The War on Christmas

One long standing Christmas tradition at Fox news is perpetuating the mythological war on Christmas. While it is not a self-evident truth that Christmas is safe in the United States, the idea that there is such a war is as absurd as the claim that there is a war on pizza. Like Christmas, pizza is liked (if not loved) by nearly everyone. While Christmas is not here year round, during the Christmas season (which seems to be October to January) the trapping of Christmas are as ubiquitous as pizza.

A long-standing Fox tactic has been to scour the United States for the few incidents that can be cast as attacks on Christmas and then elevate them into a war. This same approach could be used to “prove” that there is a war on pizza—there are, no doubt, a few incidents that can be cast as attacks on the truth and goodness of pizza. The problem is, obviously enough, that a few isolated incidents do not constitute a war—especially when the incidents tend to be presented in an exaggerated manner. What is rather ironic about Fox pushing the idea of this war is Christmas is supposed to be a time for peace on earth and good will towards all. As such, Fox seems to have its own perpetual war on the spirit of Christmas.

This year has seen a slight modification to the war on Christmas script. Breitbart and Fox recently suggested that a Jewish family was responsible for the cancellation of A Christmas Carol, which was supposed to be put on as a play by students in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. While it is true the family wanted their child excused from the play, the play was cancelled for other reasons.

One of the reasons is that changes in the education requirements set by the state make it difficult for the needed classroom time to be used to prepare for the play. This does point to a real problem in public education but does not constitute a war on Christmas.

The second reason the play was cancelled was to be respectful of the cultural and religious diversity of the students. While some might be tempted to see this as a war on Christmas, being respectful of religious diversity in the public schools does not constitute an attack on Christmas. One way to look at this situation in a different light is to imagine that a public school was putting on a play with religious content that you strongly disagree with. If, for example, you are not a fan of Islam, imagine that the school was putting on a play about Ramadan. Or, as another example, that the play brought back that old-time religion and glorified Saturnalia. If either of these plays were performed at a public school, Fox and Breitbart would most likely cast these incidents as evidence of the war on Christianity.

An incident in which one’s faith fails to dominate is not evidence of a war on that faith or its holiday. Rather, it just shows tolerance and respect for others. Going back to the pizza analogy, to decide to not have a strict pizza only policy for school lunches is not a war on pizza. While most people like pizza, making everyone eat it all the time is hardly fair or tolerant.

Since I grew up “acting” in school Christmas plays and watching them, I do have considerable sympathy for the view that something valuable would be lost if schools cancel their Christmas plays. One solution is to have generic holiday plays. Another is to have a diversity of plays around the holidays to expose children to diverse religious views and holidays. These options do have problems, but are perhaps better than cancelling the school Christmas play. Or perhaps not.

The untruths presented by Fox and Breitbart are morally problematic, but this is compounded by the fact that it was suggested that a Jewish family was responsible for the cancellation. As would be expected, there were the usual responses to this story from the internet: calls to identify the “responsible” family and to act. As many other incidents have shown, these sort of online attacks can quickly escalate into unrelenting harassment and worse.

This ties into a classic anti-Semitic narrative and is consistent with the safe-space that Trump has created for bigotry. While people who are not Jewish or have little knowledge of history might be inclined to dismiss worries about the anti-Semitism inherent in such suggestions, this should be regarded as a real problem. While it would be a slippery slope fallacy to say that this story (or other incidents) will inevitably lead to something terrible, it would also be a mistake to not be concerned about where this path leads. After all, this sort of thing has played out in many times and places and it is best to address such things when they are small. After all, it is easier to extinguish a match than a forest fire.

It must be noted that Slate and other news sites claimed that a Jewish family fled the country out of fear they would be harmed as a result of this story. While the family did express concern, it is now claimed that they left for vacation. While some might be tempted to accuse Slate and others of running fake news because of their mistake, there are two easy and obvious replies. The first is that there seems to be no intent to deceive people with a claim that was known to be untrue—Slate and others presented the information available at the time. The second is that Slate and others updated the report to reflect the new and presumably correct information. Correcting errors is not something that is done in fake news.

If the error by Slate and the others was due to failing to properly investigate the claims, then they can be justly criticized for not being properly diligent. However, if the error was not due to negligence on the part of Slate and the others, then this should be regarded as a mere mistake—and one that was corrected. Slate could also be criticized for going with the original dramatic headline about the Jewish family fleeing the country; but the main criticism should still be on the error. This one error does not, obviously enough, invalidate the rest of the reporting—the other claims stand or fall on their own.

While Fox News’ war on Christmas and Christianity myths have merely been annoying and stupid in the past, they have the potential to cause real problems in the year to come. I certainly hope I am in error about this and hope that Santa did not give America a big box of lies and hate for Christmas.

 

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  1. The incorrect claims about the reasons for cancellation of the play and the reasons for the Jewish family leaving town appear to represent two different categories of false claims. The War on Christmas charge appears to be an intentional fabrication, aimed at misleading the public i.e. a lie. There is every reason to believe that Fox news had the information about the true reason for the play’s cancellation available to them and chose to present a more inflammatory interpretation to boost ratings. Slate magazine however appears to have made a plausible but incorrect interpretation based on limited information. The family was receiving threats and had expressed fear of being targeted for violence. They had also left town. Absent information that the trip had been planned in advance, it was logical to conclude that the two events were directly related. The strongest evidence that Slate magazine had not acted out of reckless disregard for the truth however was that they published a correction.

