The Persecution Myth

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Michelle Goldberg at Salon debunks the notion that “secular humanist” forces are trying to put an end to Christmas.

“In fact, there is no war on Christmas. What there is, rather, is a burgeoning myth of a war on Christmas, assembled out of old reactionary tropes, urban legends, exaggerated anecdotes and increasingly organized hostility to the American Civil Liberties Union. It’s a myth that can be self-fulfilling, as school board members and local politicians believe the false conservative claim that they can’t celebrate Christmas without getting sued by the ACLU and thus jettison beloved traditions, enraging citizens and perpetuating a potent culture-war meme. This in turn furthers the myth of an anti-Christmas conspiracy.”

Goldberg traces anti-Christmas hysteria through American history. From the John Birch Society and their ravings about the UN (and communists), to Henry Ford and his ravings of a “Jewish conspiracy” to end Christmas. Today the villains are the ACLU, liberals, and secular humanism. But the script Goldberg points out, remains the same.

“To compare today’s “war on Christmas” demagogues to Henry Ford is not to call them anti-Semites. Rather, they are purveyors of a conspiracy theory that repeatedly crops up in America. The malefactors change — Jews, the U.N., the ACLU — but the outlines stay the same. The scheme is always massive, reaching up to the highest levels of power. In order to prove this conspiracy, Gibson, O’Reilly and others like them gather anecdotes from around the country of officials putting petty restrictions on the speech of aggrieved Christians. Some of these are exaggerated, some legitimate, but none support their paranoid claims of a vast secular-humanist conspiracy.”

In fact, instead of a war on Christmas and Christianity, Christians may be amazed to learn that there is more religion in public schools now than at any other point in modern history. Scholar Charles Haynes, author of “Finding Common Ground: A Guide to Religious Liberty in the Public Schools,” who often mediates religious issues for schools and institutions is surprised at all the ire and heated emotions tied to the issue.

“The big picture is that there’s more religion now in public schools than ever in modern history. There’s no question about that. But it’s not there in terms of the government imposing religion or sponsoring it, and that bothers some people on the right. They miss the good old days when public schools were semi-established Protestant schools. Religion has come into the public schools in all kinds of ways … many schools now understand that students have religious liberty rights in a public school, so you can go to many public schools today and kids will be giving each other religious literature, they will be sharing their faith. You go to most public schools now and see kids praying around the flagpole before school.”

In reality the “persecution” of Christmas seems to be nothing more than a PR stunt to rally the faithful towards an offensive political strategy to “win” the war to “save” Christmas. How conservative groups plan to win such a war, and what the consequences of waging such a war will be on our culture remains to be seen.