Should Christians take offense when the signs say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas"? If not, how can Christians cope with a rapidly secularizing public square?
In this episode of Signposts I talk about what is and what is not evidence of a transforming culture, and the right way Christians ought to respond to both.
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Below is an edited transcript of the audio.
I found myself really, really irritated one day. I was on a plane, and they had one of those airline magazines, and I was flipping through it, and there was an advertisement from Budweiser, I think, one of the beer companies, that had the headline, “Silent nights are overrated.” And then I flipped the page a couple more pages through, and there was an advertisement for this really expensive, high-end, outdoor grill, and it says, “Who says it’s better to give then to receive?” And my response is Jesus is the one who says it’s better to give than to receive! And I was really irritated because I just sat there and thought you know, would they put an ad in their airlines in the Islamic world during Ramadan that says, “Fasting is overrated” or, you know, put something in one of their airlines in India that says, “Who says everything is one with the universe?” And I thought, you know, why would they do that with us? And the issue was that I was totally missing the point, and I was seeing things out of perspective because I was taking a kind of personal offense at these issues rather than seeing the bigger picture.
Now, as you know, I think we have tremendous problems when it comes to a militant kind of secularization with some of the church-state questions that the late Richard John Neuhaus used to call “the naked public square,” but I think that this outrage that we are expressing toward the commercial marketplace sometimes is overblown. We see things as persecution, that really aren’t. Sometimes there are. You know, sometimes we do see situations of a school system penalizing a child for writing “Merry Christmas” instead of saying that this is a holiday card. But the huffing and puffing that we tend to do when marketers don’t get our Christian commitments is, I think, a little bit off base.
First of all, I think we need to keep in mind most of these issues that we take offense at are done by corporations, and these corporations are trying to sell products. They are really not trying to offend constituencies. It really isn’t good business to go out of your way to offend
constituencies. That’s not good economics at all for anybody. And I think the problem is with those ads that really got me upset, I am willing to bet that whoever came up with these ad campaigns didn’t even know that they were making fun of Jesus Christ and of the birth in Bethlehem in the case of Silent Night or with Jesus’ statement that Paul records in his letter to the Corinthians that it is better to give than to receive. They just know we’ve heard it’s better to give than to receive, probably something from Benjamin Franklin or somewhere. We know Silent Night, that’s a Christmas carol that people sing. They didn’t trace that through I’ll bet. They just know it’s just part of the background music. And so for them, it probably is the same as saying something about decking the halls or reindeer games or Heat Miser and Snow Miser, any other kind of Christmas background music that’s around there. And so, it’s just people who don’t get all of that because they are living in a time in American culture that is much more secularized.
So, our response to that I think ought not to be a sense of outrage as though we’re victims. I think instead we ought to say okay, this tells us that our culture is less and less connected with the more basic roots of Christianity, and many, especially in the culture-making sort of sectors in American life,