When I initially read that the city of Santa Monica was refusing to put up religious themed holiday arrangements this year due to a recent court battle I was mixed in my emotions. Let me explain it in case you haven’t heard of this story.
Santa Monica had a viewing area where different groups could display holiday scenes. The majority of them were from churches and synagogues, expressing their wishes for the season. Atheist groups, however, began to put up anti-religious displays to demonstrate the absurdity of religion, namely the Christian one. The secularist groups this year won 18 out of 21 spaces dedicated to these seasonal displays, with the remainder going to traditional Christmas and Hanukkah ones. While I do not know if the secularists insulted the Islamic faith (good luck with the ramifications of that!), I do know that it caused such an uproar in the city that they decided to cease the 60 year old tradition.
This situation was upsetting to me because I just don’t get the blatant hostility that some of the displays were meant to invoke. Religion in America has done a tremendous amount of good in terms of social cohesion and social well being. Yes, there were witch hunts and perverse violence done through the works of “religious” people, but please don’t forget the hospitals, schools, universities, charities, and the Abolitionist movement that came about through various evangelical religious groups.
While the Twentieth Century demonstrated the evils of truly secular nations on a ginormous scale (see: Maoist China, Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany), it is also true that there has been violence done in the name of religion in the past. I’m not arguing about this point, or which extreme has the highest body count. What I am proposing is that there has been a tremendous amount of good that has been done in the name of faith. The traditional Christmas season has brought about many good things, in terms of charity and goodwill performed during this season. Apart from the fights over marked down Blu-Ray players at the Big Box Stores, people are just a lot nicer at Christmastime. Stop and think about it. Aren’t people a little cheerier towards strangers this time of year?
Though people might not quite get the significance of the first coming of Jesus in ancient Bethlehem, people at least are a bit more charitable this time of year, both to neighbor and family. What I do understand, however, is a source of the hostility towards the nativity. Those scenes are about the arrival of a king– the King.
Those scenes mark the focal point of the first Advent of Christ. That’s why I “get” the hostility towards the Christmas holiday. Because there is a subversive element to this holiday. Jesus, God Incarnate (God in flesh), became a baby and would shake the world’s trajectory to its core. Jesus would challenge the status quo and the world would never be the same.
But more on that next post. In the meantime, see my prior posts on Advent.