It's that time of year again. Every year, signs of its arrival start popping up earlier and earlier. It used to be that people would not get started on it until after Thanksgiving, but now you can see telltale signs even earlier. No, it is not Christmas that we are talking about; it's the war on Christmas. Just as Christmas marketing campaigns have always started just a little earlier every year, debates and coverage on the ostensible war on Christmas seem to have found their own place in American society around the holidays.
The last few years have seen an undeniable increase in the amount of television coverage and press about this supposed phenomenon. Several books have been released claiming to detail how secular powers are conspiring to remove all mention of the venerated holiday in favor of a nondenominational, politically correct seasonal event. One of the most egregiously reactionary of these tomes is 2005's "The War on Christmas: Why It's Worse Than You Thought" by John Gibson.
In the book, Mr. Gibson chronicles how schools and other public venues have gradually removed references to Christmas and have begun to use nondenominational phrases in their place. In an appearance on "The O'Reilly Factor" last year, Mr. Gibson and Mr. O'Reilly took an informal survey of retail stores to see which were using the word "Christmas" in their advertising and which stores were not. The two men then decried the non-usage of "Christmas" in the advertising and the motives behind the change. Mr. O'Reilly even went so far as to describe the omission of the word as "hostile" to Christians.
The danger of this trend toward nondenominational terminology, Mr. Gibson claims, is that it promotes a secular progressive agenda, which will lead to "legalized prostitution [and] drugs." He further reasoned that this occurrence is done is by the retail stores to appease the small minority of customers who aren't Christian because stores too often think of "100 percent of the customers."
What is alarming about this rhetoric is not that some people have noticed that there are less overt references to Christmas in mainstream advertising or that they are even perturbed over it. Instead, it is the logical foundations being used by the supposed "defenders of Christmas" in their arguments.
First, Mr. O'Reilly's statement that the preclusion of retailers' use of "Christmas" in seasonal advertising is "hostile" toward Christians brings about some interesting paradoxes. The rationale behind this argument is that it is an affront to Christians to not have their religious views recognized in public. By this same logic, it is thus offensive to any religious person to not have his specific religious belief recognized. Yet, if all religious views were given equal space in public places, there would be a dilutive effect on the recognition of the Christmas holiday, resulting in similar feelings of "hostility" for not giving Christmas a special position in the advertising.
A second argument, presented by Mr.Gibson, is that stores focus too much on every customer, even if "85 percent of the country is Christian and 90-some percent celebrate Christmas." This argument is based upon the idea that it is hostile to the majority that their ideals do not supersede concessions to minority viewpoints in the public space. Logic such as this, when applied to religion, would create a system of religious exceptionalism in which the dominant religion would be granted special favor in society despite the concerns of minority parties. An outcome like this would be contrary to the principles of religious freedom written into the Constitution since there would be a de facto recognition of a majority religion.
While this whole idea of a war on Christmas is largely an alarmist debate in order to garner attention and ratings, there are lessons to be learned from it. Respecting a person's religious beliefs is an important and fundamental aspect of the United States. The concern that must accompany this respect is that all religions must be regarded equally from the viewpoint of the law. Additionally, people should be able to see that there is a categorical difference between state-sponsored hostility toward religion and merely a lack of specific recognition from parties that are under no obligation to do so. So before the war on Christmas comes back into full swing, as advice for those who preach about respecting religion, make sure that you are respecting other people's religions as well.
Mike Skelly ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in finance and political science.