Holiday Encore: “Christmas: the Ethical Holiday”

darth-vader-christmas

I googled “Christmas ethics” yesterday, and guess what came up first. This Ethics Alarms post, from December 25, 2010.

I fix a couple of things, but it is basically the same. If I were writing it anew, I might not use the loaded term “war on Christmas,” which those who are trying to shove Christmas out of the national culture indignantly deny. It isn’t a war, exactly, just a relentless, narrow-minded and destructive effort to take something that has been enduring, healthy, unifying and good, and re-define it as archaic, offensive, divisive, and wrong. Call it the suffocation of Christmas, or perhaps the assassination of Christmas. Whatever one calls it, the process has progressed since 2010.

We’ve discussed on various comment threads quite a bit about how Christmas music has almost vanished from radio. It has also been effectively banned from public schools, who are terrified of law suits in era when parents might sue over their child being warped by learning “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” “Here Comes Santa Claus!”, another one of Gene Autry’s liveliest Christmas hits, one he wrote himself(unlike “Rudolph”), has been declared musica non grata everywhere but on nostalgia satellite radio. It is such an up-beat song; Bing Crosby sings it with the Andrews Sisters on his iconic “Merry Christmas!” album. Why is it unwelcome today? It is unwelcome because the lyrics say we are “all God’s children,” and ends with “Let’s give thanks for the Lord above.” Can’t have that.

The ascendant attitude toward Christmas is both anti-religious and non-ethical. In my neighborhood, there are far more Star Wars Christmas figures, including Yule Darth Vader ( though thankfully not the 18-ft. Hammacher-Schlemmer version pictured above) and Christmas Storm Troopers, than any suggestion of peace, good will or love. Even these non-sectarian displays are too much for the Diversity Fascists, like this guy:

diversity-tweet

Such people believe that a healthy national culture embracing love, charity, generosity and kindness is disrespectful, and their society-rotting ideology is as much of a threat to our nation as terrorism. I don’t know how to reverse the damage already inflicted on our society, but I do know that we have to try. Reinvigorating Christmas and the ethical values it stands for would be a good start.

Merry Christmas, everyone—and I do mean everyone.

Finally, here’s the post..

Benjamin Franklin recognized the importance of regularly focusing one’s attention on ethical conduct rather than the usual non-ethical goals, needs, desires and impulses that usually occupy the thoughts of even the most virtuous among us. He suggested that every morning an individual should challenge himself to do good during the day. In the 21st century psychologists call this “priming,” a form of beneficial self-brain-washing that plants the seeds of future choices.

The Christmas season operates as an effective form of mass population priming, using tradition, lore, music, poetry, ritual, literature, art and entertainment to celebrate basic ethical virtues and exemplary conduct toward other human beings. Kindness, love, forgiveness, empathy, generosity, charity, sacrifice, selflessness, respect, caring, peacefulness…all of these are part of the message of Christmas, which has become more universal and influential in its societal and behavioral importance than its religious origins could have ever accomplished alone. Secular and cultural contributions have greatly strengthened the ethical lessons of Christmas. “It’s A Wonderful Life” urges us to value our ability to enrich the lives of others, and to appreciate the way they enrich ours.  “A Christmas Story” reminds us to make childhood a magical time when wishes can come true. O. Henry’s story “The Gift of the Magi” proves that it is not the value of gifts, but the love that motivates them that truly matters. Most powerful of all, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” teaches that the admirable conduct the spirit of the season can inspire need not be short-lived, and that if we use Christmas properly, as Ben Franklin used his morning exhortation to good conduct, it can make all of us better, happier, more virtuous human beings.

At this point in civilization, the religious context of Christmas almost does more harm than good. Though the day chosen to celebrate Jesus of Nazareth’s birthday has been spectacularly successful in promoting the ethical and moral ideals he taught, the idea that Christmas is indistinguishable from the religion he founded has made it the object of yearly controversy, as if celebrating Christmas is an affront to other faiths. This is a tragedy, because every human being, regardless of religious belief, can benefit from a culture-wide exhortation to be good and to do good. “Happy Holidays!”—the bland, generic, careful greeting of those afraid to offend those who should not be offended—does nothing to spur us toward love, kindness, peace and empathy. “Merry Christmas!” does. This is not just a religious  holiday; it is the culture-wide ethical holiday, the time when everything should be aligned to remind us to take stock of our lives, think about everyone else who lives on earth with us, and to try to live for others as well as ourselves. Christians should be proud that their religion gave such a valuable gift to humanity, and non-Christians should be eager to accept it that gift, with thanks.

