Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Strange Politics of Christmas

Christmas has bene politicized as never before by the Christian right. Christian Morek in the New York Times noted that Christmas With the Kranks, which garnered, at best, lukewarm reviews; borrowed page from campaign undertaken by Mel Gibson for The Passion of the Christ. The studiobuilt its ad campaign almost entirely on endorsements from religous broadcasters and family advocates. Pat Robertson's "700 Club" took a leading role in promoting the film.

One can understand evangelical Christians promoting Gibson's movie, notwithstanding its sadism, anti-Semitic undertones, and Catholic emphasis on the suffering rahter than the risen Christ. But what in heaven's name are evangelicals doing promoting Christmas with the Cranks.

Roger Ebert, secularist, nails the problem with the Cranks

Christmas, some of my older readers may recall, was once a religious holiday. Not in this movie. Not a single crucifix, not a single creche, not a single mention of the J-name. It's not that I want "Christmas With the Kranks" to get all religious, but that I think it's secular as a copout, to avoid any implication of religious intolerance. No matter what your beliefs or lack of them, you can celebrate Christmas in this neighborhood, because it's not about beliefs, it's about a shopping season

So distant are the spiritual origins of the holiday, indeed, that on Christmas Eve one of the guests at the Kranks' big party is the local priest (Tom Poston), who hangs around gratefully with a benevolent smile. You don't have to be raised Catholic to know that priests do not have time off on Christmas Eve. Why isn't he preparing for midnight mass? Apparently because no one in the Kranks' neighborhood is going to attend -- they're too busy falling off ladders while stringing decorations on rooftops.

There is, however, one supernatural creature in the movie, and I hope I'm not giving away any secrets by revealing that it is Santa Claus. The beauty of this approach is that Santa is a non-sectarian saint, a supernatural being who exists free of theology. Frosty, on the other hand, is apparently only a snowman.

There is about as much real religion in the promotion campaign for the Cranks as there is in Ralph Reed's lobbying scam for Indian casinos.

Andrew Silow-Carroll hits the target in his blog and in a column in the New Jersey Jewish Week
we don’t make policy in order to protect the numerous and the self-confident, but the outnumbered and vulnerable.

The prosecutors of the current “put our Christ back in your Christmas” campaign know this. And because they represent a majority religion and a wildly self-confident ideology, they know that the only way to get traction is to present themselves as victims of a force even greater than themselves. The call it “secularism” and “commercialization” and “liberal judges run amok.” And they’ve whipped up a media frenzy about the death of Christmas.
His column adds this bit of profound trivia
What Krauthammer and others might call “political correctness,” my own rich religious tradition calls derech eretz. It’s the idea that if you can avoid making a fellow human feel isolated or alienated, without sacrificing any of your own deeply held beliefs or principles, then you probably should.
Bruce Prescott refutes some myths about the "persecution" Christmas in Mustang, Oklahoma, on his Mainstream Baptist blog.
We need to dispel the myth that Christ was expelled from the public school Christmas program in Mustang, Oklahoma. The children sang "Silent Night" which repeats twice that "Christ, the Savior is born" and repeats twice "Jesus, Lord at his birth."

Frankly, those are affirmations that I hold, but it is not the mission of public schools to teach children the doctrines of the Christian faith. It is the responsibility of the churches to be teaching the articles of faith. Mustang has more than twenty churches. The Christians there need to focus on providing religious education in their churches rather than expecting the public schools to do it for them.

2. We need to dispel the myth that Christians are being persecuted in our public schools. Most of the instances I hear about Christians being persecuted are really examples about Christians no longer being permitted to dominated the stage and school or takeover the public square.

In Mustang, people are complaining because their children could not stage a dramatic visual climax to a play that was designed to give dramatic emphasis to one faith -- the Christian religion.

If public schools are going to talk about religion, they need to see that each faith gets faith and equal treatment. They cannot give token mention of minority faiths while providing catechisms and Sunday School lessons for the majority faith.

3. The First Amendment was designed to protect the rights of minorities.

Our constitution does not permit the government or its agencies, and public schools are agencies of the government, to elevate one faith above another or treat people of minority faith as though they were second-class citizens.

4. We need to practice the Golden Rule. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Some statement of the Golden Rule, either positively or negatively, is common to all faiths. It is not a controversial value. If everybody would practice it, we could put an end to about 90% of these church-state cases.

I'm a Baptist preacher. I am a "born again" evangelical Christian, but it is high time that evangelical Christians start practicing the Golden Rule and living our faith instead of trying to make a show of it and forcing everyone else to play a role in our show.

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