Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Why “Happy Holidays” May Be Good For Christianity

In one respect, I give the world my full endorsement as it becomes more secular. Want to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”? Fine. No prayer in public schools? Fine. Following the ten commandments only optional? Fine. It may help in the long run to establish Christianity for what it should be: a faith that constantly seeks to cut across culture, not define it.

Of course, the ideal situation would be for society to be truly Christian, so much so that no government power or cultural coercion would ever be needed to encourage faith. This society would accept Jesus’ teachings of love towards God and neighbor as well as his model of sacrifice and service. Most Christians want all people to take their faith seriously, and ultimately to be assured of their salvation. And, of course, a free society does not work without a moral foundation. Ronald Reagan correctly said this morality is found in religion, so religion must be part and parcel of a free society if it is to succeed.

But like the tech bubble bursting in the late 90s, it’s time for the pseudo-Christian bubble that surrounds America to burst as well. Statistics about 85-95% of America being Christian are meaningless, because they only tell me what percentage of Americans consider themselves cultural Christians. But how many of them would call themselves disciples of Christ is another prospect altogether.

So the assault of “Merry Christmas” and prayer in public school will begin to weed out who is Christian in name only, and reinforce the principles of Christianity for those so dedicated. Who knows, maybe I’ll be one of the ones weeded out. But the Christians that remain will get fed up with public schools to the point where they will go to or start new religious schools. Or when they say “Merry Christmas”, they will know that the center of the holiday is the baby Jesus, not worldly distractions. Indeed, the secularization of Christmas would be the best thing that ever happened to it! At last, the babe would be free from trite remembrances of his birth!

Christianity in any sphere, but especially the public sphere is false unless it is explicit. If it is only hinted at or assumed, it will not be authentic. It cannot be, because Christianity must speak truth to power, as Nathan did to David, and as Jesus did on so many occasions. When it becomes an assumption, its ability to speak the explicitly Christian gospel becomes limited. And while the gospel remains as strong as ever, the perception of it becomes weak and corruptible.

Getting upset about secular language like “Happy Holidays” or a lack of prayer in public schools is like getting upset about a cough when you have the flu. We live in a post-Christian culture and these symptoms are but small examples of how the culture has, to some extent, rejected God and faith. This is worth being upset about, not the little battles that come up along the way. While those who have rejected God deserve the love and attention of Christians for the sake of their salvation, the secularization of Christmas may help point out the difference between cultural Christianity and following the command of Jesus when he says, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” In essence, it may serve to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Christians know that the subtle persecution of secularism or the overt persecution tyrannical governments offer will never destroy the gospel. So to culture, they should say, “Bring on your intolerance and contempt for the faith. Whatever doesn’t kill us, will only make us stronger.”