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Dec 23 2011

Jesus or death

The Telegraph blurbs Dr Tim Stanley:

Dr Tim Stanley is a historian of the United States. He is working on a biography of Pat Buchanan.

Well, if you say so, but reading his post, I find it hard to believe he’s a Real Historian™.

Anti-social displays of bad taste are becoming common in the United States of America. The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue reports the following outrages: “In a South Carolina cancer center, a 67-year-old volunteer Santa was evicted because of the “different cultures and beliefs of the patients we care for” … In an elementary school in Stockton, California, poinsettias were banned but somehow snowmen were permitted; they justified their censorship by saying there was a Sikh temple in the city … A skeleton St. Nick was found hanging from a cross on the grounds of the Loudoun County Courthouse in Leesburg, Virginia.”

Wouldn’t you think a  Real Historian™ would have the nous to find out that “The Catholic League” is just Bill Donohue himself? A League of one?

But it gets worse.

More worrying is the insidious conversion of the religious festival of Christmas into a purely cultural phenomenon. Christians on both sides of the Atlantic have noticed with dismay that the commercial aspects of the season have been elevated (I saw crackers on sale in September) while its spiritual dimension has been squeezed out of the public sphere.

This from a historian? He seems to think it just happened. This “insidious conversion” has been going on just about as long as “Christmas” has meant anything (which isn’t all that long).

But it gets much worse.

I’ve said it before and I’ll write it again: the Founding Fathers never intended for faith to be excluded from public or political life. America might lack England’s established church or continental Europe’s pervasive Catholicism, but it was founded by Christians along Christian principles with the express intention of building a more Christian commonwealth. It is, at risk of sounding pedantic, a Christian nation in all but its absence of national church.

Uh……….that’s not history, it’s an agenda. It’s bullshit. It’s not true. Real Historians™ don’t say or write that. That’s David Barton history – for which see my esteemed blog-neighbor Chris Rodda at This Week in Christian Nationalism.

The real war on Christmas is not the effort to deprive it of a place in the public sphere, which is more like a set of small, localised skirmishes. No, the real war is the effort to strip the festival of its meaning. Christmas isn’t about brandy eggnog and mince pies, generous presents and bad TV. It’s about the birth of Jesus Christ. Take away that central truth and you are left with a holiday that lacks a message. Take away that message, and the system of morals that flows naturally from it, and you risk stripping America of its ethical foundation. There is no better example than the decision of the dean of Washington and Jefferson College to approve the display of a Christmas tree covered in condoms. This is the future: the joyless abuse of the hollow remnants of Western civilisation. It is a future that, like the rubber covered tree, points to sterility and death.

That’s our choice: the message of Jesus Christ, or sterility and death. Yessir, Dr Tim.

 

40 comments

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  1. 1
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    So: incompetent hack or intellectual fraud?

  2. 2
    sandiseattle

    Well Ophelia nice little article. But really have to say this: the first Atheist blog I ever read was that of your FTB compatriot, PZs Pharyngula. And NOWHERE else but on Atheist blogs do I ever hear tell of the “war” on Christmas. Odd that. Now yes I do see Xmas giten more and more commercialized and even secular, but ‘war’? Nah. Just don’t see it.

  3. 3
    John Morales

    sandiseattle, either you are lying or your exposure to the media is limited to atheist (no capitalisation necessary) blogs.

    (Nor do you, apparently, know how to Google or look at Wikipedia)

    So — are you just incompetent, or are you a liar?

  4. 4
    Jeff Sherry

    sandiseattle, have you never watched “Fox News”, the 700 club or read the NY Times? There has been reportage on the “war against christmas” for at least 2 decades. PZ didn’t create the term, so I have to wonder if you are feigning ignorance sandi?

  5. 5
    skepticlawyer

    May I just point out that the relationship between Christianity and what is basically an adapted Saturnalia is tenuous at best. I wrote this piece a few years ago, but no research since has changed any of its substantive points:

    http://skepticlawyer.com.au/2006/12/19/so-this-is-christmas/

    Looks like Christianity has been engaging in a little light receiving…

  6. 6
    interrobang

    sandi is a lying troll who periodically shows up at Pharyngula. PZ lets us chew on her from time to time to keep our fangs sniny. She’s going to wind up in the Dungeon sooner or later.

