A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

My Photo
Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

An Issue For The Delusional And Frothing

I had planned to write a light piece on the so-called War on Christmas. It would have started with the observation that I, myself, was not at war with Christmas, but that I did sometimes dream of sending in the Delta Force to take out certain transcendently awful Christmas music. I had things like Burl Ives' Have a Holly Jolly Christmas or Robert Goulet's Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas in mind.

But it is really no longer a joking matter. I discovered that for myself, here. The post I have linked to is utterly delusional, and many of the comments are delusional and rabid. It makes for quite an exciting Christmas season, actually.

Let's put first things first:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not...That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not...And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth...And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

Gospel of John 1:1-5, 9-10, 14, 16-18

This is the naked vision of the Incarnation. This is the starting point. Insofar as Christmas is more than a Festival Of Lights to chase away the gloom of the darkest days of the year, this is what Christmas is all about.

It's really not very merry, though we say Merry Christmas. It's really not very happy, though we say Happy Holidays. It's really not very seasonal, though we say Season's Greetings. It is something utterly beyond any and all of this.

Beyond lighted trees or lighted windows, beyond misletoe, beyond holly, beyond ivy, beyond giving gifts, beyond carols, beyond good cheer.

These are all things of the Festival Of Lights, not of the Incarnation.

The Incarnation is even beyond the list of prestigious ancestors of Jesus that you find in the Gospel of Matthew, and beyond the autobiographical narrative in the Gospel of Luke. Certain things in that narrative point at it:

And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.

Gospel of Luke 1:19-22

And the people in the narrative glimpse it:

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

Gospel of Luke 1:46-49

But there is no direct entry to it in the story.

Yet what we cling to are the things of the Festival of Lights and what we cling to are the trappings of the story: a bright star, Persian Magi bearing gifts, shepherds seeing angels in the sky. These were not the Angel that struck Zacharias dumb, nor the Angel that shattered Mary's humility with the most important announcement in the universe.

Now that was an Angel, with a capital A, an Angel of the sort that wrestled with Jacob and left him lame. What appeared to the shepherds was a choir of wings.

The Festival of Lights is for anybody and understandable by anybody, Christian or not. And the birth narrative of Luke is an exact complement to the mysterious Word and the transcendent Light of John. It is the human half of the story, which is always interesting, Christian or not. But the human half of the story has little force and little point in the absence of the Word and the Light.

How many Americans, even those nominally Christian, can truly see beyond the human half of the story to the Word and the Light? Not many I think.

Christian faith is Christian faith, Christ's birthday is Christ's birthday, and the Incarnation is the Incarnation whether the day of its celebration is called Christmas, Yule, one of several Happy Holidays, or nothing at all. Christianity, Christ, the Incarnation, none of them are materially altered, whatever happens on December 25.

I don't know about you, but from my observations in my town, it is unquestionable that creches have largely vanished from lawn displays, even literal depictions of Santa Claus are less common than they once were, and the sleigh with toys has been dissolving into merely stylized Reindeer formed out of lights. Slowly but surely, the Festival of Lights, is consuming the Christian story. This is because the Christian story has very little hold on us in the absence of the Word and the Light.

But this is not a matter of anyone being at "war" with Christmas or Christianity. If anything, it is a loss of the spirit of apostleship and evangelism among Christians themselves, failing to make an effort to bring the good news of the Word and the Light to their friends and their neighbors.

In the post I have cited above the author made sure to put up the following notice in boldface type:

Let me say this out loud and clear: "I am a devout Christian".

We never would have guessed. But when we read the full post here is sum total there about Christ:

The flagrant attempt to remove Christ from Christmas would never be permitted if applied to the holy days of any other religion. So much for religious "tolerance."...To Christians, Christmas lights themselves radiate the religious symbolism of Christ as "light of the world."

To non-Christians this is not exactly informative. Beyond the fact that I have never heard of any other religion's holidays being celebrated widely in the United States, there is absolutely nothing preventing the poster from putting Christ back into her Christmas any time she wants. This is what freedom of worship really means.

I would ask any Christian who brings this up, as she has, Have you put up a creche lately? Has your church? Are there any angels on the front of your home? Or even a simple star?

What the poster really wants is to put Christ back in everybody else's Christmas whether they want this or not.

Whether it is a matter of agitation for public creches in front of City Hall or mandatory prayer in schools and at public events, the assumption behind it always remains that Christians either own this country or have a special dispensation to manage it. They don't. And if all the rest of us get a little frosty when it is asserted that they do, well, what did you expect?

A great deal is often made of the fact that Americans are willing to tell pollsters that they believe in God. This supposedly makes us "a Christian Nation". At the very best, it might make us a Deist Nation. Christianity is far more than this, as I am sure priests and ministers would tell us all. And our intimate confessions to pollsters don't make us any less of a Secular Nation. Secular is as secular does. It means, whether you are Christian or not, that you treat the details of your own religion, or anybody else's, as a private affair to be kept out of the public sphere. We indubitably do, even the believers among us.

My very forthright "devout Christian" does, as is plain from the quotation above, Bill O'Reilly does, David Limbaugh does. In fact, one of the most telling things about Limbaugh's book Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity, is what you find in the Index.

In a 446 page book, whose purpose is to defend Christianity, there are no page references to "Christ", no page references to "worship", four single page references to "Jesus", and 24 multipage references to "homosexuality" or "homosexual agenda". When you look at those references carefully, Limbaugh spends about 25 continuous pages on the issue.

This is hardly spreading the Good News of the Incarnation.

And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

Gospel of Matthew 28:18-20

Now I will tell you straightforwardly that, as a Buddhist, I am under no such heavy evangelical burden, though we have our own commitments, and I keep them. I have an obligation to speak directly and clearly about Buddhism if questioned, but no obligation to be proactive about it.

However, my good Christian friends clearly do--perhaps not as potent an obligation as Jesus personally imposed on the first eleven whom He sent forth, but a clearly implicit one, nonetheless. Why should they do this for their "enemies" with whom they are clearly at "war"? Anyone who claims to be a Christian and cannot answer this question for themselves has simply not been paying attention.

A Secular and a Deist nation, not a Christian one, stands waiting for them to testify about the Incarnation, and about their faith. The only drawback is that to do it you have to give up your own religious privacy, you have to grow up enough to come to terms with the fact that some people out there will not like it very much, and you have to give up your impulse to whine when they don't.

When I listen to Bill O'Reilly, when I read David Limbaugh, and when I comment, as I did, on the blog cited above, I see no such witnessing and I see no such faith. They are both hidden in religious privacy, all wrapped in the same secular Christmas paper, only to be unwrapped by the appointed person whose name is on the present.

What I do see is someone wearing their Christianity like a chip on the shoulder, daring others to knock it off. As an American Buddhist, and as, essentially, a religious pioneer in a new land, I have a heavy burden of responsibility to my neighbors not to act in a way that closes their minds to me as a fellow neighbor, whatever they may think of me as a Buddhist. This means that I have an explicit obligation not to wear my Buddhism like a chip on my shoulder.

I can say unequivocally that it would help many of my more strident Christian friends to have to be a pioneer, a stranger in a strange land, with the need to be considerate and responsible toward their neighbors. In other words, it would help them to spread the Gospel.


Post a Comment

<< Home