A tip of the hat to Charles Krauthammer, Jewish neoconservative (not necessarily a redundancy, despite what many neocons claim) who last week lobbed a much-merited smack at the face of the anti-Christmas lobby.
“The attempts to de-Christianize Christmas are as absurd as they are relentless,” he writes, and he’s perfectly correct. [Goodbye Christmas? Charles Krauthammer, Townhall.com, December 17, 2004]
Well, actually, he’s not perfectly correct. Despite his defense of the most important traditional (and official) American and Christian holiday, it’s not quite clear from Mr. Krauthammer’s column exactly why we should keep Christmas at all.
The reason it’s not entirely clear: Mr. Krauthammer is a neoconservative, and this is what’s wrong with those people.
The reason the war on Christmas is absurd, in his view, is that “The United States today is the most tolerant and diverse society in history. It celebrates all faiths with an open heart and open-mindedness that, compared to even the most advanced countries in Europe, are unique.”
What’s absurd is to claim that the observation of Christmas, as most Americans do observe it, is in some way evidence of intolerance or discrimination.
Mr. Krauthammer, as a Jew, allows as to how he actually enjoys Christmas, not for any religious reasons but because it’s an inherently enjoyable and pleasant holiday. He also offers some snippy and well-placed cracks about the sudden elevation of Hanukah, “easily the least important of Judaism’s seven holidays,” as a kind of replacement for Christmas.
That’s why it’s accurate to say that the war on Christmas is not just a misguided crusade of secularist liberalism; it’s pretty much a concerted attack on America’s Christian identity.
But that’s the point Mr. Krauthammer, as a neoconservative, doesn’t quite seem to get. His objection to the war on Christmas is that Christmas is essentially harmless. He has two other objections also.
One is that the anti-Christmas crusade is “ungenerous” and the other that it’s “a failure to appreciate the uniqueness of the communal American religious experience. Unlike, for example, the famously tolerant Ottoman Empire or the generally tolerant Europe of today, the United States does not merely allow minority religions to exist at its sufferance. It celebrates and welcomes and honors them.”
His first reason is fine, but in his second, we begin to approach the issue of what’s wrong with neoconservatism.
What’s wrong with neoconservatism is that it is a form of liberalism, and as such it is incapable of saying flatly and clearly that while Americans certainly enjoy a right to practice whatever religions they wish, Christianity remains the public religion of the nation—whether one believes in it or likes it or not.
Liberals (and neocons) can’t say that because they don’t believe in public religions and (especially) that America should have one.
A “public religion” of course is not an officially established church, as the Church of England is still. Nor is it the religion to which the majority of citizens adhere, any more than a high school glee club founded fifty years ago is young because all its members are under 18. What is true of individual members is not necessarily true of the group.
A public religion is the religion with which a country publicly identifies, and we know it identifies with it because we know it has become vital to its identity as a nation.
It is precisely because Christianity is vital to our national identity that there is a war against it, and that’s the reason also there is now a nationwide resistance to that war by Americans who wish to conserve our national identity.
Thus, the major national holiday is and always has been the major Christian holiday, and throughout American history presidents and public leaders of all parties and persuasions have acknowledged the Christian identity of the country, without any supposition of controversy.
Only recently has an American president (namely, President Bush) gone around babbling “Happy Holidays,” as he did in a press conference in Italy with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi last week, and even “Happy Hanukah.”
That’s because Mr. Bush is a neoconservative too, and the refusal or inability of neoconservatism to affirm that America does not just “celebrate and welcome and honor” “minority religions” but is publicly and historically identified with a particular religion central to its institutions and values, its culture and identity, has begun to catch up with him.
The more it does, and the more public leaders absorb neoconservatism, the less effective their war against the war on Christmas and the larger war on America will be.
And that’s why, as sensible as Mr. Krauthammer’s column in many respects is, we need more than neoconservatism to conserve our nation.