  7. 7
    christopher moyer

    He haz a blog.

    http://www.timothystanley.co.uk/blog.html

    Here’s a sample:

    “The single purpose of conservatism is to protect what is good about the traditional order. The internet is a threat to the traditional order and so it is not our friend. The North Koreans understand that, even if we do not.”

    -CM

  8. 8
    Ken Pidcock

    (I saw crackers on sale in September)

    What? You want to put some seasonal restriction on when churches are able to purchase the host?

  9. 9
    colluvial

    Christmas isn’t about brandy eggnog and mince pies, generous presents and bad TV. It’s about the birth of Jesus Christ. Take away that central truth and you are left with a holiday that lacks a message.

    If Christmas were NOT about pleasant memories with family and friends, and their connection with “eggnog and mince pies”, no one would give a shit. Christians hijacked the solstice celebration because it was a poignant one and, by slapping silly nativity scenes on it, think that they can claim it as their own. Fact is, the holiday does fine with the most powerful symbols having nothing to do with human parthenogenesis.

  10. 10
    'Tis Himself

    So — are you just incompetent, or are you a liar?

    These choices are not mutually exclusive.

  11. 11
    'Tis Himself

    The real war on Christmas is not the effort to deprive it of a place in the public sphere, which is more like a set of small, localised skirmishes. No, the real war is the effort to strip the festival of its meaning.

    The War On Christmas™ is a bunch of conservative Christians whining: “You’re not celebrating Christmas the way I want you to.” It’s just another bit of Christian arrogance.

  12. 12
    Mark Fournier

    Some ‘historian’…he writes about the war on Christmas but mentions neither Oliver Cromwell (who banned it as a pagan holiday–which it was) nor the early Victorian revival of it (thanks largely to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Prince Albert, who brought German Christmas customs to England.) English newspapers dating December 25th did not even mention the holiday prior to this revival–the holiday had gone almost completely extinct in the English speaking world. And do we need to remind people like Stanley that Cromwell was one of theirs? Much of the flavor of the season in America originated with Coca Cola ads, but it certainly did not come over with the puritans.

    The entire holiday is the product of canny salesmanship, sustained only because commercial interests knew a marketing bonanza when they saw one, and the only reason that people actually think it’s about Jesus is that Cromwell’s ban lasted long enough for people to forget the original roots of it. Yeah, it really is about meat pies, presents, and hot rum punch.

    Historian my ass…

  13. 13
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Actually, nossir Dr Tim. Surely?

  14. 14
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Wouldn’t you think a Real Historian™ would have the nous to find out that “The Catholic League” is just Bill Donohue himself? A League of one?

    Nota fan of it or Mr Donohue -NOT at all – but is it really?

    I do find that a little hard to believe – I mean its got to have at least a few other memebers hasn’t it?

  15. 15
    John Morales

    [meta]

    StevoR, so, I just clicked on their website.

    Apparently, it has a Board of Directors and a Board of Advisors, but when you look at the front page, this is what you see:

    Latest News
    * Catholic League president Bill Donohue comments on secularists who feed off of Christmas
    * Catholic League president Bill Donohue comments as follows:
    * Catholic League president Bill Donohue comments on how crazy the “War on Christmas” has become:

    More News…
    * Catholic League president Bill Donohue comments as follows:
    * Catholic League president Bill Donohue looks at the various strategies being used…
    * Catholic League president Bill Donohue corrects the record about the Ku Klux Klan:
    * Catholic League president Bill Donohue comments as follows:

    (I challenge you to come up with any news release or other communication by this ‘Catholic League’ which is not by BD)

  16. 16
    Martin Wagner

    I’m still puzzled what this “system of morals” is that people think “flows from” Christianity. Any ideology whose main selling point is “believe this without question or be tortured for eternity” is one I’d call many things, but “moral” ain’t one of ‘em.

  17. 17
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    I got all my morals from Christmas.

