Be a good Christian: Say 'Happy Holidays'
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Here's a fun mind game just in time for the year's biggest shopping season: If Jesus were a clerk ringing up your purchase at The Gap, would he wish you "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays"? What would Jesus do?
Really, let's have some fun with this, because if we have to give a few minutes' attention to the culture war, then we might as well do the thing that would most annoy the extremists on either side: Let's think.
The big bonus is, there are no wrong answers -- not when you're playing "Jesus Clerks at The Gap."
Since Jesus was born a Jew, maybe he would hand you your bag and say, "Happy Hanukkah." Or, as the founder of his own religion, maybe he'd say, "Merry Me-Day."
Maybe, if he was truly God, he would tailor his words to fit each customer's unspoken need: "Your daughter won't like this and will spend my birthday sulking," or "Just give up already on trying to please everybody," or "This year at your in-laws? Don't drink so much."
Or maybe he'd start preaching against the grasping materialism of our age and urge customers to put down the argyle sweaters and celebrate his birth by performing real acts of mercy instead.
And then he'd get fired. Because no matter what you call the holiday, a retailer's job is to sell merchandise, not a religion.
The American Family Association, however, doesn't see it that way. The "traditional family values" organization, famous for crusades against porn and raunchy TV, regularly announces boycotts of big enterprises that don't make business choices in accordance with its Christian world view.
In 2005, AFA targeted Wal-Mart and other major retailers to pressure them into using Christmas-specific signs and advertising. It worked. In November 2006, Wal-Mart announced it would ditch generic "Happy Holidays" verbiage and restore "Christmas" to its packaging and greeters' lips.
This year AFA has Gap in its crosshairs. "For millions of Americans the giving and receiving of gifts is in honor of the One who gave Himself," read a Nov. 10 AFA press release. "For Gap to pretend that isn't the foundation of the Christmas season is political correctness at best and religious bigotry at worst."
News flash for the "religious right" from this column-writing Jesus freak: Christmas is not the only religious observance taking place at this time of year, and millions of Americans do not recognize Jesus as "the One" nor give gifts to honor him.
Is recognizing this reality "political correctness," or is it simple respect?
And why wouldn't Christians want to respect the religious freedom exercised by their fellow citizens? After all, obnoxious pouting -- "It's our holiday!" -- isn't exactly a persuasive evangelistic technique.
On its Web site, the AFA's stated goal is to "equip citizens to reform our culture to reflect Biblical truth on which it was founded." While the colonial culture was overwhelmingly Christian, the nation's government was founded on the irreconcilable tension between Reformation and Enlightenment, between divine revelation and man's reason.
That's a conflict to be resolved in the individual's heart and to be engaged as graciously as possible when all those individuals collide in the public sphere -- which includes the local mall.
Cultural conservatives would be doing the nation a favor, however, by fighting true secularization where it actually matters: in the public schools. To prohibit kids from singing "Silent Night" or "The Hallelujah Chorus," as some districts do, is to prevent them from learning about Western civilization. It is anti-intellectual.
Deliberately imposing such ignorance on the young is just a different kind of indoctrination. If officials don't want that charge laid at their door, they should embrace all of America's rich religious traditions and celebrate them in, yes, a "winter concert."
As if it had anticipated the "Christmas boycott," Gap's ad campaign includes this "Holiday Cheer" on its Web site: "Go Christmas / Go Hanukkah / Go whatever holiday / You wanukkah."
That's brilliant, as far as it goes; Gap's 30-second ad goes further, with Gap-clad cheerleaders equating all religions with paganism or doing "what just feels right." (How'd that work out on, say, Wall Street?)
While the AFA demeans true faith with self-regarding anger, the Gap cheer makes religious decisions seem as important as cashmere scarves. Here -- toss one on! They look a bit different but they're all the same!
They are not, of course -- a fact fully evident in the cultures and political systems they've inspired.
Faith matters. If yours is so weak that you are offended by someone else's -- or need their two words of approval ("Merry Christmas!") -- you've got growing to do.
There's nothing like a little shot of religion to inoculate you against the big, life-changing kind. The distance between the insincere gesture and the real thing -- that's the only gap worth worrying about.
First Published November 16, 2009 12:00 am