A Christmas Quarrel

It tears me up to broach this subject today, since Christmas is my favorite of all the holidays — and I’d rather spend a year on Santa’s “naughty” list than make this joyous day any less merry for anyone…

And also, since I know that a lot of Whiskey & Gunpowder readers on the conservative (read: Christian) side of the aisle are no doubt feeling a certain kinship with me because of some of my recent writings about the Iraq war and rural Americans…

But some things just have to be said — and some days are just more fitting than others to say them. Today is such a day, and so it is with a heavy heart, more than a little apprehension, and apologies in advance for any offense caused when I say this:

Christmas shouldn’t be an American national holiday.

The Ghost of Christmas Precedents

Now, before you call me a godless heathen, let me be clear on what I mean by “national holiday.”

By no means am I suggesting that we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas in the U.S. — quite the contrary. Except in our government, I wish there were MORE of a focus in modern America on that holiest of Christian holidays. Instead, it has become more about Virgin Records CDs and Game Boys than about the virgin-born savior boy…

I’m only saying that Christmas shouldn’t be ordained an “official” holiday by the U.S. government. As such, it undermines a fundamental pillar of the American system AND degrades the significance of a sacred event that should transcend all man-made governance.

Currently, Christmas is the only one of 11 federal holidays with religious origins. The only other with even a remote religious significance is Thanksgiving — religious only in the sense that the pilgrims were likely thanking the Christian God for the bounty with which they were blessed. But it’s still a quintessentially American holiday, like Independence Day, Memorial Day, and all but one of the other federal holidays…

Here are some reasons why I think Christmas should be removed from this list:

1) IT’S BLATANTLY UNCONSTITUTIONAL. The First Amendment is pretty clear on the whole religion thing: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” Similarly, the Supreme Court’s 1947 Everson v. Board of Education decision includes: “Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another…”

Now, if granting by passage of law official federal standing to one particular faith’s marquis holiday at the exclusion of all others isn’t tantamount to both establishing a religion AND preferring one religion over another, I don’t know what would be. And if granting all but the most essential government employees this day off doesn’t send the message that “We like Christians better,” I don’t know what would.

2) IT CONTROVERTS THE AMERICAN ETHOS. America was founded in large part by the will, risk, and effort of people who were looking to escape state-affiliated religions — mainly in England, Germany, and Scotland. These people didn’t come here to form yet another “official” church. And I’m no religious historian, but as far as I know, early European Americans didn’t conduct sectarian jihads on each other, either. Every town big enough had multiple churches of varying denominations, and they didn’t war on one another, or try to legislate each other out of existence.

Point being, these folks understood that America was a place where each religion could stand or fall on its own merits in the “free marketplace” (for lack of a better phrase) of faith. For the state to put its stamp of endorsement on any one of these in ANY WAY would’ve defeated the whole point of them coming here in the first place.

3) IT PROMOTES TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY. Another principal tenet of Americanism is the protection of minorities against bullying by majorities — a big part of what the Bill of Rights is about. For example, Amendment 1 guarantees that within a few basic public-safety-related parameters, you have the right to say what you want without fear of repercussions, no matter how many of your peers (or elected representatives) don’t like it. Amendment 2 safeguards your right to guns, no matter how many of your pansy-assed, brainwashed-by-Big-Brother neighbors (or elected representatives) don’t like it. You get the drift…

Well, granting official sanction to what’s even an overwhelming majority religion (most sources peg the number of American Christians at between 78-82% of the population) completely contradicts one of the fundamental pillars upon which many of our laws are based: that majorities shouldn’t enjoy any legal advantages over minorities.

These are the major philosophical reasons why I believe that Christmas’ official “most-favored-religion” holiday status should be revoked in America. But there are other, more pragmatic reasons, as well…

Peace on Earth — and Good Policies Toward All

The federal government’s sanction of Christianity via the inclusion of Christmas in the list of official national holidays presents more than simply philosophical hurdles. It also opens the door to endless argument about religious holidays — which ones warrant paid days off, which don’t, and why…

It’s a needless quagmire.

Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to simply grant all government employees three days off per year for the practice (or nonpractice) of faith and let them choose when to use them? Christians could have their Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter Monday, Jews could use them for Rosh Hashanah or portions of Hanukkah, Muslims for Ramadan, etc….

Moving forward, how much of a legal and cultural headache would this likely save as America’s demographic makeup inevitably shifts toward not only the secular — those who claimed to be “nonreligious” jumped 56% (to a total of 15% of the population) between 1990-2001 — but also almost certainly a more religiously diverse one.

Beyond this, there’s the darker message that having an unofficial “official” religion in the United States sends to those bent on our destruction. Here’s what I mean by that…

How do you think it looks to radical Islamists in Iran and similar nations — who perceive Christians as their mortal enemies, might I remind you — when the United States comes to the negotiation table as a supposedly secular government, yet is officially shut down for the marquis holiday of Christianity?

Do you think they’re likely to believe what we say to them about our intentions when out of one side of our mouths we’re claiming to govern in a manner that’s equally receptive (or more accurately, equally immune) to all religious dogma — and out of the other side we’re singing Christmas carols on our only national religious holiday, a Christian one?

Let’s not forget that it’s both the perception of the U.S. as a “Christian” nation and our support of Israel that fuels Islamic hatred toward us. Now, I’m not suggesting we nix Christmas from the federal holiday list to appease militant jihadists — I’m suggesting we do it because it’s un-American to begin with…

I’m merely pointing out that a fringe benefit of doing what’s right by our own country would likely bear at least some fruit in the foreign policy challenges we face.

Father, Son, and Holy Votes

The myriad of reasons why Christmas shouldn’t be an official U.S. holiday seem obvious to me, but not so obvious to our spineless, vote-grubbing politicians — and even less so to most American Christians, I’m certain…

Few of the devout I know personally would agree with me on this issue, just like most of them wouldn’t agree with the removal of the Cold War-inserted phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. If the feedback I got from a two-part Whiskey & Gunpowder series I wrote in October 2005 about those two words in our current Pledge is representative, most American Christians support ANYTHING that raises God’s profile, whether it’s constitutional or not…

They’re not stupid — they know the value of PR. They know that in the modern and ever-more-secular world, exposure is king. And having Christmas as the ONLY official national religious holiday in the U.S. ultimately translates into more sheep for the flock, more saved souls, etc…

Of course, it’s hard to be too judgmental toward them. They’re just being consistent with their belief that God should come first above all things. Even country.

Ironic as it is, most American Christians seem to view the U.S. in similar terms as their Islamic enemies: first a Christian nation, and second a free one. Some of them I know wouldn’t have the least complaint if Christianity (especially their particular sliver of it) were to be declared the official American religion — Constitution, framers, and Plymouth Rock Pilgrims be damned.

As for politicians, they’re only concerned with power (as usual), and power comes from votes. And in the U.S. of A., those votes are NEVER best corralled on either side of the aisle by appearing not to put God first…

Bottom line: I’m not trying to pick a fight with all of Christian America on Christmas. I’m just trying to leverage the occasion to most effectively expose the fact that our elected officials (and our courts) are compromising a lot of the fundamental philosophical underpinnings that make this country great in order to pander to a public that by and large doesn’t seem to know or care about these things. That’s just not good political leadership.

And it’s making us look like hypocrites.

Merry Christmas,

Jim Amrhein
Contributing editor, Whiskey and Gunpowder
December 22, 2006

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