A Philosopher's Blog

The War on Christmas

Posted in Uncategorized by Michael LaBossiere on December 26, 2016

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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6 Responses

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on December 26, 2016 at 8:58 am

    All-Star Team of Jews Defiles Christmas in Billy Bob Thornton’s ‘Bad Santa’

    “In an interview last year, director Terry Zwigoff explained how the Coen Brothers turned Bad Santa from holiday pastiche into scorched earth. ‘Like the kid would ask Santa, ‘Do you and Mrs. Santa ever think of having kids?’ And in the original script it was just, ‘No, thank God.’ And the Coens made that into, ‘No, thank the fuck Christ.’ That’s their gift. They have a gift for dialogue.”

    “That gift earned the film some detractors. After the release, Catholic League President William Donohue issued a fatwa against Bad Santa, choicely saying that the Miramax release ‘blackens Disney’s Snow White image.’

    “Donahue elaborated: “In a word association game, the mere mention of Santa to kids begets comments like ‘kind,’ ‘cheerful,’ and ‘loving.’ But the Santa in ‘Bad Santa’ is anything but: he is a chain-smoking, drunken, foul-mouthed, suicidal, sexual predator.

    “He is shown soiling himself in Santa’s chair, vomiting in alleys, having sex with a woman bartender in a car, and performing anal sex on a huge woman in a dressing room. And his commentary in front of kids is replete with the ‘F-word.’ ”

    “During a recent viewing, I lost count after 100 utterances of the ‘F-word,’ averaging out to well over one per minute. Donohue saves his best dog-whistle line for last: “The movie will be a hit with college drop-outs, toilet-humor buffs, and those who think like the Weinstein brothers…”

    Read more: All-Star Team of Jews Defiles Christmas in Billy Bob Thornton’s ‘Bad Santa’ – http://tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/156296/bad-santa

  2. TJB said, on December 26, 2016 at 10:41 am

    The Fox News link was clearly labeled “Opinion.” Is it really OK to take an opinion piece and attribute its position to the whole organization?

    • WTP said, on December 26, 2016 at 7:58 pm

      Again, in Mike’s head it is.

  3. DH said, on December 26, 2016 at 11:43 am

    Ridiculous. This is philosophy how? You are merely ranting against Fox news in this column, which is a very tiresome pastime for too many people.

    “War” is a metaphor. No one is waging “war” on Christmas, any more than they are waging war on drugs, or women, or tariffs or social change. The metaphor has been used for centuries in all kinds of contexts. “Customs War”, “War On Crime”, “Cold War”, “War against Revisionism” (aka “The Cultural Revolution”), “War On Poverty”, “War On Cancer”, “War On Drugs”, “War On Gangs”, “Culture War”, “War on Terror”.

    To quote the Wikipedia article (you can look up “War as a Metaphor” if you like),

    “The use of war as metaphor is a longstanding literary and rhetorical trope. In political usage, war metaphors are used to manage a perceived societal problem, with the concept taking the place of an individual or state enemy in true war.”

    As a “philosopher’s blog”, this column would be far more interesting if it were about semantics instead of Fox News.

    If you were to take a historical perspective on this, there have always been factions who oppose Christmas or the public celebration of the holiday for religious, social, or political reasons.

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/christmas-embattled-from-the-beginning-1482501600

    A lot more meat in the Wall Street Journal article, IMO, and far less partisan.

    What you perceive as a movement seen only by Fox and Breitbart is a relatively large faction of people (Trump supporters, no doubt), who are pushing back against political correctness in all its forms, who are tired of the serially offended, who are just leveraging the international popularity of Christmas as a subject for debate.

    • WTP said, on December 26, 2016 at 8:09 pm

      Ridiculous. This is philosophy how?
      This is what you get from a PhD from Ohio State, solipsism and sophistry. My question is, do you think this is isolated to Mike, Ohio State, modern philosophy, or is it just one indicator of a broader degeneration of Western culture? My vote is on the latter. But it’s Christmas and I fear I may be letting my generous spirit be kind to Mike.

  4. DH said, on December 26, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    As I suspected, this is not an example of FOX or Breitbart “Fake News”, as you would have us believe. The story was reported on ABC News as well –

    http://abc27.com/2016/12/15/school-cancels-play-following-complaints-about-famous-line/

    The director of communications for the district, Sharon Zimmerman, first acknowledged, then recanted her report that the play was cancelled because of the line, “God Bless Us, Every One”. I think that if I were the director of communications for the school district, and I saw this story going viral, I would recant also just to avoid the publicity and to “get ahead” of future conflict.

    http://abc27.com/2016/12/22/district-changes-story-about-cancelation-of-christmas-play/

    Again, please note that these stories are reported by ABC news, not Fox or Breitbart.

    The story is not about FOX or Breitbart, it is about the fact that, for centuries, there has been a socio-political interest in any dominant group. During the Crusades, Christianity was embraced because the fear of God among the populace helped kings achieve their political ends; people converted to Christianity out of fear of the Pope, the Kings, and the Crusaders.

    In the 20th century, the opposite has been true – during the Russian Revolution, the rise of Communism and the rise to power of the Nazi party Christianity has been found to be decidedly inconvenient, and political movements to eradicate or politicize its values have developed strongholds.

    Beneath the headline of Columbus’ discovery of America, not too many people recognize that year as the year in which the Jews were expelled from Spain.

    Christians, like Muslims, are lumped into a single category. While there is definitely a strong political bloc made up of evangelicals who oppose key Democrat platforms like unrestricted abortion, government financed abortion, government financed birth control, and legalization of same-sex marriage, the majority of Christians tend to be more moderate on those issues. Nonetheless, “Christians” are increasingly “Persona Non Grata” in this country, reviled as White Supremacists, racists, closed-minded holy rollers who block progressive ideas. There is no careful distinction made, as there is between “Islamist Extremism” and the mainstream, peace-loving Muslim community; Christians are painted with the same brush. Anyone who would stand up and insist that a play like “A Christmas Carol” be presented in school runs the risk of being run out of town.

    You can join the fray against FOX if you want, but as a professional philosopher and professor of critical thinking, I think that position is way, way beneath you. I said in my other post that it would be more fitting if you were to talk about the semantic implications of “war on …” metaphors, but it would be better still if you were to discuss the historic influence of politics and religion in mankind’s perception of truth and governance, and how that perception has been affected by populism and fear on both religious and anti-religious grounds through the ages.

    DISCLAIMER: I am not a Christian of any kind. I was raised in a Jewish household (I was taught by my father to hum all the “Jesus Parts” of Christmas carols we sung in school;) we were tolerant of others who wanted to express their cultural identity even if it did not include us. I do not believe I have been scarred by that experience. After posting this I plan to light the third candle in my Menorah, which is on the bookcase in the den, right next to our Christmas tree.


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