Monday, December 18, 2006

The True Meaning of Christmas:

To be kind and respectful of one another.

Of course, this is a "family value" that should be practiced year round. But the Bill O'Reilly Brigade has been the antithesis of this spirit for two years running, now. Slate has an excellent breakdown of this today:

It's fitting that Eisenhower should have pioneered the tradition of all-purpose holiday messages. They typified his belief that, as he once put it, "Our government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious faith—and I don't care what it is. With us, of course, it is the Judeo-Christian concept, but it must be a religion that all men are created equal." His statement expressed the paradox of America's emerging religious disposition in the 1950s. In many ways, religion was resurgent in public life, with prayer breakfasts, "In God We Trust" added to paper currency, and the words "under God" inserted in the Pledge of Allegiance. Simultaneously, however, the Holocaust had made the merits (indeed the necessity) of religious toleration all the more compelling. Most Protestants, moreover, had come to realize that immigration had permanently transformed the American populace and that for comity to prevail in daily life, diverse creeds would have to coexist. Hence, this was also the golden age of the "interfaith" movement and the spread of that insipid public-relations neologism Judeo-Christian (a phrase that crystallizes the conflation of Christmas and Hanukkah).

Will Herberg's classic Protestant-Catholic-Jew (1955) captured the detente achieved among America's three leading religions. The book examined the Eisenhower Era condition of "pervasive secularism amid mounting religiosity." Herberg concluded that Americans (not unlike Ike) placed a high value not so much on God as on religion itself. "One's particular religion is, of course, to be cherished and loyally adhered to," he wrote, "but it is not felt to be something that one 'flaunts' in the face of people of other faiths." Most Americans in the 1950s believed in God, yet insisted that their beliefs didn't impinge much on their politics or business affairs. And, as Herberg noted, "what is secularism but the practice of the absence of God in affairs of life?" The same mix of private faith and public accommodation—precisely what irritates today's Christianists—prevails today.

The interfaith, tolerant spirit, ascendant in the 1920s, had by the '50s become synonymous with what Herberg called "the American Way of Life." In the decades since, we have expanded the Protestant-Catholic-Jew troika to include Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and others (although not without some ugly resistance). And, certain terms of the compact have been renegotiated, as when the Supreme Court concluded that prayer doesn't belong in public schools—though, in keeping with Herberg's analysis, a moment of silence has remained constitutionally kosher. Overall, the understandings reached by the 1950s have remained an American consensus. Indeed, far from a war on Christmas, this consensus should be seen as a socially useful, ideologically justifiable, and highly agreeable truce.

Far from this, most right-wing Christians have taken their "Freedom of Religion" to mean something else: The Freedom to be Assholes.

Way to propagate the Christmas Spirit, Bill.

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