May I wish you all a Happy Christmas or, as one might say in Wales: Nadolig happus i chi gyd! Perhaps I shall not be able to bring you that greeting in future years unless we prevail in the War on Christmas.
I understand from certain well-known conservative commentators on Fox News (spotted, accidentally, while channel surfing) that there is a War on Christmas. I suppose this is a part of the War on Christianity that these same commentators detect and that itself is perhaps a part of the War on Religions.
However, by the same accident of channel surfing I ran across Pat Robertson making the same War claim; but in his case Pat made the specific assertion that atheists are responsible. Pat says atheists are so miserable themselves this time of year that they want to make Christians miserable, too. Frankly, I know a number of atheists and they enjoy this season to the full; they are far from miserable at this time of year, engage fully in the festive season and they don’t much care what Christians do in their private spaces.
Now, I don’t know if this idea of War on Christmas and Christianity is a sort of self-inflicted victimhood that some Christians enjoy or if it is a figment of conservative imagination perhaps intended to interest or even excite the deeply conservative, especially evangelical, base that forms so much of Fox News’ and Pat’s audience.
But, either way, I think it is nonsense.
Since I was a small boy I have been a churchgoer; in the early years, of course, I was dragged to church by my Dad who took churchgoing very seriously and made sure I was properly, if reluctantly, introduced to the Christian faith. Later, I went to church most willingly because a certain beautiful young woman was there to whom I became deeply and, later, permanently, attached. She still keeps me going.
But of all the times to be a churchgoer (even if only twice a year), Christmas is the best time, because of the decorations and candlelight, warmth and excitement and good humor and tradition and the rousing and rising organ music and singing of the grand old carols and listening to the familiar and beautiful old story as told by the Gospels. It’s charming and lovely and I wouldn’t miss it for anything.
Now, if I have to describe my Christianity, I would say (to use a minimum number of words) that I’m a Reluctant Deist. I didn’t actually think much about this until I came to the United States of America and began reading the writings of the founding fathers of this nation; I would say they were Thoughtful Deists.
Now and again I look at Jefferson’s Bible (though he did not call it a Bible), which is available online and is the unadorned life and moral teaching of Jesus as revealed in the Gospels. I read what Jefferson distilled about the birth of the Christ Child for this column.
Turns out Jefferson’s Deist view of the nativity story can be contained in one sentence thus: “Joseph and Mary, who was pregnant, traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be taxed, but because there was no room at the inn they stayed in a stable where Mary laid her baby; the child was circumcised and named Jesus.”
This account, mostly from Luke, does away with all the trappings of the traditional story (Jefferson called this “nonsense”) but Deist Thomas must have struggled to omit these words of the Angel (fantasy): “… and on earth, peace, goodwill towards men” that is the main focus of the Christmas and indeed Christian message.
Christmas is, of course, a religious construct, but in a secular or perhaps Simple Deist form it is also an idea and a concept, a principle and a message, even a way to life; it is not a thing, not possessed by any one group; it is not contained in any package, nor any one place or time, and is neither rich nor poor.
The message or spirit of Christmas is one of love and compassion, of warmth and kindness, of inclusion, of gentleness, of patience, of honesty and fair dealing, of magnanimity, and ultimately, of peace on Earth. No atheist that I know has any problem with any of those ideas and indeed atheists take the same joy in Christmas that I, a Simple Deist, do.
So what of this War on Christmas? Are the warriors and enemy in that war the mass of ordinary folk uninterested in religion who, nevertheless, shop till they drop to bring gifts to those they love? Are they the contrarians or atheists or those of non-Christian religions or even patriots who defend the Constitution by asking that religious symbols and, at this time of year, crèches representing the Nativity, not be placed on public ground?
Or are the villains, the Grinches, really those for whom the message of Christmas falls on deaf ears; these most prominently, it seems to me, are the commentators of the Opinionista, Fox News and Pat Robertson and perhaps those evangelicals who pay them mind, who have forgotten that Christmas is not merely an event or a show owned by the devout, but is a message, a call, even a demand, not for conflict but for peace that all may enjoy.
And what more perfect symbol for that message than the birth of a child, any child really, and the beginning of a new life for which and of which anything is possible.
Merry Christmas to all! Nadolig llawen i chi gyd!
— Reach Michael Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com