Thursday, December 18, 2008

False Gods and False Devils - The War on Christmas

G. K. Chesterton said "Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but by setting up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol or economic law, when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice." Building upon Chesterton’s epigram, there are two forms of moral blindness, blindness to actual evil and seeing evil where none exists.

The bias in the mainstream media about Islamic Supremacist terror (calling it "unrest" or "freedom fighters") is an example of moral blindness to an existing evil. The statement by Nelson Mandela that America wants a world holocaust is an example of false devils - seeing an evil where none exists. A young leftist on TV claimed that the CIA destroyed the twin towers in New York. Conspiracy theorists of this sort have a double moral blindness - blindness to an actual evil combined with delusional perceptions of false devils.

One false devil that needs to be slain is the whole "war on Christmas." I'm sure you've heard about it, so I needn't go into any great lengths describing it. Don't get me wrong: I love the traditions we've received in this country that are used to hallow the Feast of our Saviour's Birth. Christmas trees from Germany (through Victorian England), Caroling from the French (again, through England), Santa Claus from the Dutch, etc. These have become such a part of the fabric of our national life that it seems impossible to remove them.

However, if people call them "holiday trees" and play "holiday music," what is it to me? They were pre-existing cultural expressions that were taken up in the service of the culture's interest. From the Middle Ages to the late Modern Era, the culture's interest was tied to Christianity (in the West, at least). That is no longer the case. So these cultural artifacts go back to doing what they've always done: reflect the culture. (And serving the crumbling gods of this age: Mammon.)

But Christians (or at least churchy-folk) get so tied up in who's not displaying a nativity scene, or who is giving equal time to other religious winter-time traditions, that we have no time to deal with the real evil: the war on Christ's Mass. We demand that the stores have ol' Saint Nick (though we do not even recognize him as the sainted Bishop of Myra), play Christmas Carols (preferably in muzak so we needn't be haunted by the words), and say "Merry Christmas!"

But most of these Christmas Commandos (in America, at least) neglect the holy preparation of Advent. Many churches aren't even open on Christmas Day for services! Remember what happened in 2005, when Christmas was actually on a Sunday? ("It'd be such a burden when we have all the family in." Wait, didn't Jesus say something about family values?)

And then the season of Christmas is abruptly over on 12/26 (National Return-the-crap-you-got-for-that-XBoxGame/Sweater-you-really-wanted Day). Where is Holy Innocents (c'mon, Prolifers!!!)? Where is Holy Family? Where is Epiphany? Where is Candlemas?

If anybody has been waging a war on Christmas, it's the Christians...the people who cram so much secular stuff into our commemoration of Christ's Nativity that we fail to leave room to prepare our hearts, our families, and - dare I say it - our churches and communities to welcome the birth of the King who comes in humility. And the atheists know it.

Which brings me to my second point. Plato said that courage is a combination of knowing what not to fear, combined with perseverance in opposition to that which is harmful and evil. This is where our insistence on playing the game of the Christmas War has really cost the church a great deal. In November, video game sales increased 10% (nearly $3 BILLION dollars, adding to the previous $19BILLION spent in the preceding months).

Let's put that in perspective. While we're swilling away our eggnog and CokeZero, over 1.1 billion people on the planet (17% of the earth's human inhabitants) can't even drink the water they have locally. Every 8 seconds a child dies from a water-borne disease. Did you know that for less than $10 billion dollars, the entire world could be given safe, clean drinking water? Thank God some people still know what to do with our national largess.

You've still got a week. Make this Christmas count.


Kevin said...

Extremely good post, Chris. I have actually said similar things about the clamor that invariably goes up over prayer in school or when the state makes a city remove a copy of the Ten Commandments from a public forum.

In the culture wars, the average Christian is more in love with the idea of prayer in school, than in the moral malaise of the schools. Worse, they are often more in love with the idea of the Ten Commandments on display, than with living them in their lives.

Rev'd Chris Larimer said...


If the heart of worship reformed according to the word of God as a source of covenant affirmation, it doesn't have to be that way.

landon said...

Well said, sir.

Joe said...

Awesome post, Chris. I agree with you one-hundred percent. Coming from a liturgical upbringing, it was an amazing event when the E Free chruch I attend started celebrating Advent.

I find that realm of politics to be where Christians make some of the most aggregious errors when it comes to idolatry. From celebrating Christmas to public expressions of faith to abortion to homosexuality, I think we miss the mark and damage our witness as Christ's disciples when we politicize these issues. Who is it we demonize when we do these things? Is it our percieved adversaries "across the isle." Or are we demonizing ourselves by drawing a political line in the sand. I am not saying we need to become "tolerant" or "inclusive." We must all stand firm in the Scriptures which are clear on these issues spiritually and practically speaking. Does the Word of God call us to debate against our enemies or pray for them? Does the Word of God call us to catagorize people based on arbitrary political and social issues or are we called to love our enemies? As far as I can tell, the great commission is about spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a world lost without him not advancing a social agenda.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your cogent words...definitely food for thought. -Seth

Viola Larson said...

Good post Chris--one of the funny things I have noticed this Christmas is Target using the word Christmas to show seemingly wonderful little children's Christmas plays which are not about christmas at all but about buying things from Target. If Christians just keep pushing some more its no telling what they may accomplish--for the stores that is.

Rev'd Chris Larimer said...


I was very close to going EFCA after I left the PCUSA, but the creedal necessity of a premillenial, pretribulational eschatology kept me from pursuing it. I'm buddies with the pastors of the two churches here, though. (Both are good, practical Calvinists!)

As for engagement: I think God's word does expect us to cast down arguments and pretenses to wisdom (see 2 Cor. 10:5 and consider what happened in the Newsweek article about Scriptural support for redefining marriage).

That said, we'll often settle for half the gospel by choosing only orthodoxy (or, if you're a lib, orthopraxy). Our words need to reflect the divine truth entrusted us in the Scriptures. Our lives need to mirror the grace which has been granted us. And our enemies should have nothing poor to say of the way they've been treated at our hands.

Viola - Words to the wise, as always.

Kevin said...

Chris, I think you only posted half a comment to me. Or perhaps I am too dense to get it...but I didn't. Good link, however.

Also, EFCA? Is that what the IFCA calls itself now? I got drummed out of that organization when I embraced the Reformed faith. Cost me a pastorate and a whole lot of heartache.

Rev'd Chris Larimer said...


Add a rehearsal of the decalogue. That's all I was suggesting.

EFCA = Evangelical Free Church of America.