Conservatives (both religious and non-religious) have made a big fuss in recent times over the fact that some sections of Western society are moving slightly away from the specific celebration of Christmas towards a more secular general end of year holiday. Many people have claimed that this is an example of political correctness gone mad, whereby out of fear of offending people with different cultural, religious or non-religious backgrounds we are afraid to openly celebrate our Western traditions. Hence, some conservative Christians have claimed that this is an example of the persecution of Christianity in Western nations, believing that progressives, followers of other religions and atheists will eventually seek to make Christianity illegal. Likewise, many conservatives have claimed that “if you tolerate this, then your children will be next[i]”.
All of these claims are in truth pretty much groundless hysteria. In reality Christianity still maintains massive privileges in Western society, particularly at Christmas and Easter time. The fact that many people are now choosing to say “Happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” should in fact be celebrated as progress, in rejecting the obviously mythological traditional religious Christmas story, and rejecting a Christocentric view of the world. No one is preventing Christians from going to church, reading the Bible or whatever. Rather, we are simply seeing the gradual reduction in Christian privilege, which can only be a good thing, though there is enormous resistance to this process within some circles, who think that the Communists will surely follow and strip us of all our parents achieved.
If anything, I would argue that Christmas still represents a major infringement on the separation of church and state. That being, Christmas is a time in which Christian religious songs (or hymns) are played in various non-religious locations (workplaces, shopping centres etc.), sung by school children in secular, government schools etc. If anything we should have greater separation of church and state, not less.
Christmas has always been more of a general mid-winter (for the northern hemisphere) feast and celebration than a time of specific religious piety, and it is only right that Christmas moves back in the direction of a secular, global end of year celebration, rather than one with specific links to one particular religion. We can however make this shift without falling into rampant materialism, and try and use the time to encourage goodwill, charity, compassion and peace, and emphasis friendship and family, without needing to base this upon a religious myth specific to one particular religion. Again, we can (and should) use the time to further spiritual values, without needing to push any one particular faith and/or culture at the exclusion of others.
Every year around Christmas time we start coming across articles, videos and posts from conservative Christians (and some non-religious political conservatives) claiming that Western civilization is going down the drain, strangled by political correctness and the like. In the lead up to the last US election we had Donald Trump’s making a big fuss about Starbucks and their Christmas cups[ii], claiming that Christians were executing their political power in the US[iii]. Trump and others seem to think that Christians are getting their rights squashed by a move towards political correctness, diminishing their religious freedom. As a whole I have to say that I personally find this a bit silly.
One will do well to find an expression more widely abused in the English language than the phrase “political correctness”. That is not to deny that there are some legitimate examples that deserve the expression. That is, there are indeed cases whereby people are afraid to speak out about real problems due to public perception of the issue. There are times in which the left goes too far (way too far even) in what is usually a pursuit of a good intention, losing sight of the bigger picture. Just look in the Universities if you wish to find examples of some far-left lunacy. However, from where I am standing it seems that the phrase political correctness is more commonly misused by conservatives (in both religion and politics) to deride those who (I would argue) simply display some common sense and/or common decency.
Putting it bluntly, I would say the following:
Those who make the biggest fuss about political correctness are usually those that lack an informed, balanced general knowledge, and those that display a lack of common decency in the political arena.
Conservatives complain about political correctness when it is expected that LGBTI individuals get treated with the same rights that straight people receive. This isn’t political correctness, it’s merely common decency. Likewise, conservatives complain about political correctness when efforts are made to compensate for the injustices that white, European people committed against people of color and/or indigenous peoples in many nations. This isn’t political correctness, it’s merely common sense and common decency. Acknowledging the injustices that have been committed by white people does not mean that we hate white people or Western culture, are racist against white people, or that white people are being discriminated against (all of which have been claimed by some amongst the far-right).
Likewise, religious conservatives complain when we attempt to foster an environment whereby people of different religions and spiritual paths are seen as part of one greater family. This isn’t political correctness, this is merely common decency. This shouldn’t mean that we view all faiths as being equal (as many on the left mistakenly do), or that we deny the reality that many faiths have legitimate issues (as both conservatives and progressives often do).
By comparison, political correctness is failing to call out religious ideologies as being directly linked with terrorism, or being afraid to mention that gang violence is particularly prevalent within particular racial and cultural groups. Acknowledging that gender isn’t simply black and white and that society can force rigid stereotypes upon children isn’t political correctness, but complete denial of biological differences between the majority of boys and girls is[iv].
Essentially what we are dealing with here is that Christianity is losing some of its privileges, and many Christians (primarily conservative ones) and others with more of a political motivation (that being, conservatives and white nationalists) don’t like it. As such, many have claimed that there is some sort of conspiracy being enacted by Jews, Communists and Leftists etc. to persecute Christians. Hence it could be said that many people don’t know the difference between persecution and the losing of privilege.
Public schools sing Christian hymns (that is, Christmas Carols), practically all shops play Christian hymns, nativity scenes are found everywhere etc. No one is stopping Christians from going to church, reading the Bible, celebrating Christmas, singing carols etc. However, conservative Christians really enjoy using Christmas as a time to push their beliefs onto non-Christians. Family members think it is their right to tell religious stories to my children at Christmas time and to give religious books to them for Christmas presents etc.
Christmas has always been more of a general mid-winter festivity rather than a religious birthday party for Jesus. Christianity effectively appropriated (or perhaps annexed) much of the world’s mid-winter festivities. The religious celebration of the solstices and equinoxes dates way back into history, and the evidence for this is literally set in stone. Likewise, countless cultures had their own version of a mid-winter feast and celebration, and the Western Christian tradition of Christmas fits well into this mould. That is not to say that the Christmas tradition doesn’t have strong religious links. It does. Since the 4th century CE most Christians have celebrated the birth of Jesus in sync with the winter solstice, and the Santa Claus mythos is directly derived from a Christian bishop, Saint Nicholas. However, the wider community celebrates Christmas as a time of gift giving, of feasting and revelry, and celebration of community and family.
