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The War On Christmas: Right-Wingers, The Red Pope, and Jesus

Aah, ’tis the season for family, friends, eggnog, chipmunks singing Christmas carols — and all-out, no-mercy, blow-’em-all-to-hell war.

Not war like in Afghanistan. No, no — this is the far right’s God-awful “War on Christmas.” In this season of Peace on Earth, a delusional faction of rightists has cooked up a hokey “cultural crisis” to rally their own followers by fomenting hatred of … well, of whom? “Blasphemous-liberal-Democrat-atheist-humanists,” they shout!

The infidels are not accused of lobbing actual bombs in this “war,” but Words of Mass Destruction. Specifically, wail the purists, unholy left-wingers go around saying “happy holidays,” rather than “merry Christmas,” as Jesus taught us to say. Or was it Constantine the Great in the fourth century who came up with that?

Never mind, the rightists’ point is that diabolical lefties (i.e., Marxists) are out to ban Christmas entirely. Heroic defender of the faith Sarah Palin has even written a thin book about this devious plot, revealing that “happy holidays” is merely “the tip of the spear in a larger battle to … make true religious freedom a thing of America’s past.”

Luckily, note the Merry Christmas crusaders, there are such bright lights as Indiana State Sen. Jim Smith. Smith hopes to join Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee in the “Merry Christmas Club” — in pushing state laws to allow Christian icons and ceremonies into our schools. Then there’s U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn from Colorado. He and 35 of his fellow Republican congress critters have proposed a House resolution to protect Christmas. “A creche in every public space,” is their cry, “a cross on every city hall.” To hell with Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the winter solstice, etc.: This is war!

Actually, no, this is hokum, flimflammery, hoodoo, camel dung. It’s also insulting that they would attempt to try to generate a major social conflict over the fiction that the phrase “happy holidays” constitutes religious discrimination, whine that they are a repressed minority and equate it with war. First: Jews, Muslims and others don’t get to brand public spaces as their religious property. Second: Nearly three-fourths of Americans are Christian, so drop the put-upon martyr pose. And third: War really is hell, with blood, lifelong trauma and death, so stop pretending you’re in one.

But rationality doesn’t seem to be included in the liturgy of their political church. Indeed, some of its acolytes have added a twist on Christmas that would make Jesus weep. Indeed, they have launched a war against Jesus! How twisted is that? They say no one should mess with the word “Christmas,” yet they’re messing with the guy Christmas is supposed to be about.

OK, technically they’re not going directly at Jesus but rather at a key part of his message and, in particular, a key messenger of Christianity: Pope Francis! They’ve decided that the Pope is a “Marxist,” pointing out that Francis speaks often about “the structural causes of poverty,” the “idolatry of money,” and the “new tyranny” of unfettered capitalism. Obviously, say the Pontiff’s pious critics, that’s commie talk.

The clincher for them was when Francis wrote an exhortation in which he asked in outrage: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” See, cried the carpers, that’s proof that Francis is the Red Pope!

But wait, that was a very good question he asked, one ripe with the moral wrath that Jesus himself frequently showed toward the callous rich and their “love of money.” In fact, the Pope’s words ring with the deep ethics you find in Jesus’ sermon on the mount and in his admonitions to serve the poor. Was he a commie, too?

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

IMAGE: Pope Francis greets school children upon departure from the Vatican Embassy in Washington on day three of his first visit to the United States September 24, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron   

The Simple, Clear, And Still Radical Meaning Of The Christmas Story

The celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth is a significant event for everyone raised in Western cultures, whether or not we happen to share the Christian faith – so meaningful that the Christmas holiday has been seized for partisan dispute, with even the most profane and irreligious political figures pretending to defend its purity.

These characters complain of a supposed “war on Christmas,” swearing to impose their own customs and even specific greetings on the entire population of the nation, which was founded on freedom from religious coercion of any kind. This year, the self-styled Christian warriors obsess over the Starbucks seasonal coffee cup, the latest proof that their protests have descended into parody.

Still, these ferocious displays of piety beg a deeper and more serious question. What is the real message of the Christmas story in our time?

It is a story, not a history, as scholars have observed in noting that the Biblical accounts as set down by Luke and Matthew differ in salient ways. But the narrative details of religious allegory need not distract anyone from the message, except those who demand that we interpret Scripture as literal truth, with intent to punish.

It is the story of a child born to a carpenter and his wife, the working class of ancient Judea, who lived under the rule of a distant dictatorial regime and its local enforcers — the one percent of their time. Joseph and Mary were homeless and in at least one version, they were refugees from political oppression. Rejected by society, they were driven into a manger, the equivalent of a cardboard shelter, where Jesus was born among the animals.

