On a recent visit to my mother's house in Wisconsin, a single day's mail included a dozen entreaties for money. Many were from worthy charities -- cancer research, the heart fund, injured vets, CARE -- but ones to which she had already generously donated this year. Two envelopes were from the McCain campaign, another from Rep. John Boehner and, the most eye-grabbing, one from the Christian Seniors Association (CSA) emblazoned "The ACLU vs. Christmas". The letter arrived on July 21. Maybe it's a sign of getting older, but doesn't it seem like the War on Christmas starts earlier and earlier every year? Feels like I just took down my anti-Christmas decorations last month.
The CSA letter was sent to "Miss Williams", a form of address I have never seen used for my widowed mother, but presumably "Ms. Williams" would have been too, y'know, pinko. The envelope contained free "Keep Christ in Christmas" address labels, as well as a survey for which my mother was "specially selected" as one of 500,000 American seniors "because it is past the time to stand up to the politically correct radical Left and their insane campaign to drive Christ out of Christmas." I may not know much about research (which is scary, because I worked in the field for a decade), but I don't think you're supposed to tip your hand to your participants about what you want the results of your survey to indicate. Aren't you supposed to let people answer honestly, then contort the results into whatever you want them to mean?
"Do you support this insane and evil campaign? Check the picture of Jesus holding the American flag for 'Yes' or the picture of Osama bin Laden peeing on the Statue of Liberty for 'No.'"
The survey was preceded with a quote from Bill O'Reilly which proclaimed that, "Outside of the war on terror, this culture war is the most important thing happening in the country today," and then asked:
Question #1: Do you agree or disagree with O'Reilly?
___ I Agree
___ I Disagree
The survey continued under the assumption that the respondent checked "I Agree" to question 1. See if you can detect any slant in the way these actual questions from the survey were worded:
Question #2: If the ACLU and the anti-Christian Left succeed in erasing Christmas as a national holiday in America (and just turn it into a "Winter Festival" or "Winter Solstice"), what do you think the long-term consequence for America will be?
___ America will become less Judeo-Christian, more "paganized" and more debauched morally.
___ It won't make much difference.
___ Not Sure
Question #3: Why do you think the ACLU and the Left have made it such a major priority to remove all religious meaning from Christmas?
___ Because the ACLU and the Left oppose limits on sexual morality (including "gay marriage", abortion-on-demand, and other behavior prohibited by the Bible).
___ Because the ACLU and the Left are honestly concerned about being faithful to the Constitution of the United States
On it went, asking the survey respondents what America's Founding Fathers would make of "the efforts of the ACLU and radical Left to eliminate and even outlaw Christmas from American public life," the premise of the question again taken as a given, not a debatable proposition. And, after the survey, Miss Williams was also given the opportunity to contribute generously to the CSA. Gee, has Nielsen thought of asking their participants to donate money? They could be missing out on a lucrative revenue stream!
Granted, I'm not a particularly religious person. I don't believe in life after death any more than I believe that the vacuum cleaner will keep running in some other dimension after I pull the plug. But I do believe our parents raised three very moral, compassionate sons, and I think the teachings of Jesus, combined with the Golden Rule, are probably a decent foundation on which anyone could model their behavior. I tend to view religion with the objectivity of an outsider, seeing the positive and negative aspects of all belief systems and realizing that one's faith is, in the majority of cases, determined not by rational choice but by circumstance. I was raised a Protestant, not because my parents conducted a comprehensive, comparative study of the world's religions and picked the best one, but because they had also been raised in Protestant families. Things would likely have been different had I been born in Baghdad or Beijing or Bethlehem, in much the same way that I became a default Packer fan simply because I grew up in Wisconsin, where there is undoubtedly more fevered Sunday contemplation of the second coming of Favre than of Jesus these days.
But for someone who's admittedly not fully on the God team, I'm an unabashed fan of Christmas. I credit this mainly to the joyful, nostalgic mood of the season and its associated music. Imagine if, when you were growing up, there was a month every year when everyone tried to act a bit nicer to each other, climaxing with a week's vacation from school during which you were given lots of presents -- but instead of Christmas carols, the radio and the in-mall Muzak played nothing but covers of TV theme songs. Instead of old standards by Irving Berlin and Mel Torme, we'd be awash in Andy Williams crooning the collected works of Vic Mizzy. Wouldn't hearing those tunes bring back fond childhood memories every year? I don't have to believe the literal story being told by those songs to appreciate them. Knowing that the land of "Petticoat Junction" doesn't exist and that slow-movin' Uncle Joe is a fictional creation doesn't mean I can't enjoy the peppy tune. (Shopping tip for this year: check out the Fab Four's fantastically witty reworkings of Christmas songs in the style of the Beatles.)
So I've never been offended if someone wished me "Merry Christmas", although I appreciate any person or organization open-minded and aware enough to realize that the world does in fact include non-Christians and considerate enough not to alienate them. I don't get bent out of shape over something as passive (if unnecessary) as "In God We Trust" being on our currency, but I don't think we need to actively require kids to say "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. There are honest debates to be had over moral standards, the appropriate role of the government in religious matters, and whether the ACLU goes absurdly far in attempting to be rigidly consistent in its ideology. But my inner elitism -- you know, that legendary small-town Wisconsin elitism -- suggests to me that this survey and its parent organization are examples of average Americans clinging to God out of fear in an increasingly divisive culture where every difference of opinion inevitably becomes inflated into an apocalyptic us-against-them battle for the destiny of mankind.
Americans are not losing their homes or paying fifty bucks to fill up the tank because there's no manger in the town square or Ten Commandments on the courthouse wall. Our morality is demonstrated by our actions in Guantanamo and New Orleans, not by whether the clerk at Costco says "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas". It would be nice if some of the true lessons of Christmas had been internalized by our current leaders, whom the CSA undoubtedly supports. Instead of having a man who has frequently proclaimed with unseemly pride that he is a "war president", we might have spent the past seven years under the leadership of someone who strove to be the "peace-on-earth president".