Colleen Carroll Campbell Home
Christmas wars begin within

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Op-Ed Page
December 17, 2009
By Colleen Carroll Campbell

 

It has become an American tradition this time of year: Aggressive atheists roll out holiday campaigns calling for a God-free Christmas; strident secularists go to war against manger scenes and “Merry Christmas” greetings; and Christians wring their hands about the “Christmas Wars” that threaten to obscure the religious reason for the season.

 

Comforting as it may be to blame the grinches among us for the secularization of the holiday, atheism and anti-Christmas zeal are not the main culprits. A new Pew poll suggests that theological confusion and consumerism among Christians pose far greater threats to the Christian character of Christmas than anything the ACLU or American Humanist Association could cook up.

 

The survey, released last week, painted a picture of Americans as overwhelmingly Christian in their declared religious affiliation but increasingly likely to mix and match contradictory beliefs to suit their personal tastes and current fashions. New Age and Eastern beliefs are particularly in vogue right now: The poll found that 22 percent of Christians believe in reincarnation, 23 percent believe in astrology, 23 percent believe that spiritual energy resides in such objects as trees and crystals, 17 percent believe in the casting of curses, 17 percent say they have seen or been in the presence of ghosts and 14 percent consult fortune tellers or psychics.

 

That such practices and beliefs run counter to traditional Christian doctrine – and to the biblical Christmas story of a God-made-man who came to earth to liberate mankind from seeking salvation in inanimate objects or favorable planetary alignments – seems unimportant to many American Christians. These spiritual freelancers are not willing to reject Christianity and embrace another religious tradition. They prefer instead to take a syncretistic and consumeristic approach to faith, to shop among the various religions and houses of worship to create an individualistic blend of often conflicting beliefs. According to the survey, more than a third of Americans attend religious services at more than one place and nearly a quarter attend religious services of a faith different from their own.

 

Such flexibility has its benefits in a pluralistic society. Greater exposure to traditions other than one’s own can lead to greater empathy for those who believe differently. But the unwillingness to take any belief system or moral tradition seriously enough to commit wholeheartedly to it can pose problems in a democracy that depends on the ability of citizens to regulate their passions and use their freedoms responsibly. Commitment to a religious tradition often serves as a stabilizing force in the lives of citizens, allowing them to become anchored in a particular faith community, guided by moral norms that don’t change with their moods and held accountable to someone other than themselves.

 

Such sincere, specific religious commitment also can inoculate against the self-absorption and materialism that drives our consumer culture. The commercialization of Christmas that so many Christians deplore could not have happened without the complicity of Christians. And it is no coincidence that the more we treat religious belief as just another consumer item to be chosen, discarded or ignored at whim, the more difficult we find it to remember the spiritual significance of Christmas. The real “War on Christmas” is less about external battles over the placement of manger scenes than about internal battles in the hearts of believers over what that manger scene means and how much it really matters.

 

A growing number of American Christians are recognizing this. One example of this awakening: “Advent Conspiracy” (www.adventconspiracy.org), a new web-based push to convince Christians to “spend less and give more” this holiday season. The campaign calls on Christians fretting about the secularization of Christmas to do something tangible about their concern, by foregoing some shop-till-you-drop madness in favor of donating more to charity, giving the kids more face time than toys and gathering in community to remember the child whose birthday started it all.

 

Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television and radio host, and St. Louis-based fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Her website is www.colleen-campbell.com.

Colleen Carroll Campbell
  • Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, print and broadcast journalist and former presidential speechwriter. Her books include her critically acclaimed journalistic study, The New Faithful, and her award-winning spiritual memoir, My Sisters the Saints, which has been published in Spanish, Portuguese, Polish and as an audiobook. Colleen's journalism credits include contributions to the New York Times, Washington Post, Christianity Today, First Things and America, and appearances on CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, ABC News, PBS and NPR. She has served as executive producer and anchor of EWTN News Nightly with Colleen Carroll Campbell, a television newscast airing worldwide on EWTN, the world’s largest religious media network, and as creator and host of EWTN’s Faith & Culture television and radio interview show. In 2013, she anchored EWTN’s live television coverage of the historic election and installation of Pope Francis in Rome. A former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and editorial writer and op-ed columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Colleen is the recipient of two honorary doctorates and numerous other awards for her work. She serves as a religious liberty consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and speaks to audiences across North America and Europe. Colleen lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband and four children, whom she homeschools. Her website is www.colleen-campbell.com.

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