The annual “war on Christmas” took an unexpected twist this holiday season, when the UK-based website the Freethinker published the ironic headline “First known casualty in America’s 2013 ‘War on Xmas’ turns out to be a Salvation Army member“. A woman attacked a bell ringer in Phoenix, Arizona because she was angry at being wished a “Happy Holidays” instead of honoring Jesus’ birth by saying “Merry Christmas”. In another act of Christmas violence, unidentified arsonists tried to torch one of the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s billboards that proclaimed “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia” – a reference to an ancient celebration of the Roman god of agriculture.
The Gospel According to Fox News preaches a tale of Christian persecution running rampant through America. While others around the world face imprisonment or even execution for their religious beliefs, Christians in the states suffer the indignity of facing a holiday season sans baby Jesus Christ’s omnipresence in the public square. Instead of sharing parables of the Beatitudes in practice, Fox’s Meghan Kelly’s chose to push forth the blatantly racist proposition that Jesus and Santa are white; the line between Fox News and the Daily Show’s parodies have now become almost indistinguishable.
Kelly added to her extensive mythmaking repertoire by claiming that the American Humanist Association (AHA) is denying toys to poor children. Roy Speckhardt, executive director of AHA, recounts his televised appearance with Kelly where he tried to discuss how Samaritan Purse’s Operation Christmas Child tries to use public schools as a workforce for their presents for conversions program. He noted:
It’s hard to take seriously a program that expects poor kids to convert just because they receive a Christmas present and a pamphlet about Jesus. If only it were so easy to convert, and de-convert, kids would be getting presents from all sorts of groups.
Fred Edwords, the national director of United Coalition of Reason offered this perspective on the history of the war between evangelical Christians and atheists:
The religious right started this whole “war on Christmas” myth when a few years back they launched their organized attack against calling the trees erected at the capitol and White House “Holiday Trees”. They also boycotted major businesses that said “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. As a result, their pressure effected some change, and they gloated on their success. But then humanist and atheist groups decided to launch awareness campaigns during the winter holiday season, reaching out to those who may have felt excluded by all of this nonsense. And the religious right went ballistic. After awhile, however, these campaigns got predictable and became less effective. So fewer of them were launched. But the religious right was still there – never having needed atheists to prompt them in the first place. And this year is making that reality abundantly clear.
Crossing the front lines to the atheist base, one finds a spirit of fun and playfulness seems to have replaced the angry atheist persona of yesteryear. For example, instead of protesting the presence of a nativity scene in the Florida State capitol, an atheist chose to erect a Festivus Pole made from beer cans. This pole was designed to commemorate the infamous holiday popularised by the television show Seinfeld joins other displays in the rotunda including a nativity scene, posters from atheists, and a crudely-made Flying Spaghetti Monster. (A petition to include a similar satanic display was denied.)
According to David Silverman, president, American Atheists, this shift from activism to pluralistic accommodation “sends the clear message that the season is not owned by one religion, but rather everyone, and reinforces the idea that Christianity is one religion of many. While this is correct, ethical, and American, it’s a clear defeat for those who prefer the old days of inequality.”
A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Group points to a shifting toward such pluralism, with close to half of Americans (49%) surveyed agreeing that stores and businesses should greet their customers with “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings” instead of “merry Christmas”, out of respect for people of different faiths. This number is up from 44% when they conducted this survey in 2010.
Michael Dorian, co-director of the documentary Refusing My Religion notes, “many now understand that most people – whether believers or nonbelievers – can appreciate the holidays and just want to celebrate the season by socializing with friends and family, and that can be easily achieved with or without the trappings of religion”.
As the number of Americans who understand what it means to live in an increasing pluralistic country continues to grow, those faithful to the Fox News brand of Christianity – and its need to be ever dominant and combative around the holidays – will continue to look ever more foolish and out of touch.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013