Unless you are just back from some other planet, you will have noticed that there is much more commotion this year than in previous years over public observations of Christmas.
The expenditure of public money on such explicitly Christian phenomena as creches in public parks, or even crosses on public hilltops, had already been pretty well wiped out in previously, owing to the Supreme Court's absurd decision that these amounted to an "establishment of religion" and were therefore barred by the First Amendment. But 2005 is the first year in which Christians have taken much notice of the degree to which Christian terminology -- terms like "Merry Christmas," "Christmas tree," etc. -- have been quietly retired by such non-governmental entities as certain department stores, and replaced by such neutral terms as "Happy Holidays," "holiday tree," and the like.
The theory that supports these changes is that using expressly Christian terms offends non-Christians, or at least make them feel excluded or unwelcome. And since commercial enterprises like department stores aspire to serve not only Christians, but Jews, Muslims and atheists, Christian references must be excluded in their communications with prospective customers.
Personally, I think that theory is nonsense. In my own experience, the great majority of the Jews I know (I know very few Muslims) are thoroughly used to the appearance of Christian expressions in all sorts of oral and written communications, and take no serious offense at them. This is, after all, an overwhelmingly Christian country, with believers ranging somewhere above 85 percent of the population, and references to Christian beliefs and practices are inevitably almost as ubiquitous as the air we breathe. To exclude them, and replace them with awkward constructions like "holiday tree," causes far more interreligious ill feeling than it eliminates.
But that is where we are being led by the Supreme Court's preposterous notion that governmental recognition of such simple truths would constitute an "establishment of religion." That ruling is now the settled Law of the Land, and the only reason we still have "In God we trust" on our coins and "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is that the Court is simply too scared of the public reaction to knock them out.
The real winners in this decades-long battle have been the atheists. They are relatively few in number, but they abound in the elites that dominate our higher courts, and they have done very well indeed by keeping their heads low and letting those courts progressively constrict the areas in which religious concepts can be manifested. The net result has been to eliminate almost all religious references -- not only Christian, but Judaic and you-name-it -- from the public square.
Not surprisingly, their success is now making the atheists a bit bolder. Attacks on the very idea of religion are becoming commoner, and more vicious. A couple of months ago the San Francisco Chronicle published, on its front page no less, a diatribe by one of its columnists that read in part as follows: "There is this delicious rebellion.... (M)aybe it's just a giant and wise recoil away from bogus notions of a warmongering homophobic paternalistic God.... Millions are doing it, especially the young. They are shucking 'religion' and taking up 'spirituality.'...This is, essentially, the modern rule: If it's cultural and it's individualistic and the pope scolds against it, you know it must be juicy and right."
To be sure, the San Francisco Chronicle, the poor thing, has to pander to its jaded audience. But there are signs that, in less advanced areas of the country, Christians and Jews alike are beginning to notice what is going on around them, and are fighting back.