The culture wars are heating up, or at least culture skirmishes. I’m sure Donald Trump has a lot to do with it, but this time it’s over Christmas. The warring factions are the ideological version of Donald Rumsfeld’s leaner tactical units ready to go at a moment’s notice. Except in this case what goes at a moment’s notice is an offended victim. And the “victim” can come from any side in our postmodern, deconstructed, polygonal world–right, left, up, down, middle, inside, outside (i.e., the Beltway), black, white, etc.
I remember the argument last year over whether Santa Claus is white. Fox News declared that he is clearly white since he lives at the North Pole. Jon Stewart, as you can imagine, made hay of that one. But you have to distinguish between Nikolaus the man (fourth-century Christian saint and bishop of Myra in Asia Minor) and Santa Claus the myth. Nikolaus was Greek, so white. But Santa Claus can be anything. It’s the difference between Jesus and the Christ. Jesus was a Palestinian Jew and probably looked like one. Why not? Christ transcends culture, so he can be expressed in a number of ways.
When I was in the first grade a neighbor invited me to play with her at her house. She was black. When I walked into her house I saw a framed picture of Jesus at the end of the hall. It was the same picture I had seen countless times at my parochial school, except in this picture Jesus was black. I asked my mother about it later, but she just shifted her weight and continued cooking. So, Christ can be black. He can also be portrayed with blond hair and blue eyes. I have no problem with that, although you often hear it ridiculed.
The latest skirmish involves Starbuck’s coffee cups. Some people are upset over Starbuck’s removing “Christmas” from the design. I don’t know what the design was last year, but this year’s seems Christmas-like. It’s red and green. There’s only so much you can do with a mermaid.
However, I agree that Christmas as a religious holiday has been coopted by the secular crowd. I won’t go so far as to call them all Marxists or Gramsci sympathizers, but they certainly have been conditioned by them, wittingly or not. And they can be vindictive.
We’ve heard the stories: “Non-Silent Night” secular “caroling,” schools rewriting traditional religious music (Rudolph can keep his red nose), public transit wishing everyone “Happy Holidays” because somebody complained, the removal of manger scenes from public property. I even overheard sales associates talking about the latest instruction from management not to wish anyone “Merry Christmas.” One wonders what would happen if you said it to a Sikh. Remember Christopher Hitchens calling Mother Teresa a fundamentalist and fraud? Interesting that Slate chose to run the article now. The pettiness can be rabid.
In many ways I have been spoiled. I am not in the trenches fighting the ideologues; I have been protected. I am the product of religious education and training, my children grew up at the local parish, and I have a granddaughter attending a Franciscan high school. I don’t have to worry about being politically correct or towing the party line. So it is easy for me to tell Christians not to pay attention to each little skirmish, whether from some federal bureaucrat, school board, or coffee company and instead focus on themselves. I would have a point. God knows, there is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done. Parishes and schools need volunteers. They need money. They need innovative and involved Christians.
The problem is that we don’t exist for ourselves. Our task is to go out and set the world on fire, as St. Ignatius exhorted. You can’t do that by ignoring the world around you. After all, who else is going to do it? Starbuck’s? I don’t think so.
They sell coffee.