become unfit for polite company, much like calling blacks "colored" or women "little ladies." The blandly contemporary phrase "Happy Holidays" is like an extra-strength version of "Have a nice weekend." It neither offends nor expresses very much.
"Merry Christmas" is certainly an unlikely epithet. Christmas, after all, does not involve tossing virgins into volcanoes or burning witches at shopping malls. The season still features gestures of love, generosity and fellowship, indulgence in food and spirits, warm moments with close friends and family around fireplaces and, for the devout, prayers and midnight mass. Is that so wrong?
Christians are asked to accept plenty these days.
The airwaves frequently feature such biblically challenging fare as the barely clad, scarcely talented Britney Spears playing tonsil hockey with the aging Madonna on the August 28 MTV Video Awards.
Hip TV-sitcom characters routinely sleep around and even reproduce outside marriage.
The flamboyant style council on NBC's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy liberates heterosexual males from their clodhopping ways, even as they bolster gay stereotypes in a manner that will annoy homosexuals tomorrow just as Amos & Andy irritates blacks today.
Secular teachings, such as evolution, are firmly ensconced in government school curricula. Conversely, judges often expel religion from public campuses, such as when the Ninth Circuit Court ruled unconstitutional the words "under God" in classroom recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance.
"I visited our local public school in Westchester County, New York, several years ago for a meeting in its library," Caroline Hemphill of the John M. Olin Foundation tells me. "It was mid-summer, so no books were checked out. The Christmas section had Frosty, Rudolph, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa books, but not one on Jesus as the reason for the season, even from a secular, informative point of view."
Remember the Sabbath day? It's not so holy, what with all the enterprises that conduct business on Sundays.
Christians have dealt with this and more for years if not with smiles, then at least through politely clenched teeth.
Reciprocity is in order. Non-believers, of course, should resist efforts to force anyone to embrace religious rituals or tenets, Christian or otherwise.
But who, exactly, is harmed by a Nativity scene in a public park? Would it jeopardize the Republic to call the 65-foot Engelmann Spruce on Capitol Hill the "Congressional Christmas Tree" rather than the "2003 Capitol Holiday Tree?" Since New York City's schools specifically permit Hanukkah Menorahs (note, they're not "Holiday Menorahs") and Muslim Stars and Crescents, would anyone outside the ACLU suffer convulsions if a home-made manger appeared, say, on a schoolhouse lawn during the Yuletide?
"There is a concerted effort to remove the religious significance of Christmas," says Brian Burch of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "Christians find themselves being marginalized when members of other faiths are allowed to express themselves." The legal advocacy group is suing Gotham's school system to demand that Christian symbols be treated equally with Jewish and Muslim icons.
Meanwhile, can we please drop the tepid, bloodless "Happy Holidays" and greet each other once again with "Merry Christmas," as most of us did as kids without sustaining permanent damage? Saying "Happy Hanukkah" will honor those of us who celebrate that tradition.
Along these lines, the Alabama Supreme Court's controversial Ten Commandments statue did not hector visitors into repenting for their sins, nor did it make them drop to their knees in prayer. It need not have been removed. Those fragile souls who quaked at the sight of the Ten Commandments simply could have shielded their eyes as they walked past the supposedly offensive slab of marble.
Christians endure plenty year round that must drive them bonkers. We of little faith owe it to these fellow citizens to turn the other cheek and tolerate what they hold dear.
Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a Senior Fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Fairfax, Virginia.