THE BLOG
12/25/2015 07:58 am ET Updated Dec 25, 2016

The Real Attack on the Spirit of Christmas -- 2015

Once again it's Christmas. Time for Fox News and the entire rightwing chorus to recite their patently absurd allegation that Progressives have launched a "War on Christmas".

Never mind that the White House is bursting at the seams with Christmas decorations and Christmas music surrounds us.

This year the big Right Wing data point was the startling discovery that Starbucks would toss aside that "deeply-held" Christmas tradition of putting snow flakes on their cups during the holiday season - and had opted instead for using the "Christmas colors" of red and green. Of course, last I looked, snowflakes were not a "sacred" symbol of the season - but to some Right Wing commentators, it represents an attack on Christmas nonetheless.

There is no "War on Christmas." But there is a war on the spirit of Christmas -- and it is coming squarely from the American Right. That has been true for many years -- but this year the Right Wing war on the spirit of Christmas has gone into overdrive.

The spirit of Christmas - and of Christianity - is summed up in the declaration of the Angels to the shepherds on the hills overlooking Bethlehem: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

Bigotry, demonization of immigrants, xenophobia, militarism -- the hatred toward Muslims, the appeals to selfishness and the "survival of the fittest" ethics that spew from the mouths of GOP candidates for president -- none of that is remotely connected in any way to the sprit of Christmas. In fact, they are its opposite.

At this time of year, people who care about Christmas are asking, "What would a guy like Jesus do today?"

Would he demand that America turn its back on refugees from war and torture and death?

Would he tell us we should prevent all Muslims from entering our country?

Would he support action to allow the wealthiest sliver of our society to get richer and richer and siphon off every bit of new wealth that our economy creates for themselves? This, after all, was the guy who threw the money changers out of the temple.

Next time you listen to a Donald Trump diatribe, try and imagine if his remarks reflect the spirit you might hear from someone like Jesus.

Of course, the leaders of the real war on the spirit of Christmas not only include people like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. They also include people like the new golden boy of Republican politics, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

A few years ago Paul Ryan said that the favorite Right Wing author: "Ayn Rand, more than anyone else, did a fantastic job explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism... If Ayn Rand were here today, I think she would do a great job in showing us just how wrong what government is doing, is."

Who was Ayn Rand? In 1959, reporter Mike Wallace interviewed Rand.

Wallace: "Christ, and every other important moral leader in man's history, has taught us that we should love one another. Why then is this kind of love, in your mind, immoral?"

Rand responds, "It is immoral if it is placed above one's own self."

Wallace: "And then if a man is weak or a woman is weak then she or he is beyond love?"

Rand: "He certainly does not deserve -- he certainly is beyond."

Wallace: "There are very few of us that would, by your standards... that are worthy of love -- is that your view?"

Rand: "Unfortunately yes -- very few."

Wallace: "You are out to destroy almost every edifice in contemporary American life -- our Judeo-Christian religion, our modified government-regulated capitalism, rule by the majority will. Other reviewers say that you scorn churches and the concept of God -- are they accurate criticisms?"

Rand responds, "yes."

That is a fair description of the ethical system underlying the Right Wing philosophy in America today - and that is a direct attack on the Spirit of Christmas.

The New Testament relates the quintessential Christian understanding of ethics in the 10th chapter of the book of Luke in the parable of the Good Samaritan:

On one occasion, an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"What is written in the law?" He replied. "How do you read it?"

He answered: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and, love your neighbor as yourself."

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "and who is my neighbor?"

In reply, Jesus said:

"A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. "Look after him," he said, "and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have."

"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."

Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

In the material, social world, the cornerstone of Christian ethics is "love thy neighbor as thyself." That simple statement, and the story of the Good Samaritan that followed, makes it clear that the central goal of ethical behavior should be assuring that all human beings flourish. In the Christian tradition, one should seek to satisfy the same basic self-interests and needs for all human beings that we would wish to see fulfilled for ourselves.

The universality implied by the parable of the Good Samaritan is central to the progressive ethical system. Samaritans and Levites were not close at the time. Yet the disliked Samaritan was the true neighbor. The story was intended to drive home the universality of the fundamental ethical premise -- "love thy neighbor as thyself."

"And who is my neighbor?" asked the expert on the law. "Everyone," Jesus replied.

The importance of the principle of universality has to be understood in the context of human development. For millions of years, "everyone" was not the answer that most humans would have given to this question. For bands of hunter-gatherers, or tribes of later human societies, the answer was "another member of our kinship group or band -- or another member of our tribe."

Jared Diamond's study of human development, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, points out that the first question for a typical member of one band of hunter-gatherers when he encountered a member of another band, was why he should not kill them on the spot.

The universality of the ethical demand to "love thy neighbor as thyself" is a very recent development in human evolution. It has emerged only over the last several thousand years of our approximately seven million years of evolutionary history. Previously, most behavior involving moral content pertained only to members of our own band, tribe or ethnic group.

The principle that one should "love they neighbor as thyself" is the direct opposite of the kind of right wing philosophy embodied by Ayn Rand and her disciple, Paul Ryan - and by people like Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.

But the "love yourself above all" philosophy of Rand and Ryan not only represents a direct attack, as Rand understood, on the core message of Christianity (and therefore Christmas). It is also dangerous to the potential survival of humanity.

A few years ago I read a book by a planetary scientist named David Grinspoon called Lonely Planets. It explores the question of extraterrestrial life.

Toward the end of his book, Grinspoon speculates on the chances of survival for intelligent life in the universe. He argues that every civilization of intelligent creatures must pass through a gauntlet that tests whether the values and political structures of the society are capable of keeping pace with the exponentially increasing power of the society's technology. If its values and political structures can keep pace with technological change, the society may pass into a phase of enormous freedom and possibility. If it does not, the power of its own technology will destroy it. Perhaps, he postulates, civilizations are like seahorses. Many are born, but only a few survive.

For the first time, a little more than half a century ago, human society entered that gauntlet. Our technological growth reached a point of takeoff that for the first time gave us the power to destroy ourselves and all life on our tiny, fragile planet. From that moment on, the race began.

The next several generations of humans will decide how that race turns out. We won't simply observe it, or describe it; we will decide it. Whatever the future holds will be a result of human decision for which we are all responsible.

We will decide if we pass through that gauntlet or -- like our cousins the Neanderthals -- become evolutionary dead ends. We will decide if humanity passes into a new era of possibility and freedom -- or the human story simply ends.

I believe that progressive values -- love your neighbor and empathy -- are our greatest evolutionary treasure.

Progressive values mean that we're all in this together, not all in this alone; unity not division; hope not fear; equality not subjugation; the premise that if each of us is better educated then all of us will be wiser; that it is not true that for me to be richer you have to be poorer, but rather that if each of us is more prosperous, all of us will have more opportunity; that our success comes from cooperation and mutual respect. These progressive values are the most precious assets that will give human beings the ability to make it through that gauntlet -- and to create a truly democratic society.

That is just one more reason why at this time of year, we should celebrate these values -- the true spirit of Christmas -- and defend them from those who want to take society back to a time of social Darwinism, to the law of the jungle, to "survival of the fittest." Because the fact of the matter is that in the future, if we govern our society by the precepts of selfishness and the survival of only the fittest, we may find that human society is not fit enough to survive at all.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.