Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and other right wing "culture warriors" have made something of a holiday tradition out of charges that Progressives have declared "War on Christmas". This, of course, is absurd. While it is true that the recession will make many Christmas stockings emptier this year, there is no evidence whatsoever that the celebration of Christmas is losing its position at the center of American tradition and culture.
But more fundamentally, why would Progressives want to make war on Christmas? At its root, after all, Christmas is a massive celebration of progressive values -- and a rejection of the law of the jungle selfishness, the tribalism and radical individualism that lie at the heart of right wing ideology.
Christmas celebrates the coming of the "Prince of Peace" -- a man who declared that the cornerstone of ethical behavior was to "love thy neighbor as thyself." Christmas is about a value system that is the mirror opposite of the "survival of the fittest". It stands in stark contrast to the view that if everyone tries to maximize their own self interest the "invisible hand" will always mold our selfishness into the "public good". And of course this Christmas we have the collapse of Wall Street to bear witness anew that sometimes the "invisible hand" is a fist.
In many ways, you could say that Christmas celebrates the historic emergence of a radically new set of progressive values that are arguably the most precious evolutionary advance in human history -- values that are critical to the long term survival and success of humanity. Early Christianity wasn't the only manifestation of the emergence of these values, but it certainly was one of the most important.
Not only did Jesus make the claim that one should "love they neighbor as thyself", he made it clear what he meant by "neighbor". In his parable of the "Good Samaritan" he was unequivocal: everyone is your neighbor. The central goal of ethical behavior should be assuring that all human beings flourish -- that you should seek to satisfy the same basic self-interests and needs for all human beings that you would wish to see fulfilled for yourself.
That is the central premise of the progressive ethical system. But the view that all people are our "neighbors" is a relatively new development in human social evolution. For millions of years, the answer to the question "who is my neighbor?" certainly was not "everyone". 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 members 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" has only begun to emerged over the last several thousand years of our approximately seven million years of evolutionary history.
And its emergence has come none-to-soon.
In his book Lonely Planets, Planetary scientist David Grinspoon explores the question of extraterrestrial life -- both basic biological life and intelligent sentient 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. The autocatalytic nature of 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.
Each Christmas we celebrate the historic emergence of the progressive values that will allow us to make it through that gauntlet. Will those progressive values predominate? Or will we allow the ancient habits of tribalism, dog eat dog individualism, and inequality to destroy us?
The next several generations of humans will decide how that race turns out. They won't simply observe it, or describe it; they 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.
That's why the Christmas spirit is about a whole lot more than being nice to the neighbors down the street.
Let us all hope that future generations will look back on the 2008 holiday season and recall that it fell at the beginning of a time when "peace on earth, good will to men (and women)" came to truly define the values of a new progressive era.
Robert Creamer is a long time political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on Amazon.com.