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Make Christmas, not war

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The latest field manual for Christian crusaders highlights much of what they have all wrong about their most cherished holiday.

In “Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas,” former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin seeks to defend Jesus’ birthday like a momma grizzly safeguarding her cubs. Like the outdoorswoman she is, she takes dead aim at those who would secularize the most historic event in human history and fires away in her own battle in the alleged War on Christmas.

The problem is that Palin comes off quite often in her book as enraged, bitter, contemptuous and arrogant. She seems more intent on settling old scores rather than showcasing the love that makes this season so special. These aren’t exactly the qualities you’d expect to find in someone who’s heralding the Christmas spirit as an integral part of her religious faith.

As many of them share these same flaws, this is what’s so ironic about members of the War on Christmas crowd. Rather than displaying the joy and excitement of their favorite time of year, they use it as an excuse to wallow in petty grievances.

Admittedly, portions of Palin’s book were very sincere. She is obviously incredibly devoted to her family, and I understand the delight she takes in sharing such special moments with them.

Palin candidly discussed some of the sensitive issues her family endured during her 2008 vice presidential campaign. And it’s clear that in the end, the love she shares with her husband, Todd, and their children guide their decisions.

But Palin can’t help herself when mocking her rivals, setting the tone for others.

Many of the Christmas warriors’ complaints stem from how government resources are used to convey religious sentiments. But while some of them believe this assault on the season is a recent phenomenon, and thus the brewing of a secular conspiracy, Americans have been debating this issue even before the founding of our republic.

Some brave colonial voices called for the separation of church and state long before we had a Constitution. And echoing these beliefs, those who founded this nation as well as wrote our charter document used the same language to describe the appropriate relationship of our government to the religious ideals that Americans freely choose to profess.

Palin has no use for secular society as she believes life without Christianity veers toward evil. Never mind that many people without any religious faith live virtuous lives and that many people who call themselves Christians routinely commit evil.

On the contrary, Palin should applaud secular society for the civilizing effect it has had on religious fanaticism. Before Christians were forced to submit to civil authorities, they used their beliefs to torment and murder other people. Remember the hangings following the Salem witch trials?

But once we chose to separate church and state, secular society decided that hunting down witches no longer offered benefits to the overall population. The atrocities committed in the name of Jesus throughout the history of western civilization largely stopped once governments decided to subject religious zealotry to secular law.

And in this country, that means people are free to celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or the winter solstice or Ramadan or Kwanzaa or even Festivus, for that matter. It’s up to them, and the government’s responsibility is to protect all our rights in deciding how we wish to express ourselves.

This requires the government not to declare a preference for any set of religious principles. The best way to protect all of them equally is to endorse none of them individually.

But this doesn’t suit Palin and her comrades-in-arms. They are determined to beat their version of the spirit of Christmas into everyone’s skulls whether they like it or not.

So what we have are ambassadors for the Prince of Peace waging war against their enemies. Would Jesus find this a tad oxymoronic? To become livid at the thought that someone isn’t as holly and jolly as you are about Dec. 25 is to show as much disregard for the true meaning of the holiday as those who pay it no mind.

In lamenting the periodic loss of a government-funded Nativity scene or the inclusion of a heathen symbol, Palin & Co. should reflect on one of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the Earth beneath, or that is in the water under the Earth” (Exodus 20:4).

This commandment was given so that people of faith would focus less on material things and more on interpersonal associations. The Judeo/Christian faith is predicated on cultivating relationships as a way for all of us to become better human beings, and the Nativity narrative punctuates this by showing how even God was willing to join us along the journey.

So it doesn’t matter if your town square is displaying a plastic baby Jesus. The true value of Christmas comes from sharing it with people we love and caring for those in need. You don’t need a department store associate to utter the words “Merry Christmas” to accomplish this.

Yes, seeing Christmas displays cluttered with an assortment of symbols from numerous other groups can be annoying. But where Palin sees in that the downfall of religious culture in the United States, I see our nation’s greatest principles in full view. For where else but the fertile soil of American liberty would a Christmas tree blossom so abundantly alongside a Hanukkah bush, a solstice shrub or a Festivus pole?

Contrary to the title of Palin’s book, it’s our own hearts that really need protecting. And as long as we find room in there for Christmas in some form or another, the message of this blessed occasion will never be lost.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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