A Culture in Need of that Manger Scene

(Photo: Waamel/Dreamstime)
Christmas and our current afflictions.

Upon news of a Christmas variety show benefiting Planned Parenthood, my National Review colleague Kevin Williamson tweeted: “You’re getting the story all wrong . . . It was the grave that was empty, not the manger.” The reference, of course, is to Christmas and Easter, two days crucial to Christian beliefs about salvation. Year after year, the Internet tends to notice Christmas or holiday cards from or benefiting the country’s largest abortion provider, sometimes mentioning peace and in at least one case being explicit about the Christian story: “For Unto Us a Child is Born,” one option provides.

That Planned Parenthood and its supporters wouldn’t be self-conscious about benefiting from the story of the birth of a child under some hardship, whose first days would include avoiding a slaughter of innocents, sadly aligns with many of our cultural trends. In an essay published in First Things, Mary Eberstadt, author of It’s Dangerous to Believe and How the West Really Lost God, argues that the Sexual Revolution is the prime component shaping our current “post-Christian” or “ex-Christian” society, creating a competing religion to real, lived religious faith. “According to the dominant paradigm shared by most people, religious and secular alike, the world is now divided into two camps: people of faith and people of no faith,” she writes. “But this either-or template is mistaken. Paganization as we now know it is driven by a new historical phenomenon: the development of a rival faith — a rival, secularist faith which sees Christianity as a competitor to be vanquished, rather than as an alternative set of beliefs to be tolerated in an open society.”

Recent years’ suggestions that there is a “War on Christmas” sound ridiculous to many who see Christmas as ubiquitous this time of year. The point is both more subtle and complicated. Christmas is quite fine if it operates within the bounds of sexual-revolutionary values. What you see in a Christmas card or party for Planned Parenthood is an appropriation of Christmas, a reestablishing of tradition with an ideological core.

In addition to the proliferation of people who identify as atheists or of no religious affiliation, who may still celebrate a secular version of Christmas, Eberstadt points to the conflict points that are the story of our nation today, exposing fear and anger and generally awash in misunderstanding. As she writes:

Wider manifestations of this ongoing paganization have also become commonplaces: the proliferation of religious liberty court cases, legal and other attacks on Christian student groups at secular universities, demonization and caricature of religious believers, intimidation aimed at those who defend Judeo-Christian morality, and other instances of what Pope Francis himself has dubbed the “polite persecution” of believers in advanced societies. Paganization is also evident in the malignant conflation of Christianity with “hate speech,” a noxious form of ideological branding destined to unleash new forms of grief on believers in the time ahead.

The secularist faith even has its own saints, people such as Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger.

It all comes down to the ideology of sex, as Eberstadt explains. Take the secularist hostility to, say, the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have had to take some time away from their lives serving the elderly poor in recent years to fight for the right to run their homes in accord with their beliefs about humanity. It’s not “for feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, or defending the commandments against lying or stealing” that is the sticking point with secularist dogma.

This Christmas, though, needn’t be a time for complaining or even triumphalism about Christmas — making it great again. It’s always been; we haven’t been. And even as Christianity is for sinners, Christians behaving badly is in the news — and defending the indefensible for political gain doesn’t always make for the best commercials.

Defending the indefensible for political gain doesn’t always make for the best commercials.

“There is a link between the crisis of unbelief in Western culture and the loss of religious intensity among those who claim the importance of faith,” Father Donald Haggerty writes in Conversion: Spiritual Insights into an Essential Encounter with God. “Belief is never simply an interior conviction about religious matters. It entails a personal cleaving to Jesus Christ as God and man that cannot be unaffected by his manner of life. But do we forget to keep our eyes fastened on the poor and crucified man of Nazareth whom we proclaim as divine and the object of our love?”

The challenge is to tell the world the story again by living it, demonstrating that the child in the manager and the empty tomb mean something that changes everything — and is all about that peace and joy (words you see on all manner of marketing) that we so long for.


Merry Christmas: Say it Loud & Proud

The War During Christmas: Terrorism During the Holidays

Christmas & Secularism — Assault on Meaning

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