Thursday, December 16, 2010

The War on Christian Virtues

cross-posted at Dagblog

Apparently, the dreaded "War on Christmas" now extends to having to work between the Christmas and New Year's holidays, at least if the taxpayers pay your salary and your job title is "Senator." According to Senator Jon Kyl, having work the week after the Christmas holiday would be "disrespectful" to Christians. Senator Jim DeMint called working the week before Christmas "sacrilegious." That's right. Sacrilegious. Just like keeping stores open for shopping on December 23.

Kyl and DeMint will obviously say anything for momentary partisan advantage. And just about everything worth saying about the right wing's bogus "War on Christmas" cries has already been said better by my co-blogger Mike Wolraich (who uses the nom de blog Genghis) in his new book Blowing Smoke (a wonderful holiday present, if you're still shopping). I can't possibly add to Mike's explanation of how dishonest and hysterical the complaints about the "War on Christmas" are. So let me add one thing:

As someone who tries to be a good Christian myself, I find the complaints about the "War on Christmas" absolutely grotesque. I really have tried to see it from the perspective of the people who complain, but try as I might, I just can't make it square with any of the virtues Jesus taught.

There are Christians being persecuted for their faith today. None of them live in America. Right now, there are people worshiping secretly in China, and in other places, and living in genuine fear of the authorities. Anyone who wants to defend Christians from persecution should think about the best ways to help those faithfal and beleaguered people. But calling yourself a victim because not all of the signs in the mall say "Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" is a terrible, terrible disrespect to all of the people who have actually suffered for their faith, and to those who continue suffering.

Christians have been stoned to death, thrown to vicious animals, tied to anchors and drowned. They have been burnt alive by other Christians. And yes, some of the earliest Christians have been crucified. St. Peter was allegedly crucified upside down, by Romans with an even nastier sense of humor than usual. And today around the globe, there are still a handful of priests who must hide their priesthoods from their governments. Being asked to put up your annual Nativity diorama in the churchyard instead of the public park does not make you one of those people. In fact, complaining about things like that is a sign of just how little you have ever been asked.

God asks everyone for different things. Some people are asked to stand up for their faith in the face of terrible danger and hardship, and become an example of persevering faith. And those people are justifiably honored by the rest of us. But if you are not called to be a martyr, you can not make yourself one. It is deeply wrong to try. Some people are asked to suffer; others are asked to be grateful. And making a display of how terribly you're "suffering" (in a country where being a Christian is as easy as any country has ever made it) is monstrous ingratitude. Last weekend I went to listen to Handel's Messiah (great concert, full house). The next morning I went up and went to church, a big unmistakably Christian building on a busy street. I did not have to hide my beliefs. I did not have to be quiet about them. Everywhere I go, I am publicly reminded of the upcoming religious holiday. And next week I, like every other American Christian, will get that holiday off work. There is no war on Christmas. There is only an attack on the Christian virtue of thankfulness.

Being a little grateful is not hard, and we have been given so much.

Other Christian virtues are under attack in the "War on Christmas": kindness, generosity, toleration. Is it so terribly wrong to occasionally vary a Christmas greeting, so that our fellow Americans who follow different religions are made to feel welcome? Is it wrong to be neighborly or kind? I can't believe that. It's such a small gesture, during a time when our religious voices are even louder and more dominant than usual. It can't be too much; it's hard really to call it enough. And I can't believe that it's right to be intemperate and angry with people who have the good manners (or who are moved by kindness) to use a holiday greeting meant to include all of their neighbors. To indulge in anger for its own sake, and worse still to indulge your anger on people who are actually practicing very basic virtues, seems to me very, very far from what is expected of us.

I know there are some Christians who feel their duty is to attempt to bring everyone they can to believe specifically in Jesus, and who feel that anything that limits their explicit religious testimony interferes with that mission. But I would suggest that no one is going to be converted to Christianity by the sight of Christians being hostile, self-pitying, and uncharitable. That's the surest way to drive people away from Christianity. The louder you are about your Christianity, and the more you urge it upon others, the more important it is to be a good example of Christian virtues. That's true this Christmas, and next, and all the year round.

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