The fact that some businesses and councils have taken to saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” is not indicative of some sinister conspiracy to rid Western Civilization of all that is good, but rather is something that should be applauded as positive progress. Christians shouldn’t feel upset if others don’t share their beliefs. It doesn’t impact on their freedom to believe what they want, go to church, and celebrate within their own homes.
We are not talking about persecution of Christians here, nor is this an example of Christians losing their religious freedom. Rather, yet again, this is an example of some (conservative) Christians wishing to take away the religious freedom of all others. That being, if someone belongs to a different faith or does not follow a religion and therefore considers the end of year to be a general, universal end of year, mid-winter solstice celebration rather than a specific Christian holiday, (conservative) Christians find this rather upsetting.
You see, conservative Christians rather like pushing their faith onto others. In fact, they kind of feel like it is their right, because (according to them) everything good about modern Western civilization is due to Christianity (which is of course not true…). Furthermore, they often feel like it is their duty, as they believe non-Christians are destined for an eternity of suffering (again, not true…). So, conservative Christians generally take full advantage of the privilege offered to them by Christmas and Easter time to push their religion onto others to the full extent that they can.
What we can see through all this is that conservative followers of various faiths often take significant offense when others don’t share their beliefs. It’s as if they think that their happiness and freedom depends on everyone thinking the same way. When you say it out loud, it sounds crazy, because of course it is.
Regarding Donald Trumps outrage at the Starbucks special Christmas cup (which apparently wasn’t “Christmassy” enough for him), it is hard to know how to comment on this without resorting to egoic polemics and rhetoric. Shall we say that a calm, dispassionate commentary on the topic is affectively indistinguishable from rhetoric. To put it in the mildest possible terms, the whole thing was just plain silly.
Trump even went as far as telling people to boycott Starbucks, because their special red-green Christmas cup was just too plain. It didn’t have Santa on the front, or little baby Jesus. And that just wasn’t good enough for good ol’ American Republicans. As part of his pre-election campaign Trump stated on a number of occasions that he would bring back “Merry Christmas”. So, I’m a little confused as to how he is planning on implementing this. Is he planning on sending round the Christmas police to make sure that everyone is saying Merry Christmas? Or perhaps he might deploy the military? And significant numbers of people cheered when Trump made these promises. It’s hard to know where to start to engage with such things.
Spirituality and Christmas:
Of course, there is another side to Christmas that is worthy of discussion. That is, to many people Christmas is a time when they are reminded of the importance of family, of generosity, grace, compassion, forgiveness and charity. These are things that are worth keeping as we evolve our conception of Christmas time.
Whilst Christmas time is the most exciting time of the year for many children, it is however also true that for many adults it brings great stress. I myself have felt in previous years the expectation to spend money on gifts for family and friends, whilst struggling to make ends meet myself. Certainly this is also true for many other people. Working in retail every year we can see people going a bit mad in the month (or so) prior to Christmas time. Hence, retail rage is now a thing, and shopping centres have even had to make an effort to encourage shoppers to be gentle with the staff at such times. Likewise we also see it on the roads. The manner in which one drives is generally a good indication of their psychological state, and we see the evidence of the silly season on the roads every year.
I personally feel that it may be wise for adults to end the tradition of giving gifts to other adults, and to only give gifts exclusively to children. Adults know what they want and/or need and will buy things for themselves that they find most appropriate. Much of the gift giving between adults is wasteful; that is, people spend money they can’t afford on gifts that other people don’t really need or want. The only people that benefit from this are business owners. Hence Christmas has taken on quite a materialistic value, and it has become a time of stress for so many people. As an alternative I suggest that adults merely share food with their family and friends, and encourage a time of grace, patience and gratitude with their extended family, and with the wider human family.
Whilst I am not a big fan of all the “baby Jesus” songs that are played practically everywhere during Christmas time, it is nice to have some degree of spirituality in the public arena (even if it is intermingled with erroneous religious mythology and doctrines). In our world there is much darkness, much hate, anger, fear, stress, suffering. It is a good thing for there to be times when the concepts of divine light, love, forgiveness, grace, peace and abundance etc. are in the forefront of human consciousness. When a great number of people come together with a spiritual intent there can be great power, which can be tangible to those who are sensitive to such things. It however would be great if in the future we can aspire towards these spiritual ideals without the baggage that often comes with special religious myths and doctrines. If this were to take place we could truly reach out to all beings as one whole, one family, one great Cosmic Dream.
[iii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrmyveItPUI&app=desktop. In truth, the religious right in the US wields tremendous political power, and is a major cause of many of the US’s problems.
[iv] In case anybody doesn’t get my point here, I’m saying that gender is a continuum, but that the majority of people are far enough to one side or another that if we only counted them it might seem that there were only two clear, distinct categories. Noting that the majority of men and women are distinct in their gender however should not mean that we treat those whose gender identity is less polarized as inferior. Likewise however, noting that gender is not black and white should not mean that we deny the biological differences between most men and women, and the way in which biology alone (removed from social conditioning) can affect the way in which consciousness expresses in its outward form.
There is significant different as to the level of masculine traits amongst men, and likewise the same is also true of women. Aside from the primary genetic markers of gender, I believe that modern biology has shown that there are countless secondary factors that produce a range of different influences. Furthermore, I would argue that from a spiritual perspective, consciousness/spirit is beyond gender, and gender is merely part of the vehicle through which it expresses in this particular lifetime. As we are spirit incarnate within a body, we should respect and appreciate our unique bodily expression, but also know that which is beyond it.