Saturday, December 27, 2008

Seasons Greetings from the Cultural and Commercial One-Party State!!

(In which I determine that Christopher Hitchens' hates Christmas solely on the basis that the newspapers print more crap in December, including his own.)

Christopher Hitchens hates Christmas. What a shock. Let's find out why . . .
Isn't Christmas a moral and aesthetic nightmare[?]

A moral nightmare? I'll reserve judgment on that. But I suspect that the aesthetic nightmare is a substantial part of it. [LATER: Having read the piece, he makes no case for Christmas/Christianity as a moral nightmare, merely an irrelvancy. He does go on about the aesthetics of it. Thank goodness for the cultural elite.] Those plastic heat-molded nativities have given rise to the unabashedly tacky ten-foot tall inflatable penguin snowglobes on every other lawn down the street. Oh yes, those are an aesthetic nightmare, along with the ugly criss-cross of wires across roofs and lawns you see in the afternoon when you drive down our street, with odd sun-bleached creche trotted out by the less fortunate (those without Costco memberships). It's hideous, even. Luckily the sun isn't up long enough most days to get the full ugly effect. But the nights, the nights! The whole street blazes.

The core objection, which I restate every December at about this time, is that for almost a whole month, the United States—a country constitutionally based on a separation between church and state—turns itself into the cultural and commercial equivalent of a one-party state.

Actually, the way I read it, the Constitution in both intent and as enacted was meant to ensure the full freedom to celebrate religion without restriction by the government. Presumably, the free exercise clause would extent to celebrating in both the cultural and commercial realms. The US was never meant by the vast majority of the framers to be a secular nation, the Constitution doesn't (and shouldn't) protect you from the free exercise of others' religion. People were simply meant to follow their religion without the dictates of the state. So the state doesn't get to decide that things are "too Christian" and prohibit the practice. It's not the state's fault that most of the roots of our culture are firmly Christian. God love the Constitution for it.

Hitch goes on to whine about "Dear Leader" propaganda (although I'm guessing he sees a bit more Santa than Jesus). But first he talks about seeing decorations in "train stations and airports" and then "to a more private place, such as a doctor's office or a store or a restaurant." All, though, are private property (if the first two aren't, they should be). So the Constitution isn't really something we're talking about anymore. The Constitution respects the rights of private actors to celebrate and take part in the celebration. Why would you object to the fact that so many private actors happen to agree! Unless you can tell me what your substantive objection is to the holiday observances, I call BS on your process argument.

He goes on to make the universal conservative fallback argument - "think of the children!!" (gasp/chest clutch).
you cannot bar your own private door to the hectoring, incessant noise,
Um, what is he talking about here?
but must have it literally brought home to you by your offspring.
Is he talking about the mention of Christmas in the public schools? At least that would tie his non sequitur about the Constitution into the piece. But of course, the most conservative and more observant Christians would probably tend to favor privatization of the school system. I wonder, though, how much the fact that government is so heavily involved in the nation's schools operates to promote, rather than dampen, widespread religious impulses and practices. I was fortunate enough to go to a private Catholic high school where we got to sing the religious carols in the liturgical choir instead of the Frosty/Rudolph pap. Maybe infusing more religion into the celebration would help to alleviate the aesthetic objection to December's decor. But if we're talking about indoctrinating the offspring, I don't think you can make the argument that it's the fault of the public school system for the celebration without recognizing that the existence of public schools may be suppressing religious indoctrination, which seems to be a more serious affront to the spirit of the Constitution's protection of religion (although admittedly not a violation of its letter).
Time that is supposed to be devoted to education is devoted instead to the celebration of mythical events.
Most of the kids around here are on month-long winter break. Should the kids not get vacations? At any rate, no celebration of mythology should be permitted. No wonder here - stamp that out. What poor beasts would Hitchens raise, I wonder. And Hitch? You're not going to win many people over by claiming that what they believe to be fact is mere myth. You may not believe that to be true, but guess what. We can agree to disagree. Why? The great United States doesn't impose one belief system on us all.

Then he whines for awhile about Christmas kitch in the media. Eh. The newspapers print garbage all year long. Literally. The unsolicited local rag is clogging up the recycling bin, still in its wrapper.
Imagine that conclusive archaeological and textual evidence emerged to prove that the whole story of the birth, life, and death of Jesus of Nazareth was either a delusion or a fabrication?
And then, after that, suppose we imagine that man walked the Earth with the Satan-lizards, who died in Noah's flood because they didn't fit on the big boat, and that there is a grand conspiracy to forge australopithicene remnants to fling into the Great Rift Valley when you secularists are all looking to other way. Wait, I can't do that. The vast weight of evidence is against that position. As does the vast weight of extant evidence exist on the side of the actual life and death of a person named Jesus of Nazareth. As for the divinity of Christ, the vast weight of evidence I've seen is on the side of the Church as well. Jesus told us what we are for and how we should live. I see the collective efforts of humanity to adhere to his message and what happens when they adhere to the message or deviate from it. I don't believe a mere mortal could have given such a perfect set of instructions, irregardless of how imperfectly we all follow them. That builds up credibility with me. As others have noted, Jesus claimed to be God. Therefore, he is either God, or he is a liar, or he is insane. I believe he is the former for a number of reasons. But I also believe his teachings on the meaning and purpose of humanity are too perfect for him to be either of the latter.
Serious Christians, of the sort I have been debating lately, would have no choice but to consider such news as absolutely calamitous.
Certainly, but what an argument to make! Imagine that every believer in history was either a liar or misguided. Imagine that all the evidence you've ever relied on was either a fabrication or delusion. Imagine you've been living in a Matrix-like fantasy programmed along the internal logic of Christian teaching, when the real world outside the mainframe follows no such moral logic. In short, imagine that you lack the capacity for reason. Then try to debate the point, and you will lose! Well, yes. But I am unsure of what that exercise proves.

Then, a bold claim:
If monotheism . . . were to be utterly and finally discredited, we would be exactly where we are now.
Most Christians will tell you that the monotheism part is more incidental to the central message of Christianity, which is the essential goodness of God's creation. It's not self-evident that we would be where we are culturally or morally if we were to discredit the idea that existence is good.
All the agonizing questions that we face, from the idea of the good life and our duties to each other to the concept of justice and the enigma of existence itself, would be just as difficult and also just as fascinating.
Would they really? If you posit the nonexistence of any benevolent creator god, then you must be open to the question that mankind was not created. You admit the possibility that creation is not good. That man is not good. It seems to me that that would make the "agonizing questions" all the more difficult. It's not going to help us actually determine what our duties are to each other if we must first stop and debate whether we are, as a threshhold matter, worth anything at all. .
If the totalitarians cannot bear to abandon their adoration of their various Dear Leaders, can they not at least arrange to hold their ceremonies in private?
During the homily at midnight mass on Christmas eve/morning, the priest bade us to give thanks for our freedom. I do. I am very thankful that the Constitution protects me from people like Christopher Hitchens, who would have me celebrate the goodness of mankind and the hope for salvation in private, in secret, in the dark.

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