Thursday, November 24, 2005

Foe Foe Foe

[Working subtitle: Virgin Mary, Crazy Jerry.]

As in Jerry Falwell, who's on the warpath to save Christmas from all those hedonistic merchants.

Evangelical Christian pastor Jerry Falwell has a message for Americans when it comes to celebrating Christmas this year: You're either with us, or you're against us.

Falwell has put the power of his 24,000-member congregation behind the "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign," an effort led by the conservative legal organization Liberty Counsel. The group promises to file suit against anyone who spreads what it sees as misinformation about how Christmas can be celebrated in schools and public spaces.

The 8,000 members of the Christian Educators Association International will be the campaign's "eyes and ears" in the nation's public schools. They'll be reporting to 750 Liberty Counsel lawyers who are ready to pounce if, for example, a teacher is muzzled from leading the third-graders in "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

An additional 800 attorneys from another conservative legal group, the Alliance Defense Fund, are standing by as part of a similar effort, the Christmas Project. Its slogan: "Merry Christmas. It's OK to say it."

See, they don't seem to have a problem with the overall commercialization of the season per se. After all, if you can't run down to your local big-box retailer to plunk down for the light-up snowman, life-size talking Santa, and a little nativity diorama, all for under $37.99 plus tax, where's the joy in the season?

Fanning the Yule log of discontent against what the Liberty Counsel calls "grinches" like the American Civil Liberties Union are evangelical-led organizations including the 150,000-member American Family Association. It has called for a boycott of Target stores next weekend. The chain's crime, according to the group, is a ban on the use of "Merry Christmas" in stores, an accusation the chain denies.

Huh. So someone's full of shit here. Let's play devil's advocate for a second here, as it were, and say it's true -- why would Target take such a stance? In what way would such a blanket policy benefit the corporate bottom line?

Ooh! Ooh! Mista Kotta! I know! I know! Because more customers might be put off by the perceived Christianization than are expecting the perceived Christianization. That is the only scenario in which such a policy would be functionable, much less even desirable, for any corporation to enact.

Do I think that's the case? No. Then again, I'm much more inclined to believe the pencil-pushers at Target than the barking loons at the AFA, who usually spend their time counting doo-doo and pee-pee references on network TV. Salutations to them for broadening their horizons.

Target cares about one thing, and one thing only -- making more money for Target. Every company has this mission, and it is glorious in its simplicity. If the people who ran Target thought there was more money in it for them endorsing a given religion, they'd do it, and us secular heathens would just have to deal. Indeed, pretty much every other strip mall has some Christian book and knick-knack store or other scrunched between the Kinko's and the crappy wicker craft shop. Ever see any more than three people at a time in those things?

The truth is that, as religious as America comes off when polled on certain loaded questions, most people of faith prefer that faith to be personal to them. They practice it at home and at church. Where they intersect with the public is incidental; if a given place says or does things that offend their sensibilities, they just find somewhere else to satisfy their consumer need. Such is the magic of the free marketplace.

So Falwell and Wildmon may want to check the factuality of their premises. Can it be that they are basing all this on flawed assumptions? Can it be that this is merely an instance of manufactured controversy?

On his show last week, Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly offered a list of other retailers that he says refuse to use "Merry Christmas" in their store advertising.

In signing on to "Friend or Foe" this month, Falwell urged the 500,000 recipients of his weekly "Falwell Confidential" e-mail to "draw a line in the sand and resist bullying tactics of the ACLU and others who intimidate school and government officials by spreading misinformation about Christmas."

Standing on the other side of that sand line are religious, liberal and secular organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, whose national director, Abe Foxman, recently bemoaned the religious right's efforts to "Christianize" America.

"This amped-up effort shows how these groups want to push into the classrooms more," said Tami Holzman, assistant director of the Anti-Defamation League's San Francisco office.

"There is no war against Christmas," said Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "There is no jihad against Christians. There is nothing going on around Christmas except these groups' incessant fundraising."

Amen to that. And as bizarre as it sounds that there are actually 500,000 people willing to subscribe to Falwell's weekly crackpottery, it's a drop in the bucket of 300 million citizens. Can it be that this is just another crock of shit to fleece the flock with?

While nowhere near being the preeminent fundamentalist figure he was during the halcyon days of the Moral Majority more than a decade ago, nevertheless, Falwell can still command media attention. Moreover, unlike the Rev. Pat Robertson, whose awkward commentaries have become so common that they have become boring, Falwell picks his targets a bit more carefully.

These days he has latched onto a doozy of a controversy: In a recent edition of Falwell Confidential, the online "insider weekly newsletter to The Moral Majority and The Liberty Alliance," he maintained that Christmas is under attack. Christians, Falwell advised, should, "draw a line in the sand and resist bullying tactics by the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the American Atheists and other leftist organizations that intimidate school and government officials by spreading misinformation about Christmas."