It is foolish and self-destructive for there to be a “war on Christmas.” Charles Dickens understood. There is hardly a word about religion anywhere in his story.  There doesn’t need to be. Christmas is the ethical holiday. Christians and non-Christians can celebrate it ir not as they choose, but whether they do or not, the Christmas season is more important than any one religion, even the one that gives the holiday its name.

It is important because it primes us to be good for the rest of the year. There should be nothing controversial about that.

13 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Character, Literature, Love, U.S. Society

13 responses to “Holiday Encore: “Christmas: the Ethical Holiday”

  1. Patrice

    Thanks for re-posting this, Jack. A very merry Christmas to you and yours.

  2. Spartan

    We listened to all the old Christmas songs yesterday on our way to a party. In fact, we couldn’t find more recent songs and we tried … desperately. The Gene Autry song is great but I did smile at the line about the Lord given that the song is about Santa Claus. I never need to hear the Mel Torme Christmas medley again … ever. That was dreadful.

  3. Isaac

    And this year thanks to ISIS, there is in fact a quite literal war on Christmas.

  4. Isaac

    “Charles Dickens understood. There is hardly a word about religion anywhere in his story.”

    Here are some of them, leaving out dozens of passing references to God, blessings, prayer, repentance, etc. and also leaving out all the metaphors about saints, demons, and such…

    “‘But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that…'”

    ‘Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth…’

    “Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness…”

    “Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode? Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!”

    “But soon the steeples called good people all, to church and chapel, and away they came, flocking through the streets in their best clothes, and with their gayest faces.”

    “He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”

    “A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!”
    Which all the family re-echoed. “God bless us every one!” said Tiny Tim, the last of all.”

    “’It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust’!”

    “…it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.”

    “The noisy little Cratchits were as still as statues in one corner, and sat looking up at Peter, who had a book before him. ‘…And He took a child, and set him in the midst of them.’ Where had Scrooge heard those words? He had not dreamed them. The boy must have read them out, as he and the Spirit crossed the threshold.”

    “Spirit of Tiny Tim, thy childish essence was from God!”

    “Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob; on my knees!”

    “`I am much obliged to you. I thank you fifty times. Bless you!’ He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows: and found that everything could yield him pleasure.”

    “May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”

    • Sure, and thanks. But you have to admit, pretty oblique. If you didn’t know the origin of Christmas, you wouldn’t be enlightened by “A Christmas Carol.”

      • Isaac

        I think his readership was assumed to know all about the origin of Christmas, the scriptures, and for that matter Shakespeare, due to the frequent references to each all over his work. I had to look up who Saint Dunstan was.

        Dickens also expects his readers are familiar with Dante’s Inferno. His version of the afterlife works by the same rules. Hence Marley can only make references to Jesus or Heaven but cannot name them, being a cursed soul. Marley is apparently in the 4th circle of Hell (greed) and thus forced to haul heavy weights (portrayed as money bags in some illustrations of Inferno.)

  5. I’m not so certain that the post from the “Male Feminist” account you referenced earlier is real..as in, that whomever is behind that account is genuine. I did a quick look (the name of the account has changed to “United for Justice”, along with the avatar, which is now black and white hands shaking hands), and the timeline posts are pretty absurd. A few reference his “child” being upset over something child-like (“My 5 year old is literally crying that he’s not getting presents…”), because of something beyond their comprehension (“…due to our economic boycott of America. I hope Trump supporters are happy.”)

    Even the tweet above sounds a bit too ludicrous (but not by much) to be true.

    • The problem with really good parodies is that if done too well, they look like something the target would actually say.

      Reminds me of the Salon parody twitter account. Got shut down because it’s absolutely absurd beyond all measures of ludicrousness headlines couldn’t be distinguished from actual Salon headlines.

      It was un-banned but now has to make its headlines obviously not something that could actually have come from Salon.

      • Chris

        I immediately took that tweet as satire, but I wasn’t sure exactly what the point was, and assumed it was a leftist exaggerating their leftism to make some sort of point. Looking at that person’s Twitter, he seems to be a Trump supporter who occasionally pretends to be an SJW by posting inflammatory stuff like what Jack cited in the article.

  6. Slick Willy

    … Lots of Christmas music in Texas this year… many radio stations converted to that format even before Thanksgiving. I just noticed today that it is gone. Was a touch sad. But like Frosty and Santa, it will return next year!

  7. Captain Obvious

    Even these non-sectarian displays are too much for the Diversity Fascists, like this guy:

    Uh, Warden is a dude from Ace of Spades. I’d wager Trump’s net worth that the tweet you showcase was satirical.

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