An American holiday tradition that’s proven to be financially successful was observed again last month. It’s a tradition that reminds one of comedian Stan Freberg’s 1958 spoof of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol called “Green Christmas.”
Freberg’s Scrooge owns an ad agency geared to profiting from Christmas. Among other ideas, they promote a version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” where the last line of the well-known chorus goes, “And please buy our beer.” Fox News hypes this tradition annually to stir up ratings among viewers they fear might leave them in boredom to watch other networks’ Christmas specials. Politically, it diverted attention to the right wing’s default mode — the “culture wars” — and away from a failing war, a flailing president, and the next episode of the Republican culture of corruption.
This year it was also hours of hype promoting sales for Fox personality John Gibson’s book The War on Christmas, which has the typically Fox stir-up-the-right-wing subtitle, “How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought.”
Right-wing politico-religious organizations and leaders — who invented the “cultural wars” in the spirit of “Onward Christian Soldiers” — have another “war” on their hands.
The war on ‘Happy Holidays’
The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the American Family Association, and Jerry Falwell and the Liberty Counsel, among others, launched boycotts of such retail giants as Target, Walmart and Sears. In a move that seems fully out of touch with the spirit of “What Would Jesus Do?” they crusaded to coerce people to say “Merry Christmas” instead of the inclusive “Happy Holidays.”
Since inclusivity in retailers really isn’t some grand liberal plot but a strategy of the conservative consumerism that determines the values of our culture, the right wing’s weapon is the only one that will make American business less tolerant of non-Christians. In this — another move not inspired by “What Would Jesus Do?” — they threatened the commercial success of the season, not its materialism. They financially boycotted commerce.
Now, I remember as a child the annual complaints from Christian pulpits that produced the slogan: “Put Christ Back in Christmas.” But those were complaints in an era when right-wing religion wasn’t in bed with the politics of making money. The old complaint was that the country was too commercial, the focus was on Santa Claus not Jesus, and there was too much emphasis upon shopping. It was a call to stop to think of something other than business.
Today though, it’s the left that complains that consumerism has taken over the season and that it would be better to back away from all the profit-oriented hype and its “Black Friday” to a simpler, non-commercial spirit. Focus on our relationships and peace and good will to all, not retailing.
But right-wing groups are scared that business doesn’t affirm them. Their fear is great enough to make this the issue. So they actively promoted the packaging of accumulating money and their faith.
They seem to say, to contradict Jesus’ claim, “You really can serve God and mammon.” They’re telling American business that there are huge profits in supporting Jesus. The price of following Jesus isn’t a loss or sacrifice at all; it’s a gain in the financial assets column. That’s the bottom line.
A Christianity warped by commerce
It’s not surprising that the dominant form of Christianity that developed in the U.S. had to adjust to bless our economic system, and has spent plenty of time justifying that adjustment. Theologians have developed all sorts of interpretations to protect America’s profit-oriented soul.
You’re never going to get Americans in the pews if you preach that today they should live by such sayings of Jesus as: “Give all you have to the poor and follow me,” or “It’s harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than a camel to go through the eye of a needle.”
And you’re never going to get any preacher with faith in capitalism to take literally the Old Testament command never to loan money and ask for interest. Too much of the Almighty Dollar is made that way.
In American Christianity you can post the Ten Commandments with its “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” and then believe that it’s really not a vain thing to put God’s name on a nation’s money.
Fox’s Bill O’Reilly saw visions of profits dancing in the heads of retailers if they’d just promote the homeless Jew of Nazareth. “Every company in America should be on their knees thanking Jesus for being born,” he told viewers of Fox’s “Your World with Neil Cavuto” on November 30. “Without Christmas, most American businesses would be far less profitable. More than enough reason for business to be screaming, ‘Merry Christmas.’ ”
So the culture warriors were stirred up, the season was again profitable, and “Christmas” was forced on the lips of retailers in order for them to cash in on the season. The televangelists and preachers can take a long winter’s nap knowing that their offering plates, too, are fuller because they’ve participated in the selling of “Christmas.”
The Christian right wing has worked to correct Jesus’ claim that Caesar and God represent two separate allegiances, by seeking Caesar’s buttressing of their faith. God needs government subsidy. It’s a cultural war after all. God should be more patriotic.
All of this shows the dwindling ability of the Christian right to believe in their God. They don’t count on God and the Church to change the world or be victorious. They buy the Left Behind books and videos to bolster their faith, to assure them that all will be well. They count on government and taxpayers to promote and fund their faith — not their own good works, their own contributions, or their faith that their God is capable.
What we’re seeing in their faith in the government promotion of faith-based good works, the State advancing laws and amendments to force people to act “Christian,” and trust in retailers to sell Christmas, is the end of right-wing belief.
It’s their fear that’s overwhelming all of us. If they ever do believe again, maybe they’ll start to really hear all of those angels who constantly assured humans: “Fear not.”
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas where he taught for 33 years and was department chair for six years, Robert N. Minor (he/him), M.A., Ph.D is the author of 8 books as well as numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is an historian of religion with specialties in Biblical studies, Asian religions, religion and gender and religion and sexuality. His writing has been published in Whosoever since 2005 and he continues to speak and lead workshops around the country. In 1999 GLAAD awarded him its Leadership Award for Education, in 2012 the University of Kansas named him one of the University’s Men of Merit, in 2015 the American Men’s Studies Association gave him the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2018 Missouri Jobs with Justice presented him with the Worker’s Rights Board Leadership Award. He resides in Kansas City, Missouri and is founder of The Fairness Project.