"Celebrating Christmas," Falwell declared, "is constitutional!"

(Coincidentally, the organizations Falwell points out as responsible for attacking Christmas are several of the same groups he blamed for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He later issued a rather understated apology.)

Targeting left-wing Grinches trying to drive Christmas out of the public square, Falwell wrote, "In many public venues, and in our schools and workplaces, many Americans have discovered that they are not permitted to erect Christmas decorations, exchange Christmas cards or sing Christmas carols."

Guess what, Jerry? You can't just hang your birthday cards up in public places either. Look, there is a nugget of truth to his complaint -- I certainly have no problem with Christmas carols in school and nativity scenes in the public square. I'm not sure who's actually bothered by bland, rote expressions of holiday spirit, but it ain't me, and obviously I'm pretty fiercely anti-religion. I would note for the record, though, that these are the same mutts that howl at the moon any time anything remotely ecumenical is done to reach out to Jews or Muslims in schools and public places.

If they were honest (you know, like it says to be in the Ten Commandments) they'd come clean and just say they want Christianity in the public square, not just the generic "religious expression". They don't want Muslims out in full force celebrating Eid al-Fitr, or Jews celebrating Chanukah in the town square. They want taxpayers to fund their public enclave. And they have acted in bad faith in the past with these things, using them as leverage to get more overt displays and expressions of faith in public offices and schools.

On the Fox News Channel, ranting about liberals out to destroy Christmas is as ubiquitous and inaccurate as the station's "fair and balanced" credo. Last year, according to Media Matters for America, "In a 'Talking Points Memo' devoted to "[h]ow Martin Luther King would view things today,'" O'Reilly said that King "would be appalled by the secular culture" and by "the attacks on Christmas, the demonizing of Christianity."

In addition to plugging Gibson's book, Fox's Bill O'Reilly recently ranted about the anti-Christmas practices of two major retailers, Sears/K-Mart and Kohl's. On his November 9 2005 broadcast, O'Reilly told his audience:

Here's what we found out: Sears/Kmart would not answer our questions. Spokesman Chris Braithwaite simply ducked the issue. Their website banners: "Wish Book Holiday 2005." They were the worst we had to deal with. OK? Sears/Kmart. JCPenney says its catalog is always called "Christmas catalog." Federated Department Stores -- Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Burdines -- says the words "Merry Christmas" will be used in most advertising. Same thing at May, Filene's, Lord the company will deal with Christmas. Dillard's, however, will use the slogan "Discover Christmas, Discover Dillard's." So there you go. Shop where you like the atmosphere. Just remember, Kohl's and Sears/Kmart, basically, not all right.

Wow, sounds like a real conspiracy there, fellas. Sure you're not just out to hump a few crappy books and get the rubes all whipped up about nothin'? Is this an indication that the "God Hates Fags" thing has already jumped the holy shark?


Anonymous said...

The Sears wishbook has been called the wishbook for the entire 24 years of my son's life. So NOW it's a problem for these people. Every season has a cause. Every cause raises money. They would be in dire straits if they suddenly got their way on every issue and people stopped sending them checks. What a load of crap.

Tybalt said...

Is it just my imagination or does the "Christian-minded" sect always scream out at percieved intolerances by declaring religious persecution! Then they hop on the other foot and declare the need for tolerance and understanding.

It appears to be worse in America than in the UK. We get the opposite problem. Birmingham cancelled Christmas one year for fear of appearing religiously intolerant that did cause an outcry but more for it's outright hypocrisyby being in itself intolerant of religious belief! I have yet to see a witch hunt though on those grounds however.

I am not Christian and because of this I did not get married in a church but in a rather posh country hotel with a civil service not a religious one. Why you ask? It was because it would of been hypocritical to get married in a church and disrespectful to someone elses beliefs.

Whether you are non religious or you belong to one religion doesn't mean you should't respect the diversity that is inherent in this great planet! A fact Christians seem to overlook more publicly than others.

Personally as long as it is not harming anyone else celebrate christmas however you wish. If you are a business then really it's your choice if someone objects then they can object in the time honoured fashion, shop elsewhere where they do run their christmas to your tastes!

For me Christmas will be a celebration anyway as it is my birthday. However because of this I never had a birthday party as a kid. Was this Christmas's fault or mine? Just the 365 to 1 choice that nature gives you fot your birthday! So no ones fault! Anyway if we were factual the Christians would realise that the date we celebrate on is the old Pagan Pentecost celebration and Christ was alledgedly born later. The Russian Orthodox church celebrate on 7th of January which co-incidentally was my brothers birthday!

I heard a quote recently which I found poignant, " Religion has killed more people than Cancer, so we go ahead and cure cancer!"

Makes you think doest it?

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