Once again, I am re-posting the first Ethics Alarms Christmas post from way back in 2010, its first full year. (The last time I revived this post was in 2016.) I’m not inclined to change it, though I did fix some typos.
In the 2016 introduction, I wrote, “The ascendant attitude toward Christmas is both anti-religious and non-ethical.” That is still true. In my extended neighborhood, there are giant penguins, snowmen, Santas, dragons, unicorns, the Grinch and Christmas Storm Troopers on lawns, and exactly one manger or reference to Jesus. There is no mention of peace, good will or love. My wishes of “Merry Christmas!” are returned, I’d estimate, about 20% of the time. Often I get glares, because saying “Merry Christmas!” must mean that I have a MAGA cap in my closet.
Those who might be otherwise tempted to show some signs of faith may be intimidated by the Diversity Fascists, like this guy:
Yes, many people–they call themselves “progressives”— believe that a healthy national culture embracing love, charity, generosity and kindness is disrespectful. The culture seems to be capitulating to the bullying without a fight. The two most prominent Christmas movies on cable this year are the mildly cynical “A Christmas Story” and the wretched “Christmas Vacation,” which isn’t even a good Griswald movie, much less a decent Christmas movie. I have been searching for the original “Miracle on 34th Street”—yes, I know I haven’t finished the ethics review–and keep finding arguably the worst version, the one with Richard Attenborough playing Kris Kringle. “Four Christmases,” another bitter comedy, has appeared many times. “A Christmas Carol” is now rare fare, but we get many showings of “Scrooged,” with Tiny Tim played by MaryLou Retton.
Some of the Hallmark Christmas stations have been playing a Whitney Houston version of “A Christmas Song” that interjects “Happy Kwanza” in the lyrics. Thanks to John Legend, we now have a Christmastime ditty that endorses abortion.
Think about that a minute.
I don’t know how to reverse the damage already inflicted on our society, but I do know that we have to try.
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 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 or 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.
Christmas is important because it primes us to be good, be better, be more ethical, for the rest of the year. There should be nothing controversial about that.