    The key element of a lie is the intent to deceive. If the information is false, but the purveyor has every reason to believe that it was true, it was not a lie. If the information turns out to accidentally be correct, but the purveyor made it up, it would still be a lie. The classical example of the later would be a captured resistance fighter, telling his captors under torture that his fellow fighters were hiding out a location A, knowing that their hideout was at location B. However, unbeknown to the captured fighter, the group had actually moved to location B out of fear that their comrade would talk. Under these circumstances, the fighter would be lying if he gave location B as the hideout and being truthful if he gave location A.

  2. As far as I know, the U.S. constitution guarantees the separation of church and state. So I don’t see why there should be Christmas plays in public schools.

    In the U.S. there are Jews, Muslims, atheists and these days lots of Buddhists. Why should children from an atheist family or who are atheists be subjected to a Christmas play in their public school? Would it be a good idea for there to be a public reading of the more polemical works of Richard Dawkins in a public school?

    Christmas, a religious holiday, is already a public holiday in a supposedly secular nation, but it’s too late to undo that. I suppose that atheists could demand that Bertrand Russell’s or Friedrich Nietzsche’s birthday be holidays too, since for those who are not Christians there is nothing so special about the day Jesus was supposedly born.

    If they call that a “war against Christmas”, well, they’ve been at war against atheists, Jews, Muslims, heretics, pantheists, and pagans ever since the Church took over the Roman Empire over 1500 years ago.

  3. I was surprised to find a local shopping mall had banned all Christmas decorations from display; nor was any Christmas music heard. One sales clerk defied the ruling and wore a Santa hat, but maybe the mall security eventually found her. No Christmas spirit there this year.

  4. As protracted response, but I hope a useful one.
    To interpret the following correctly it will be necessary to remove any political interpretive elements within your own nature as you read it. Although religion is used as the focal element, the entry is intended to reflect a general morality rather than any particular religious orientation.

    Approaches as described can reflect particularly badly upon those practising them as they become rather like ‘The life of Pi’; fictions created to avoid rather than deal with any mental anguish.

    To create the intended comprehension in the context of this blog thread: Looking to many religions, and in some way good feelings are woven in the religious fabric to promote their objectives. If one imagines Christmas as an existing pre-christian end of year festival and celebration which was appropriated for a religion by the implementation of a calendar and the focusing of Christmas on a particular death rather than a seasonal change (to be followed by a rebirth, as a nod to the older traditions); The implementation of that change was sold on the idea of good will to everybody within a celebratory time. A good feeling was used to promote change and the religious objectives.

    Where any focus is on a difficult issue with wider impacts beyond a religion, that focus appears to be frequently tempered by the inclusion of a form of ‘good will to all’ which allows external influences to be of assistance. Where that goodwill and wider goodwill is removed by a faith, the faith concerned historically crumbles, disintegrates and dies. Where any goodwill is (or continues to be) presented as window dressing that dying off becomes protracted and exterior boundaries get strengthened. The lack of facilitating childrens experiences in each others celebrations appears to be a perceived reflection of the restrictions of faiths resulting in the removal of the fun children experience in playing together in novel ways for them which may become explained within their own religious context in potentially enriching ways.

    Quite difficult problems arise where any wider good will element is missing. From the descriptions often given regarding Fox and Brietbart (problematically for myself to comment on as not having looked at their overall coverage a general reliance is placed upon those focused impressions provided by others, so this must be interpreted in that context), they appear to lack that goodwill element, reportedly because of a conscious decision made somewhere within that organisation. As a result they may well be generating outlooks which are likely to promote further problematic issues (and probably generate more news about more problematic issues). To repeat, it is not clear if that perceived lack of goodwill sits with the viewer(s) or the communicator(s) or what impact external influences are/will be having. It certain sounds as if Fox and Brietbart impose their own chosen methods to the long term detriment of themselves, as does the reported action of the US educational establishment (is any fun built into the serious stuff of school life these days, or does it all just become overwhelming for everybody?)

    A moral/ethical focus intent on creating an improvement in circumstances (improvement in what would be an issue in that) creates difficulties where the overall feeling (even at the end of any strategy) lacks a genuine and broad goodwill. The benefits of one focused individual/group may inevitably provide a type of benefit to the wider communities; but is that an intended one or an unforeseen side effect created by the wider communities making the best of the situation. If there is no intended moral good and everything is unforeseen, that would not be a moral action by most of the measures known of here. A different circumstance exists when an unrecognised ill is created because of a lack of comprehension about a more focused issue creating doubt in a perceived critical issue where the general trend may be for a wider good and any error is recognised and dealt with. Assistance from external sources becomes of critical importance in those situations. Arendts Essays in Understanding aside, evil does not have to always result in evil.

    Thinking and gaining contextual perspectives facilitating understanding seem to be the most important elements. So rather than reflecting back, reflect within in an attempt to perceive others, and then add ones own political perspective before considering which is the most suitable way – But must those more reflective outcomes always be so serious as often all the fun can become lost in narrower views.

    Some of this repeats in a different context what is in the main blog entry, which is embarrassing for me, but seems of value as it seems to indicate a thematic agreement rather than a fuller one.

  5. The War on Christmas is misidentified by those who claim it exists. What is real is that Christianity is less popular every year. This causes unhappiness or insecurity or displeasure to Christians. They act not so much for the season of Christmas but their very way of life becoming less central to the society they live.

    I cannot help but think, too, that Christians tend to hate when atheists celebrate Christmas. It feels to them like a stolen celebration. 🎄

  6. That is very strange; I don’t hit many stores, but everyplace I’ve been since November has had Christmas stuff.

  7. i guess the family had its own view about Christianity. just like a child would be born a catholic and as he grows up devotes to Islam.

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