  18. 18
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    So that gets us coming and going:
    If we say “Happy holidays”, we’Re waging a war on christmas.
    If we celebrate our totally secular cultural christmas, we’re waging a war on christmas.
    And then there are the Muslims for whom “merry christmas” is worse than drinking alcohol, fornicating and killing people (yes, one of those things is not like the others)

    So: Merry christmas, happy holidays, a happy new year and a happy monkey all around!

  19. 19
    maureen.brian

    Perhaps we could persuade Dr Tim to listen to this when it comes up tomorrow – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b018g26v

    It promises to be rather good whether you are as confused as Tim or not.

  20. 20
    carlie

    poinsettias were banned but somehow snowmen were permitted;

    Maybe because poinsettias are poisonous and grade schools have kids young enough to eat things either out of stupidity or on a dare?

  21. 21
    PZ Myers

    Every time I mention the War on Christmas, it is to mock it. Sandiseattle is so oblivious that he hasn’t figured that out yet.

  22. 22
    Aquaria

    So — are you just incompetent, or are you a liar?

    He’s both, the sad little fuckface.

    [edit]

  23. 23
    Aquaria

    Maybe because poinsettias are poisonous and grade schools have kids young enough to eat things either out of stupidity or on a dare?

    I remember my mother’s gift of a poinsettia being denied when she brought it to school in the 60s for that reason; however, I looked it up, and poinsettias aren’t poisonous after all. The myth derives from a misdiagnosis of a child who died at Christmas back in the early 1900s.

    The worst they can do is give you an upset stomach or diarrhea if you eat a few too many leaves–which are very, very bitter (horrible!), not poisonous. Probably because poinsettias can still make kids sick if enough is eaten is why the schools don’t let them in. You know how kids are: If there’s the slightest chance one of them would eat them to that point, it would happen.

  24. 24
    Ophelia Benson

    No commands to die, please. I’ve said that before (though probably not at FTB version, not having had to).

  25. 25
    Achrachno

    Poinsettias, like all members of the genus Euhorbia, are to some degree toxic. Most of the websites I found saying they were harmless seem somehow linked to the poinsettia sales industry. That said, it probably true that they’re not particularly dangerous and that their hazards may have been oversold. Some of their relatives are much worse. When the Italians invaded Ethiopia at the beginning of WWII, Euphorbia tirucalli is reported to have caused more casualties (injuries) to the Italian army than the Ethiopian army did. Hacking through thickets with machetes was apparently not a good idea.

    Here’s a bit from Wikipedia on the toxicity of the genus Euphorbia (the spurges):

    “Toxicity
    The latex (milky sap) of spurges acts as a deterrent for herbivores. Usually it is white, drying colourless, but in rare cases (e.g. E. abdelkuri) yellow. As it is under pressure, it runs out from the slightest wound and congeals within a few minutes of contact with the air. Among the component parts are many diterpene or triterpene esters, which can vary in composition according to species, and in some cases the variant may be typical of that species. The terpene ester composition determines how caustic and irritating to the skin it is. In contact with mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth) the latex can produce extremely painful inflammation. In experiments with animals it was found that the terpene ester resiniferatoxin had an irritating effect 10,000 to 100,000 times stronger than capsaicin, the “hot” substance found in chili peppers. Several terpene esters are also known to be carcinogenic.[citation needed]
    Therefore spurges should be handled with caution. Latex coming in contact with the skin should be washed off immediately and thoroughly. Partially or completely congealed latex is often no longer soluble in water, but can be removed with an emulsion (milk, hand-cream). A physician should be consulted regarding any inflammation of a mucous membrane, especially the eyes, as severe eye damage including possible permanent blindness may result from acute exposure to the sap.[8] It has been noticed, when cutting large succulent spurges in a greenhouse, that vapours from the latex spread and can cause severe irritation to the eyes and air passages several metres away. Precautions, including sufficient ventilation, are required. Small children and domestic pets should be kept from contact with spurges.”

    Everyone has probably noticed that poinsettias bleed copious white latex when damaged — and you have to handle them carefully to keep from having white spots all over the place.

  26. 26
    Ophelia Benson

    Here’s where I said it before:

    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2011/getting-and-not-getting/

    There was a whole long discussion, of “die in a fire” as in internet meme and the like, but my position was and is No.

