Monday, December 10, 2007


Merry Christmas, not Exmas

I had thought about naming this post "Merry Exmas," with the "Exmas" being a reference to the C. S. Lewis' fable "Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus," (see text also here) because this is primarily a post against what Richard A. Horsley, in Religion and Empire: People, Power, and the Life of the Spirit, calls "Christmas, the Festival of Consumer Capitalism." However, in opposing that Christmas, or Exmas, my goal is to uphold a Jesus-centered Christmas--one focused on love, justice, and peace. And, so, in that spirit, I wish you a merry Christmas, for there is nothing merry about Exmas.

In keeping with this theme, it is illuminating to read what a couple of atheists have to say about Christmas ("An Atheist Can Believe in Christmas" by Randy Kennedy, NY Times, 12/17/06). According to Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason and Letter to a Christian Nation:
"It seems to me to be obvious that everything we value in Christmas — giving gifts, celebrating the holiday with our families, enjoying all of the kitsch that comes along with it — all of that has been entirely appropriated by the secular world," he said, "in the same way that Thanksgiving and Halloween have been."
The God Delusion author and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins says:
So divorced has Christmas become from religion that I find no necessity to bother with euphemisms such as happy holiday season. In the same way as many of my friends call themselves Jewish atheists, I acknowledge that I come from Christian cultural roots. I am a post-Christian atheist. So, understanding full well that the phrase retains zero religious significance, I unhesitatingly wish everyone a Merry Christmas.
It is probably not too difficult to find folks who still take exception to "Merry Christmas" because, to them at least, it does have "religious significance." But it is telling nevertheless that two militant atheists such as Harris and Dawkins perceive Christmas as they do. So, what is a follower of Jesus to do?

I think Lewis, Horsley, and the folks behind Buy Nothing Christmas (BNC) are on the mark in pointing the finger at consumerism. Horsley also situates "consumer-capitalist Christmas" within the mistaken and pernicious "Christian-determined understanding of religion as personal belief." He continues, "The modern religious fetish of religion as belief ... prevents recognition of the consumer capitalist holidays as the imperial religion that constitutes power relations today."

BNC has a study guide to help youth get "off the treadmill;" here are the "three easy steps" covered in the guide:
Session 1: Take a risk, don't conform to those in the spending spree. Mary, the unwed mother of Jesus, went against the grain. Think about it.

Session 2: The best gifts come in no packages. The Christmas story is all about flipping the system on its lid.

Session 3: Image is everything? Well, don't get pegged as a mindless consumer, be a rebel this Christmas.
It is also telling that the self-styled Christian, conservative, pro-Israel, and anti-gay American Family Association (AFA), through their "Project Merry Christmas," has invested considerable time and money in lobbying and boycotting corporations that don't include Christmas in their advertising. Consciously or not, the AFA recognizes consumer-capitalist Christmas as an imperial holiday and, for all their hollow protestations of piety and "family values," they like it that way and will fight to keep it so. In truth, the "Exmas Rush," to return to C. S. Lewis, and its associated advertising blitz is little short of sacrilege.

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