There are those on the political Left who suggest that Christmas is an oppressive irrelevance in the new age of secular multiculturalism. America may still be a country demographically Christian, but those numbers mean nothing as the nation becomes more aware of Christianity’s false promises and institutional abuse of power. A supposedly generous faith of forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption, Christianity , they say, has been nothing more than a historical marauder, murdering infidels, providing a spiritual cover for Western empires to consign and condemn the world’s unfortunate into lives of feudalism and slavery, to perpetuate a hegemony of white, patriarchal men, and to create vast stores of wealth to perpetuate a slavish fealty to a church created to rule.
These progressives contend that the church hasn’t changed in centuries and is still residing on a philosophy and political policy of control and enduring power. Pope Francis may have shed some of his predecessor’s harsh conservativism, but he is still a Christian monarch dedicated to the preservation of the faith and its expansion. There may be some hope, some critics said, in the liberal edicts and proclamations of Francis. His encyclical on the sanctity of life included for the first time a reference to the environment. If one values human life so little, he said, then how could any other life be considered valuable and sacred?
Nonsense, said most others. Francis was simply sugarcoating the Church’s misogynist, retrograde view of women. The cult of Mary has been perpetuated by the Church for centuries to foist a feminine cast on the teachings of the Church when in fact it has been the most obdurate in its restrictions on female participation in offices of its sacred rituals as any religion.
The systemic abuse of children by pedophile priests numbering in the thousands, is according to progressives, perhaps the last and most telling reason to abandon the Church and rid America of its pernicious, criminal, psychotic sexual corruption. This, added to the shame of the Irish laundries when single mothers were enslaved in barbaric conditions as penalty and penance for their sexual transgressions, deprives the Church of any moral stature.
When faithful Catholics are asked why they still believe in the Church, they reply that the sophistication of Christian doctrine, so laboriously and logically parsed and analyzed by early Church theologians and finally made canon at the Council of Nicaea is far more important than the dissolute and reprehensible behavior of priests who are, after all, the same sinning men as those in the secular world. Yes, they especially sinned against God because they were ordained and received a holy sacrament which anointed them and placed them in an ineradicable lineage to Christ himself, but even these heinous sins should not destroy, reject, or erode the beauty of the mysteries of the faith.
There is something to faith after all, perhaps the most common of all human expressions; something which enables people to understand the spiritual complexity and hopefulness of religion while accepting the ineradicable nature of human sin even or especially within the deacons, priests, and archbishops of their faiths.
The mystery of the Trinity, the divine and human nature of Christ, and the particular, resonant message of forgiveness in a hateful, contentious, and often vile world mean more than any failing of any socially-mediated priest. It was the deformed interpretation of the Church after Nicaea – celibacy and an all male clergy – which contributed to male pedophilia within the Church, not the Gospels, the readings of Aquinas, Athanasius, or Augustine.
All religions are based on demanding theology. Hinduism with its complex structure of atavistic gods and goddesses within a pan-universal deity is mystical yet immediate. Islam with its far simpler doctrines of absolute obedience and prostration before one all-powerful God is complex in its own way; and the murderous exploits of Islamic organizations like al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, and ISIS should not be conflated within the religion itself.
Judaism stands alone in its self-assured, historical monotheism. The Jewish kingdoms of Saul and David were true theocracies, never intent on conquest or tyranny. It was enough to have been chosen by God.
The current progressive, multicultural view of religion in America denies both the spiritual and the secular. In this view not only is the Christian doctrine of faith only a fanciful dream of idealistic myth makers, its secular applications have been ruinous. The creation of the Catholic hierarchy resembling that of the Roman Empire was designed to rule, and it, as a geopolitical institution cannot be forgiven for using faith and Jesus Christ as its justification on periodic and continual wars and pillaging. Everything the Church says and does is antithetical to the progress essential to reaching a secular Utopia.
Yet, depriving the nation of religion on this basis is anti-historical, short-sighted, transparently political, and wrong. Even if one does not profess faith in Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, the presence of these faiths raises all social interests out of the drudgingly expected, temporal, and political. When there is religion and believers everywhere, the sense that there indeed might be something other than persistently political, commercial perpetuity cannot be ignored. Religion, faith, and belief are part of an American ethos derived from the foundational principles of the nation, based in part on secularism and personal freedom – after all the new immigrants to America came because of religious persecution – but also based on the principles of the Enlightenment where logical inquiry was not practiced for its own sake but to better understand the nature of God.
While the piety and devotion of the nation’s early years may have dissipated in a modern world where enterprise, advancement, purchase, and financial success have taken much of the space where religion resided, religious sentiment has not disappeared. Lapsed Catholics, occasional Protestants, cultural Jews and Muslims have not given up on the religions of their childhoods. They may not be practicing, but find it hard to advocate or avow atheism or even agnosticism.
Christians cannot forget the consequences of immoral behavior. They may not think of it in strictly religious terms – Purgatory and Hell – they cannot ignore the lessons taught in the Bible and during the two thousand years of spiritual teaching. Jews take Atonement seriously, and even those who have left the faith for more secular homes, can never forget the lessons of right and wrong and the need to account for them.
Yet for many children of Christian parents, Christmas is a celebration of Santa Claus, Christmas trees, presents, and holiday dinners. Advent, the 24 days before the birth of Christ is marked by themes of self-reflection, anticipation, hope, and, ultimately, joyful celebration. Advent calendars for children were important reminders of the spiritual nature of Christmas and the birth of Christ. Again, even if the households in which children open the windows of the calendar to witness images of the Nativity or Biblical verses about Christ’s coming are not devout Christians, the mythical, spiritual, mysteries of Christ’s coming are important cultural references. The Advent calendar is much like the Stations of the Cross, on which Christians before Easter follow the path of Christ to Jerusalem and his death on the cross.
These images are significant but not unique reminders of the central nature of Christianity to America and Europe. The Medieval and Renaissance periods of art celebrate the many stories of Christ and his meaning. Without these representations, the many expressions of Christianity would be unknown. While they are now consigned to museums, their place in the story of Christianity is central. Children never exposed to Advent calendars, the Stations of the Cross or the work of the artists of the past are consigned to a world without the myths, epic poetry, and mystery of faith.
Irrelevant, say secular progressives who have always seen religion as an obstacle in the way of secular progress. It is not God but Man who is responsible for his destiny. Having the false gods of religion before the secularist can only divert him from his goal.
The Founding Fathers never intended the idea of the separation of church and state to mean the demise of religion. It only referred to religious freedom, and that no one should impose his religious beliefs on any other. Religion should be everywhere not only as a profession of faith but as expression of higher, untouchable ideals, something the country cannot and should not do without.