Fighting Over the Prince of Peace

The War on Christmas may be worth fighting.

Every year, we hear more stories about the "War on Christmas," in which secular humanists and other atheists reportedly ally with commercial interests to shove the birth of Jesus Christ clean out of His own holiday, replaced by Santa and his reindeer.

In Ireland, one Catholic priest is having none of the battle - or, more specifically, he's waving the white flag:

Father Desmond O’Donnell said Christians of all denominations should realise that Christmas and Easter no longer has any sacred meaning.

He told the Belfast Telegraph: “We’ve lost Christmas, just like we lost Easter, and should abandon the word completely. We need to let it go, it’s already been hijacked and we just need to recognise and accept that."

Although the Belfast Telegraph does exist, a search finds no record of this supposed interview, so it might be just another "fake news" item.  Taken at face value, though, it's hard not to think that the priest has a point.  A century and a half ago, it could be said that "England was the people of a book, and that book was the Bible."   Today, not so much.

In America, the same could almost have been said within living memory, but in most of the country today, it's barely less wrong than in Europe.  Christmas is about Santa, shopping, lights, and presents - Jesus is at best an afterthought.  So why not just give up fighting over territory thoroughly lost, and instead retrench to defend ground where maybe there's still a chance - Easter, perhaps?

Retreating Off A Cliff

The trouble is, the idea of a strategic retreat and retrenching is very far from a new idea to Christians.  Indeed, American Christianity has been devotedly following surrender on the installment plan for a century at least.

Consider: in 1892, a Supreme Court judgment mentioned as an aside that:

These and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.

Now, the Court wasn't saying that America was legally a Christian nation - it wasn't then and never has been.  It was simply observing the reality that America was a nation of mostly Christians.  As Justice David Brewer explained in a later book:

...The government as a legal organization is independent of all religions. Nevertheless, we constantly speak of this republic as a Christian Nation—in fact, as the leading Christian Nation of the world. This popular use of the term certainly has significance. It is not a mere creation of the imagination. It is not a term of derision but has substantial basis—one which justifies its use.

Nobody would say such a thing today.  Now, it's true that 70% of Americans claim to be Christian (down by 8% in as many years), but although 37% of Americans claim to attend church weekly, studies suggest that many fewer actually do.  Lying about church attendance is hardly a sign of devoutness, and steady, decades-long declines are not a sign of a healthy, vibrant religion.

Having established that Christianity is, in fact, declining in America and has been for a century, what else has occurred in religious matters over that same time?  That's right: the idea that the church should retreat to defensible grounds.

This was most famously promoted by the establishment of the "Fundamentalist" movement, named after the supposed handful of "Fundamentals of the Faith" that, its leaders claimed, were the essential doctrines worth defending.  The movement as a whole foundered because Christians couldn't agree on exactly which doctrines were fundamental, but the basic concept of not fighting too much over what you believe remained.

It took a few decades for the results to become apparent, but churches decisively lost the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and the abortion battles of the 1970s in large part because they voluntarily surrendered.  In a series of cultural events and court decisions, the traditional generic-Christian religious underpinnings of American public education - daily prayer, Bible reading, and generally conservative mores - were stripped away, and even though traditionalist Christians were a majority at the time, the "Silent Majority" well earned their moniker through their inaction.

At the time, most American Christian children attended public schools like nearly everybody else in the country - of course, since nearly all Americans were (or claimed to be) Christians, the distinction wasn't immediately apparent.  As the schools became increasingly and aggressively secular, though, Christian churches and parents were presented with a choice: Should they leave their suggestible children in their public schools and fight for a reversal of the secularizing changes?  Or would they be better off simply establishing their own private Christian schools, withdrawing their children, and leaving the public schools to go their own way?

They chose the latter, and for a while it seemed to work - countless churches started Christian schools, and the homeschooling movement managed to make that practice legal in almost every state.  A generation or two of Christian children were raised in Christian environments under the control of parents and their carefully selected co-religionists.

Fifty years on, though, the situation looks less optimistic.  There are a fair few private Christian schools yet, but the numbers decrease every year, as operating a school has become impossibly costly for most people to afford the necessary tuition.  Homeschooling is more popular than ever, but usually at the considerable cost of giving up one wage-earner's potential income which most families can ill afford.

And the public schools?  Most of them are flatly anti-Christian, as is documented thoroughly every year about this time, promoting all manner of lifestyle practices which are anathema to traditional Christians of our day, as they would have been to Christians of any stripe a hundred years ago.

But most Christian parents nevertheless send their kids to the anti-Christian public schools, perhaps because they can't afford anything else - with the predictable result that, with every generation, religious devoutness decreases.

Offense: The Best Defense?

In an actual war, it is sometimes the best strategy to retreat to a defensible position.  The Russians, for example, are famous for winning wars by retreating and letting General Winter defeat their invaders free of charge.

Other than on the Slavic steppes, though, nine times out of ten a retreat is a strong sign that you're losing.  Either you aren't fighting hard enough, or you aren't fighting correctly.

Christianity in America - indeed, in the world at large - is definitively losing.  The percentage of Christians, both practicing and nominal, decreases every year.

Indeed, even looking at the grand sweep of history, the same thing is apparent.  The Islamic Middle East, from which Christians have been all but exterminated, was once wholly Christian.  Europe too was famously Christian and now needs to be fighting for its cultural life against barbaric Muslims, as they did 500 and 1000 years ago, but this time, is mostly surrendering even before they're asked.

The trite definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result.  Christians have "retreated to more defensible lines" continually for a century, and are fast running out of ground even to stand on.  That approach isn't working.

Will forcefully engaging in the War on Christmas create a different result?  We don't know; but it can't very well come out much worse than what's been being tried.  And it might just save the country, as Founder John Jay predicted:

No human society has ever been able to maintain both order and freedom, both cohesiveness and liberty apart from the moral precepts of the Christian Religion. Should our Republic ever forget this fundamental precept of governance, we will then, be surely doomed.

On that note - Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

Read other articles by Hobbes or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

Mr Hobbes, several comments:
1. It is not the job of our secular government to teach or support your family’s religion. It is the decision of each responsible parent to teach and associate with organizations (churches) to imbue the religion and culture of choice.

2. There would be many more catholic schools today if the resources and reputation of the Roman Catholic Church were not being sapped by the ignoble scandal of child molestation.

3. We, in the Western world need to resist the tyranny of the majority against the time we are not in the majority. The atrocities in the Muslim Middle East are exactly what we need to defend against. Israel, for all its faults, is a front line of the fight by defending the rights of religious freedom within its borders.

December 25, 2017 2:23 PM

The history of Old Testament Israel and the Christianity of more modern times has been characterized by cycles of decline and revival. While Christianity in its traditional practice seems to be now in decline, the cycle will very likely come about to a disruptive experience that revives the faith (and practice), and possibly in a different form. It's a mistake to expect constancy in a living, breathing Church. The Great Awakenings of earlier American history were just that, periods of awakenings following "sleepings"!

December 26, 2017 2:41 AM
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