The New York Times recently revealed that, before abandoning the idea, Barack and Michelle Obama had considered eliminating The White House’s traditional nativity scene as part of an effort to celebrate a “non-religious” Christmas. In light of that story, it wasn’t entirely surprising to learn that this year, for the first time, the President’s Christmas card contains neither any mention of Christmas itself nor a quote from the New Testament. Obviously, the Obamas aren’t fans of overt displays of Christian religiosity.
The White House has told Fox News Radio that the card represents nothing but an attempt to recognize that Americans are celebrating other holidays at this time of year – not just Christmas. No doubt that approach is imbued with politically-correct, multicultural sensitivity, but it also, perhaps, reflects a world view that’s out-of-step with most regular Americans – and even America’s heritage.
For starters, the use of the term “Christmas” doesn’t seem to be as offensive as the politically correct would have us believe. A recent Rasmussem Report found that fully 72% of Americans preferred “Merry Christmas,” compared to 22% who favored a more generic greeting, like “Happy Holidays.” And a December 2008 USA Today/Gallup poll found that 93% of Americans celebrate Christmas. How offended could Americans be by a reference to a holiday that they themselves are celebrating?
Even setting aside the overwhelming predominance of Christmas observance in this country, it’s not clear why the elimination of “Christmas” (or any Bible reference) on the Obamas’ card is deemed necessary. How many reasonable Christian people would be upset by the use of “Happy Hannukah” in Israel or “blessed Ramadan” in a majority Muslim country? Would a normal Christian be incensed – even in a majority-Christian country like America – by being wished a “Happy Hannukah” by a Jewish person (or president!) or a “blessed Ramadan” by an observant Muslim one? Let’s hope not. After all, those are benedictions, not curses.
Efforts to promote “season’s greetings” and “happy holidays,” both in The White House and the larger culture, seem to rest on the assumption that “Merry Christmas” will offend those of other faiths, or of none. But is it truly so intolerable to be confronted with the indicia of a religion that is not one’s own? In a country that was founded on the concept of religious tolerance by all and toward all, it’s not clear why this should be the case.
What’s more, why should a religious holiday like Christmas be deemed unique in its potential to offend? In contrast to their apparent reticence to highlight the Christianity inherent in Christmas, the Obamas apparently perceive no insensitivity in celebrating holidays – like St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo – that point up specific ethnic differences among Americans. Historically, our country has suffered far more internal turmoil based on race and ethnicity than on religion – and we have a far larger number of different ethnicities than religions. The difference in approach makes no sense.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether a President uses the specific word “Christmas” on a card, as opposed to a Bible verse or some other religious element. What does matter is when the occupant of the highest office in the land attempts to transform the Christmas (or Hannukah or Ramadan) season into nothing more than a great big “happy holidays” opportunity. Intentionally or not, that approach serves to replace religiosity with some variety of civic secularism that swaps belief in God for a diffuse and undefined “holiday spirit.”
And for America, that’s a dangerous path. Religion not only provides meaning to life and illuminates life’s larger truths; it also helps a free people remain free by providing them with ways to govern themselves individually, without having to resort collectively to the heavy hand of government.
So permit me to say what the Obamas’ card does not: Merry Christmas.
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