    I spell this out because I’ve seen people saying the exact opposite – that I allow and encourage “die in a fire” – offering truncated quotes as “evidence.” (When I say “truncated” I mean leaving out vital words like “not” so that I appear to be saying the opposite of what I in fact did say.)

  27. 27
    Achrachno

    I should have emphasized in my comment above that I just want people to be careful with those poinsettias they have around the house — don’t get the latex in your eyes, for example. But, I am NOT arguing that poinsettias are as toxic as the sewage spewed by “Dr.” Tim Stanley — that we should all stay far away from because it’s worse than any spurge. Highly damaging to the mind as well as the eyes.

  28. 28
    FresnoBob

    I like how he manages to convey the idea that the slow spiritual death of Christmas is somehow the fault of atheists – as if Christians themselves have no responsibility (not to mention support, opportunity, motivation and handy privileges) to keep it alive.

    Moreover, a brief internet search brings up over 80* Christian festivals throughout the year. Surely there’s plenty of spiritual life in the calendar to prevent the slow decline into the immoral abyss he predicts in his last paragraph.

    *That’s just the Christian festivals – if they’re not enough there’s oodles of opportunity for interfaith cooperation on all sorts of interesting religious holidays.

  29. 29
    daveau

    Mmmm. Brandy eggnog. I think I’ll have some now.

  30. 30
    Ophelia Benson

    Well fine but have that brandy eggnog for Jesus.

  31. 31
    GordonWillis

    Make something up, shout about it, and there it is, a cause. The war on Christmas is like the controversy over evolution is like the nastiness of new atheists. It gives stupid buggers something to do, a way to make some mark in the world and — if they get enough voters — a way to make real change, never mind what of or what for. Christmas will go on being what it always has been, and still there will be stupid buggers complaining about corruption and attacks on values and tradition, because it’s a cause, you see, so it just has to be right and true.

  32. 32
    sandiseattle

    Jeff @ 4: Most of my news comes from KIRO, and we do get FoxNews but I almost never watch it. (that’s the channel with Bill O’reilly right, yeah don’t like him.) But truly the only place I see “War On Christmas” is on Atheist websites. I’m guessing it’s a subject more important to you all than the general public.

    (and as for thinking PZ coined the term, thats not what i think or even implied. I only said that’s where I was introduced to the term..)

    I’m not big on news websites much anyhow, the evening news and the occasional Seattle Times (or the Stranger, or Seattle Weekly til Molly quit) is my newsfeed.

  33. 33
    sandiseattle

    @21 no PZ i did get that.

  34. 34
    Ophelia Benson

    Sandi, “KIRO” is a local station, it’s not going to mean anything to people outside the Seattle area.

    A quick (and easy) Google would have told you that the putative war on Christmas is far from an atheist invention. It’s silly to say that the only place you see it mentioned is atheist sites, because for all anyone knows atheists sites are your only source of info about anything. Saying that’s where you see it tells us nothing. Your “guess” is wrong and you made no effort to get it right.

    Don’t make lazy comments, ok? It’s boring.

  35. 35
    sandiseattle

    Lazy? Yeah I suppose. Meh. It’s just not important enough to go searching. And kinna OT to the OP any how. I’m done with it.

  36. 36
    'Tis Himself

    Poinsettias, like all members of the genus Euhorbia, are to some degree toxic. Most of the websites I found saying they were harmless seem somehow linked to the poinsettia sales industry.

    Yeah, Big Poins wants you to believe the plants are benign.

  37. 37
    Josh Slocum

    Sandi, please shut up. It’s bad enough to have you on Pharyngula, but at least there you’re diluted by the volume of comments. It’s irksome to see you here mucking up my other favorite spot on the web.

    Merry Christmas to everyone, though!

  38. 38
    Ophelia Benson

    Same to you, Josh! And a Sheldon Cooper hug.

  39. 39
    cpt banjo

    “The entire holiday is the product of canny salesmanship, sustained only because commercial interests knew a marketing bonanza when they saw one”

    Stan Freberg satirized this fact 53 years ago in his classic “Green Chri$tma$”, which I commend to you all.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSPGJ5-XAcM Sadly, I suspect the parody will be lost on many.

  40. 40
    God help me

    find an electrician

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