And it is a story easy to imagine unfolding today, in a Bronx homeless shelter or a camp tent on a Greek island. Oblivious politicians assure us that we need not concern ourselves with such people and that we can, in good conscience, turn away even children under five years of age for the sake of our own comfort and safety — even as they constantly assure us of their Christian morality.

The story of Christmas is not a political parable but an allegory of light brought into a dark and suffering world, on a date that coincides not accidentally with the winter solstice. Its newborn prophet is a harbinger of divine love for all, most emphatically including the sinners, the impious, the unclean, the unaccepted, the foreigner, the stranger, and the impoverished.

A true appreciation of the Christmas story can only grow from those fundamental insights, not from indignant ranting about paper coffee cups and greeting cards.

Its teaching is straightforward and clear and in the most benign sense radical: Bless the poor, the homeless, the workers, all those destitute and hungry, and especially the infants, children, and mothers. Treat them not with suspicion or hostility or meanness, but with kindness and generosity. Support every effort, public and private, to relieve the privations of humanity, both here and across the world. Cherish every child as your own, whatever their religion or race or nationality.

It is a message so simple that everyone — even Christians like Donald Trump and Ben Carson and Chris Christie — should be able to understand.

So Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! And peace be with you.

Photo: Jorge Franganillo via Flickr

First Quote Jesus; Then Punish the Poor

Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker.” — Proverbs 14:31

It’s not my habit to start a column with a quotation from the Bible, but this one’s loaded with self-professed Christians, so why not?

In the mid-1990s, during my time as a metro reporter and feature writer for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, I started writing stories about people who lived in poverty.

I learned early to avoid certain words and descriptions that ignited the ire of certain readers who would rather shame fellow Americans for their dire circumstances than consider why so many of them live in poverty. And often just blocks away from our front doors.

As a columnist, I still sometimes fall back on those rules:

Unless crucial to the story, don’t refer to the flat-screen television in the living room or the car in the driveway, no matter how many miles are on it. A depressing number of people will want to know why a poor person needs a TV or an independent mode of transportation.

Avoid mentioning a tattoo unless it’s central to the narrative. Even then, brace yourself for the onslaught of angry readers demanding to know whether taxpayer money paid for that ink.

And just skip the part about the gold cross dangling around the neck of the grieving mother. I admit this is born of self-preservation. The number of people who are more interested in how she got her jewelry than how her son died will eat at your soul.

So here we are, facing another round of legislative attempts to humiliate poor people who can’t fight back. Lots of headlines but little noise from most of us. I’m not the cynic who thinks everybody’s heart has shriveled to stone. I do, however, worry that our exhaustion is fueling these heartless victories.

In Missouri, the pending House Bill 813 stipulates, “A recipient of supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits shall not use such benefits to purchase cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood, or steak.”

This bill was introduced by state Rep. Rick Brattin, who identifies himself and his family on his website as “devoted Christians.”

In Wisconsin, a new bill would dictate that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits could not be used to buy crab, lobster, shrimp, or any other variety of shellfish.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the Baptist preacher’s son who insists his marching orders come from God, wants to take it further: Anyone who applies for unemployment, food stamps or another assistance program would have to prove his or her sobriety.

“This is not a punitive measure. This is about getting people ready for work,” he said. “I’m not making it harder to get government assistance. I’m making it easier to get a job.”

In Kansas, we have Gov. Sam Brownback, who last year said, “Our dependence is not on big government, but it’s on a big God, who loves us and lives within us.”

Brownback just signed a bill into law that prevents welfare recipients from spending their assistance on “expenditures in a liquor store, casino, jewelry store, tattoo or body piercing parlor, spa, massage parlor, nail salon, lingerie shop, tobacco paraphernalia store, vapor cigarette store, psychic or fortune telling business, bail bond company, video arcade, movie theater, swimming pool, cruise ship, theme park, dog or horse racing facility or sexually oriented retail business.”

You might wonder whether there was any evidence of such widespread spending, but that would mean you’re in search of facts and you’re definitely not going to fit in with this crowd.

State Sen. Michael O’Donnell, also the son of a pastor who likes to mention Jesus when explaining his opposition to helping the poor, told the Topeka Capital-Journal last month: “We’re trying to make sure those benefits are used the way they were intended. This is about prosperity. This is about having a great life.”

Democratic state Sen. David Haley’s response: “This is a troubling elitism here that this body is embracing during what, for many of us, is Holy Week. We really have to look in the mirror. We can’t say something on Wednesday and shift gears on Sunday and think somebody isn’t paying attention.”

As the late Rev. William Sloane Coffin once put it, “it is ironic to think of the number of people in this country who pray for the poor and needy on Sunday and spend the rest of the week complaining that the government is doing something about them.”

“Ironic” isn’t the word that immediately comes to my mind, but what do I know? I’m just a Christian-in-training, not one of those experts willing to insult our Maker.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including …and His Lovely Wife, which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. 

Photo: Jerry Worster via Flickr