Every Christmas brings a fresh round of cultural skirmishes. This year’s most garish image was a skeleton Santa Claus mounted on a crucifix outside the Loudoun County courthouse in Virginia. The creator of this display described it as a depiction of “society’s materialistic obsessions and addictions, and how it is killing the peace, love, joy, and kindness that is supposed to be prevalent during the holiday season.”
A Christian woman named Mary Czarnecki “drove past the courthouse, saw the jauntily posed sacrilege, and figured there was a mistake,” as related by the Washington Post. When no one corrected this mistake, Czarnecki stepped forward to deal with it herself, since “she was offended as a Christian at the use of the cross, it did not seem funny, and the implied message of ‘Christmas commercialized to death’ seemed insignificant.”
Czarnecki announced her intention to dismantle the crucified zombie Santa to a nearby county employee, who promptly skedaddled, leaving her to carefully pluck Saint Nick from the cross and lay his bones upon the grass. A sheriff’s deputy eventually wandered by… and asked local news reporters to stop filming Czarnecki’s kinetic art criticism action. The skeleton was eventually re-crucified, dismantled by someone else, and crucified again.
Meanwhile, in Athens, Texas, an atheist group based out of Wisconsin declared itself the champion of an anonymous local resident who was disturbed by a courthouse nativity scene, which did not have any terrifying undead monsters, but did feature a lovely red-headed angel. Freedom From Religion Foundation co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor explained that the nativity scene “sends a message of intimidation and exclusion to non-Christians and non-believers this time of year.”
Specifically, according to Gaylor, that message would be: “Hmmm. This is a Christian government building. I’m not welcomed here if I’m not Christian.” This is curious, because militant atheists normally love to pretend they’re smarter than everyone else.
Callously disregarding the possibility that some blithering idiot might look at a Yuletide nativity scene and conclude they had arrived at the Vatican instead of the local courthouse, thousands of supporters gathered in the town square, singing Christmas carols and reciting prayers. The protesters are still there, living in tent cities, fighting with the police, and destroying public property with mountains of sewage. Wait, sorry, I got my protests confused. These folks were polite, and went home when they were finished.
As reported by The Blaze, the militant atheists responded by hanging a banner at the courthouse that said, “At this season of the Winter Solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but a myth & superstition that hardens hearts & enslaves minds.”
Dang, that’s a lot to cram on a banner! The Henderson County Courthouse must be huge if they were able to hang all that verbiage in front of it. Or perhaps militant atheists write smaller as they get angrier. Since the FFRF didn’t apply for the proper permits, the banner was removed. As of this writing, the nativity scene endures, and the Texas Attorney General says the county is not legally obligated to take it down.
In Santa Monica, California, a lottery was held to allocate city park space for nativity scenes. For the better part of sixty years, the oceanfront park was noted for beautiful dioramas of “the Annunciation, Mary and Joseph being turned away at the inn, and of course, the manger,” as a New York Times report wistfully relates.
Only three of the twenty-one available spaces were won by Christians this year. The rest went to angry atheists, who put up tasteful and charming displays, such as a chain-link cage containing a sign that reads, “Religions are all alike – founded on fables and mythologies.” Many of the spaces have been left blank, in order to avoid pushing the issue too hard and sparking a “backlash” that could prompt the city to “cancel the December tradition altogether,” according to the proud creator of the beautiful “sign in a cage” display.
In Washington D.C., the House Franking Commission, which oversees the “franked” (taxpayer-funded) sending of mail by representatives, declared this year that official mail can no longer wish a “Merry Christmas” upon the populace. “You may make reference to the season as a whole using language along the lines of ‘Have a safe and happy holiday season,’” the Commission advised, but even at that, “it may only be incidental to the piece rather than the primary purpose of the communication.”
By official decree, “Happy Holidays” was declared borderline acceptable, but “Merry Christmas” was off the table. As far as I know, there has been no official ruling on mentioning the Winter Solstice, or providing constituents with advice on the best way to fend off an attacking skeleton Santa.
This stuff keeps happening because Christmas is a prominent target for malcontents. Aggressive attacks on Christmas traditions are a great way to grab headlines, which in turn spice up those fundraising letters for militant atheist organizations. No other moment in the year provides a comparable spotlight. No other religious observance draws this kind of fire.
Obviously, no one capable of operating a motor vehicle, or tying their own shoes, is going to spot a nativity display and conclude that only devout Christians are welcome at the local courthouse or city park. Nothing about the Christmas tradition is domineering or aggressive. It contains no trace of menace or judgment. It’s a celebration of the gift of unconditional love, expressed through charity to strangers, and generosity to friends and family.
Salvation Army bell-ringers don’t hit you with a hard sell for Jesus when you throw money in the pot. Nativity scenes are not, in conception or practice, recruiting stations or symbols of oppression. What cultural weakness it requires, to view a baby surrounded by animals in a ramshackle barn as a symbol of “oppression!” If fealty, submission, or anything else were demanded in exchange for the cheerful gifts of Christmas, it would be contrary to the memory of the great and eternal gift that Christians revere.
Militant atheists are willing to embarrass themselves with this line of reasoning because they are intolerant. That word is thrown around a lot in our society, but almost never used to describe this perfect example of pure intolerance. The very existence of the religious tradition of Christmas is considered inherently aggressive, and offensive, by those who are determined to purge every lamb and manger from not only public ground, but public space.
Perhaps secular forces would be less eager to hijack Christmas if it didn’t happen to fall at the end of the year, which is naturally a time for introspection: years in review, Top Ten lists, predictions for the coming year, and all the rest. There is valuable intellectual billboard space being taken up by those nativity scenes. Many of those who assault Christmas want to take its special significance and bend it to other purposes. They are behaving cruelly, on a holiday that is meant to be the antidote to cruelty.
That’s why a tradition that existed long before America is treated as some kind of invasive force. For many, power must always be coercive and aggressive. That’s why they sense the power of this season, and conclude it must be an act of aggression or exclusion to say “Merry Christmas.”
But those words, and the emotion behind them, contain not the slightest trace of obligation. They are a wish, not a command; a gift, not a contract. They issue sweetly from any pair of lips, and rest gently upon any ear. No particular faith is necessary to give them wings… but the tiniest breath of hope will make them soar.
Merry Christmas, everyone!