Judging from the wailing of conservative columnists like this one and this one you'd think there was some big liberal-conspiracy assault on Christmas, with hippie parents across the country demanding that all traces of religion be banished from public schools and public space during the holiday season. Of course, like most of the rest of what these "journalists" write, it's an out and out lie. There is no anti-religious movement out there attacking Christmas. In fact, the "villain" singled out by so many of these attacks, the ACLU, is actually a signatory to Religion In The Public Schools: A Joint Statement Of Current Law, along with numerous religious organizations of all political stripes. The Joint Statement (summed up by Eric Zorn)
reminded educators of students' rights to express their faith in public school in numerous ways and for schools to present religiously inspired material--including music--as long as it was in a clearly educational setting.
In other words, students in a public school assembly in December can sing "Silent Night" (as they should and as, indeed, 4th graders will in a Spring Grove program next week), so long as the context makes it clear that the school district isn't taking a formal position one way or the other about the lyrical
assertion in "Silent Night" that Jesus Christ was the son God and the savior of mankind.
So, to put it bluntly, the oft-repeated charge that the ACLU wants to stop kids from singing religous christmas carols at school pageants is a boldfaced lie.
So why does it keep getting repeated? Because the reactionary backlash right needs to be able to continually portray itself as the persecuted victim of an immense "liberal" conspiracy, even though it is more or less in control of the country. Americans are still not ready to back a platform of depriving other people of their rights, so they need to continue to portray themselves as victims seeking recognition of their rights, rather than a party in power trying to suppress dissent. So they must pretend there is an oppressive liberal "PC" movement trying to ruin Christmas, to keep their followers feeling oppressed.
You can tell that many intellectually challenged people actually believe the right-wing lies from this story, at the boneheaded Free Republic right-wing Web community. Apparently a bunch of fundies in the Washington area decided they would march on ACLU headquarters and sing Christmas carols, believing that either the liberals would be offended or at least that they would look like warm-hearted forgiving Christians wishing holiday cheer to the poor benighted liberals. Here in the real world, the ACLU has nothing against Christmas, a holiday which many ACLU members celebrate by singing Christmas carols. So of course, when the carolers arrived:
The ACLU people were incredibly cool about the whole thing -- they set up a little table with cookies and coffee for us, and stayed downstairs and joined in the singing.
And why wouldn't they be "cool about it?" The idea that the ACLU opposes Christmas is just another lie perpetrated by the vast right-wing conspiracy to raise money and get votes from ignorant people who don't know no better. But the poor confused righties couldn't believe their own senses. Read down past the pictures to the comments, it's really funny. One poster called the ACLU staffers caroling "hypocritical in the extreme" for some reason. Another suggested that these must not have been real ALCUers, that they had "brought some true seasonal joy to the abused, sullen, and overworked office staff."
A third agreed: "You're absolutely right. I shouldn't be so hard on these folks. They probably aren't in the same serpentine class as their employers."
A fourth chimes in: "I would imagine that the people who were nice to you and joined in were either the office workers who don't necessarily share the hard-core beliefs of some of the lawyers or the lawyers who think it's ok to sing carols as long as you aren't anywhere near a government building. The ones who go so far as to wish to end all mention of Christ in any place at any time were probably too busy working on ending Christmas cheer to notice you!"
So they think there's a "serpentine class" (probably with literal forked tongues) "working on ending Christmas." And even if you go out and sing carols with them, they won't see that their charicature world isn't real. The alternative is too frightening and embarassing for them.
It's like those cultists who believed that the world would end in 1975 but refuse to give up their beliefs in the face of the overwhelming evidence that their prophecy was wrong. The world is not as "simple" as these people want it to be, but they can't, or won't, grasp the complexity of it. Take Pat Tillman. The former football star gave up a multimillion dollar contract to join the Army Rangers and fight and die in Afghanistan. Most Americans, including myself, admire this choice of service over wealth. But how many people know he was an athiest? Beliefnet.com's poll made him The Most Inspiring Person of the Year without mentioning this fact.
"Pat isn't with God," said his younger brother Rich, addressing mourners at Tillman's funeral. "He's [expletive] dead. He wasn't religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he's [expletive] dead."
To steal a great line from Zorn, I guess there are athiests in foxholes after all. Fundies will try to argue from first principles that it's somehow impossible to have moral society or compassion or honor or sacrifice without God. Again, first principles aside, anyone still bothering to observe the real world can tell that isn't true.
Which brings me back to the final round of my annual wrestling match with Christmas. What do I have to celebrate? Something in this season of consumption and confusion used to appeal to me. What was it?
As usual, it was poetry. Isaiah: The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. I love that one. I have actually spent more time reading the Bible than many of the fundies who claim it's all literally true, which becomes obvious five minutes the inevitable debate with them. Parts of it are great and really well written, too. But it's tangled and contradictory and clearly doesn't mean what many people claim it means. In its original context, Christmas wasn't about joy or togetherness or family, it was about hope, in times of despair.
Many of us today are walking in the darkness. The election, the war, illness and death among loved ones and friends, doubt about whether bringing a child into a world like this is a good idea. We all search the skies for a new star to follow. The idea that something so great could start so small is a wonder, and a source of great hope. The light that I see in the darkness is also something small, as small as you. You sit in the darkness waiting for a savior, but no one seems to show up. You can't see anyone because you are looking out of your savior's eyes. Nobody's waiting in the wings to ride in on a white horse and save the day. This is your moment. This is why you were born, and on some level you know it.
Last year my New Year's resolution was to overthrow the government. Obviously that didn't work out so well in November. This year's resolution is even simpler: Save America. Are you in?
In the meantime, Merry Christmas to all.
Windy City Blues will return in January.