Secular Holiday Greetings

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Our house was being painted, so I holed up in the only room not swathed in plastic and scrolled through what was on TV.

I paused at Channel 9. “The 700 Club” was on. Over the years, I had witnessed founder Pat Robertson’s periodic news-making forays into the politics of religion, or, perhaps, the religion of politics (take your choice). Robertson has made a career of pontificating about the dark forces of this world – not only Satan but also people of other faiths and illegal immigrants – versus the beleaguered godly.

That morning, I watched as he quoted Revelation 22:15: “Outside the gates into the city are the dogs ….” “The dogs,” Robertson advised his viewers, were “male homosexual men, temple prostitutes.”

Given that it was early December, there was also that old reliable, the “War on Christmas.” “Fight back against a culture that wants to remove Christ from Christmas,” ran the ad on Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network. To this end, viewers could order an attractive stick-on label, affixable to car, home, or anywhere else you chose to display it, with the legend, “The 700 Club … Merry Christmas.”

No “Happy Holidays,” no “Xmas Cheer” here, by golly.

I consider Robertson’s “War on Christmas” a polarizing device, marketed to rally “true believers” into some sort of triumphal dominance over those who believe or live differently: An us versus them bunker mentality.

In doing so, Robertson and those like him deny Jesus’s call to serve as peacemakers, to work toward reconciliation. It’s also so easy to point the finger at the evil out there rather than contend with one’s own flaws.

As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writes in The Gulag Archipelago:

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil…. Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.”

It’s true that American culture has made the Christmas season a mercantile cornucopia of spending, and stress that has nothing to do with Christ’s birth, but I don’t see this as an us versus them problem, as Robertson would have it.

Each of us makes the choice as to how much of December’s materialism we will tolerate. Besides, focusing on the “War on Christmas” gives short shrift to the essence of this sacred season: For Christians, Advent (the four weeks preceding Christmas Eve) is a time of quietly awaiting the miracle of Christmas Eve, of pondering the mysteries of life and death. Advent is about hope, not war. “And hope,” I heard the other evening at an Advent study, “is the antithesis of fear.”

I like that.

Pat Robertson enjoys the freedom to broadcast his opinions over CBN, and bravo for that. I am less accepting, however, of the practice of those Christians in elective office who seem to relish foisting their beliefs upon others at official events. (Wouldn’t you think devout politicians would have some shame about dragging God’s name into their chambers, given some of the decisions they make there?)

It brings to mind the bumper sticker sent recently by a good friend, a secular humanist: “Do you mind if I cram my religion down your throat?”

I don’t plan to affix the sticker to my car, but I heartily wish that people in public service would consider the diversity of their constituents before they broadcast their faith. Do they really need to indiscriminately belt out “Merry Christmas” to those who don’t celebrate the holiday?

Likely I’m in the minority here – more than one friend, Jew, Muslim, and secular humanist, has told me they have no problem with being wished a “Merry Christmas.”

Nevertheless, I offer as an alternative a New Testament verse from Luke 2:14. Devout politicians might whisper to themselves the first phrase, “Glory to God in the highest,” before declaring to those of every creed, race, and sexual orientation, “and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Jean Ardell is the President of the Newport Beach Women’s Democratic Club. She can be reached at [email protected].

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  1. I’m an evangelical and I don’t know of any evidence that “dogs” in Revelation refers specifically to gay men. I’m not a fan of Pat Robertson. At the same time, the actual reading of Luke 2:14 in most Bibles today (if you’d ever look at something other than the King James) is “and peace on earth to those who enjoy God’s good will.” In Greek it differs by one letter!

  2. And, Christmas started out as a winter solstice celebration, and we started to do Jesus’ birthday at that time because it was safer and rather symbolic, and if the non believers and the cargo cultists want to call their festival “Christmas ” too, let them.

    • Howard — Thank you for your comments… Yes, I’m aware of the many translations of the Bible but find myself often returning to the King James. (But don’t the variations in these translations argue against literalism?) As I wrote in my column, I’m likely in the minority about this “Merry Christmas” thing. I thought Rabbi Gellman in the Daily Pilot on Sunday did a good job of explaining his feelings about the spirit of Christmas vs. the sacred Christian holiday. I still prefer to keep Advent quietly with the least amount of forced gaiety. Best — Jean