Taking The Merry Out Of Christmas

David Burchett
 There has been a politically correct Christmas greeting that has circulated the internet for the past couple of years.

Best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most joyous traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, but with respect for the religious persuasion of others who choose to practice their own religion as well as those who choose not to practice a religion at all.

Perhaps that should be adopted as official “safe“ greeting for all people who are spinally challenged.

This year’s big Christmas controversy has been the suddenly in your face anti-religion tactics launched by some atheists. I wrote about what I considered to be a mildly amusing advertising campaign by atheists in Washington D.C. But some people in Washington state have taken a rather ugly turn in their attempt to have a voice during the Christmas season. A group called Freedom From Religion placed this sign near a nativity scene at the state capitol.

"Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

Well alrighty then. That is certainly a textbook way to engender graceful conversation, soften hearts and open minds! Did they really think that sign was a good idea? Or was it an attempt to stir up an angry Christian hornet’s nest that would reinforce their stereotype of all religious people?

Dan Barker, Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president, said he intended the sign to be a little controversial — though he didn't expect this much. "We thought our sign was pretty mild. But some people thought it was pretty hard-hitting," he said. "It's a criticism of religion. I think people like O'Reilly confuse criticism with hate speech."

I understand criticism. But I also understand civility, a commodity in short supply in this conversation. If you review my writing I hope you will find that I try to be respectful and extend grace. For me that is because my faith in Christ has softened my natural response to such challenges. What would that natural response be? Anger, sarcasm and wishing ill for all involved with the project. That is not my heart today. I am sad that this group believes this is a reasonable counter to a sacred symbol of faith for millions. Atheists have been rightly offended by angry and vengeful threats from religious people who seem to enjoy the prospect of eternal damnation for non-believers. That makes my heart sad too.

"Nonbelievers are a part of the fabric of America, and we claim our place at the table to exercise free speech and freedom of religion, which includes freedom from religion," said Mr.Barker. The organization claims 12,800 members nationwide and 670 in Washington state.

I would suggest that you have your place at the table. Just have the respect not to make offensive noises while the rest of us are saying grace. I do understand that non-believers do not want faith forced on them but I don’t get the desire of many to remove my freedom of religion.

Michael Kinsley wrote in Time magazine about the anger that some folks feel toward Christians who seem compelled to share their faith.

 “You may not agree that your soul needs saving, but why is he wrong to try as long as he isn't prying away your soul against your will? As an ethnically Jewish nonbeliever, I find this fuss over conversion utterly baffling...But an insult? In a way, it is insulting to Jews that Christians don't try harder to convert us. Oh sure, they're friendly enough now. But wait until Judgment Day. Then it will be, `Sorry, we seem to have lost your reservation.' And from this perspective, the Jewish policy of actively discouraging converts to Judaism starts to seem like `theological arrogance' indeed. At the same time, when you object to noncoercive conversion, it starts to look like the opposite of arrogance: theological insecurity. What are you afraid of? The decision will be made by you or by God, and in either case, there is no ground for complaint."

I suspect that technique is too often the rub. I was a victim of over the top zealous religious people as a teenager. I am still a little amazed that I eventually came to faith. I wrestled with a period of intellectual doubt where I read the works of atheists and skeptics. I came out of my spiritual quest with the belief that Jesus is who He said He was. The Son of the Living God. I cannot “force” others to reach that same conclusion. But If I care about you I will naturally want to share the most important thing in my life.

I am all for being inclusive. Have a Hannukah display. Put up a Kwanza sign. Find a Festivus pole with a very high strength to weight ratio. Throw in Happy Holidays for the atheists and people of other faiths. But please allow the rest of us to mix in a Merry Christmas without insulting our intellect and judging our hearts. The date is a Federal holiday called Christmas.

In many ways Christmas has become an economic and not a religious holiday. There are so many icons like Santa Claus and Rudolph and the Grinch that are not at all related to the religious aspect of the holiday. I just find it hard to comprehend the argument that a nativity scene or a Merry Christmas sign is oppressive in this vast landscape of holiday icons.

One of the most powerful reminders of the message of Christmas comes from the genius of the late Charles Schultz. His classic show A Charlie Brown Christmas has a simple, elegant and classic scene. Charlie Brown has failed miserably in his attempt to find the true meaning of Christmas. But then Linus recites the following passage from the King James version of the Bible.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And then Linus says to Charlie Brown, "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

That is what I believe Christmas is all about. I am willing to engage in civil conversation about religion in the public square. But is it possible to find the civility to not insult my faith at Christmas? Sadly, I am beginning to fear it is not possible. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has broadbrushed all people of faith with statements that are simply not true. Nonetheless I will treat those who oppose me with grace and charity. In spite of what some non-believers believe is true about me and millions of fellow followers of Jesus we will continue to model His grace. I choose to take the message to shepherds to heart today.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

 Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through