It’s safe to say “Merry Christmas” again. So says Corey Lewandowski, former campaign manage for the president-elect, declaring victory on the War on Christmas. “It’s OK to say, it’s not a pejorative word anymore.” One of the main contributing factors in this so-called war, according to Lewandowski, et al has been President Obama’s refusal to say it. Despite evidence to the contrary (see a video compilation of President Obama saying “Merry Christmas” over and over again), many people still think that Christmas has been under attack.
I suggest that what is really going on here is the belief of many that it’s Christianity itself that is under attack. The fourth chapter of my book, The INTRAfaith Conversation is entitled “A Question of Identity” because our increasingly diverse world is challenging our assumptions about who we are. This makes us anxious.
Not that this anxiety is unique to Christianity. In her book, That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist, Sylvia Boorstein reflects on the popularity of Buddhism: “I think the alarm people express about Buddhism has more to do with instinctive fears about tribal survival than philosophical error. I think it’s the natural, self-protective, genetic response of tribes.”
Amidst all this religious diversity, our Christian tribe is anxious. And when we’re anxious and afraid, we’re not readily able to process facts and rational arguments. So one response is to retreat into an exclusivist, triumphalism that claims that we’re right and every one else is wrong. At the other extreme is the unexamined assertion that “we’re all worshipping the same God anyway.”
In the middle is where intrafaith conversations can help. Respectful sharing, listening, and relationship-building can bridge the divide between those for whom “Merry Christmas” is a sacred cow and those who are able to encompass a multitude of traditions within their “Happy Holidays.”
Maybe when we take the need for this kind of conversation seriously, we’ll finally get to the place where it’s not a matter of saying either “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” but “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays.”