Why secularists hate Christmas and despise Tim Tebow, The Anchor, December 16, 2011

Fr. Roger J. Landry
The Anchor
December 16, 2011

Secularism, as Pope Benedict has defined it, is living si Deus non daretur, “as if God were not a given.” For militant secularists, however, it’s not enough for them to live as if God does not exist, they want to force their practical atheism on everyone else, at least in public. They may concede the right to “freedom of worship,” meaning the liberty to spend one’s free time going to the church, synagogue or mosque, but they want to restrict — as President Obama’s administration is doing, both home and internationally — the right to “religious freedom,” meaning the liberty to live one’s faith publicly. This goes hand-in-hand with a denial of any prerogatives of conscience: if everyone needs to live as if God doesn’t exist, then no one can claim to be hearing and following God’s voice in the inner sanctuary of conscience. That’s why for secularists no one can be granted exceptions to being forced to comply with the secularist push for the concocted rights to abortion-on-demand and husbandless or wifeless marriages. The greatest and most inexcusable offense to the secularists comes from people who have the gall to live, especially in public, as if God really does exist.

That’s why the secularists hate Christmas. The Christian faith begins with the scandal of the Incarnation. Christians believe that God not only exists but entered our history, took on human nature such that we could see, hear, touch and love Him and later into bodily communion with Him; in short, not only to live as if He exists, but to live with Him. Christmas is the birth of God as a baby, the long-awaited Emmanuel, literally God-with-us, in all the nitty-gritty of human life. This is the exact opposite of the secularist worldview, which can already be glimpsed in embryonic form in the inn-keepers of Bethlehem, whose inhospitality to a woman in labor was also an indication that they didn’t have room for the One to whom she was about to give birth. The proto-secularists of the ancient world can be seen in a more extreme form in King Herod, who considered the mere presence of the newborn king such an existential threat that He needed to be extirpated, even at the cost of the bloody holocaust of scores of other babies.

The collision between the secularists’ desire for a godless public square and the Christian notion of a Savior who seeks to be with us full-time in all aspects of life naturally comes to the forefront at Christmas. If secularists can’t eliminate Christmas altogether, they want to be free of any reminders of its incarnational meaning. Thus they seek to threaten public officials to eliminate manger scenes from public property, and if the officials don’t comply, to sue them with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. Next is the push through to eliminate true Christmas carols in favor of instrumental music or jingles focused on innocuous reindeer, jingling bells, white winter solstices and jolly, rotund, cookie-eating benefactors.

At a cultural level, they want to eviscerate the true religious significance of the feast in favor of commercial mammon, mistletoe-inspired eros, or a vague sense of altruism. And at the broadest level, they strive to transform our vocabulary, treating “Christ” and “Christmas” almost as impolite vulgarities in favor of “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays,” hoping people forget the reason for the season or the “holy” in holiday. This clash between secularism and the Incarnation was seen in the recent controversy in Rhode Island about Governor Lincoln Chafee’s intransigence in referring to the evergreen the state had obtained from Big John Leyden’s Christmas Tree Farm for the statehouse as a “Holiday Tree.” In a state where 60 percent of residents are Catholic and 75 percent are Christian, Governor Chafee could not find the courage or political sagacity to say “Christmas,” more worried about offending a paltry group of die-hard, grumbling, litigious secularists than the religious sensibilities of three out of four citizens whom he swore an oath to serve.

The argument is often made that in a context of religious pluralism, the state cannot play favorites. (In fact, under the U.S. Constitution, states could actually declare an official state religion; it’s only the nation that can’t favor one religion over another.) The proper way to be sensitive to the religious sensibilities of others, however, is not to ban all public displays of religious sensibilities — which is what the secularists claim must occur — but to allow all citizens who wish to express their religious sensibilities to have the chance to do so. This position was famously articulated by columnist and TV personality Ben Stein on the “CBS Sunday Morning Program” on Dec. 18, 2005. “I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish,” Stein declared. “And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit-up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees. I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are: Christmas trees. It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, ‘Merry Christmas’ to me. I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn’t bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a crèche, it’s just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away. I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can’t find it in the Constitution and I don’t like it being shoved down my throat.” The rising in Rhode Island, led by Bishop Thomas Tobin and WPRO talk show host John DePetro, was a hopeful sign that Christians are not intent on taking it any more and were prepared to rise up against political figures who want to pretend that America is constitutionally atheist and that “Christmas” is a dirty, offensive word.

The road to the erosion of religious freedom has happened because many who are religious have more or less allowed the secularists to shame them to live as if God doesn’t exist and to speak as if religious words are inherently uncivil. Christians in particular have been hounded not to “force their morality” on anyone else while the secularists have tried to force their worldview on us all. It’s time for Christians to have the courage to begin to resist this onslaught, first by using the word “Christmas” as it ought to be used, as an expression of “good news of great joy for all the people,” second by focusing on the true religious meaning of Christ’s birth, and lastly by structuring their lives, both publicly and privately, to live together with God-with-us.

One great example of someone who seeks to live with God unabashedly is the young quarterback of the Denver Broncos, Tim Tebow, who will be playing against the New England Patriots this Sunday. Tebow was born in the Philippines, the son of Baptist missionaries who heroically refused the advice of doctors to abort him. He went on to become a Heisman Trophy winner and one of the greatest college quarterbacks of all time. He lives his faith very publicly, from writing Bible verses on his eye black, to kneeling briefly in prayer after games, to thanking God sincerely in interviews, to spending his time off the field in works of charity and evangelization. In an age of pro athletes cheating with performance enhancing drugs and on their wives with multiple mistresses, of expletive-bombing self-justifying sadists who try to injure opposing players to give themselves a competitive advantage, and of egomaniacs talking about themselves in the third person and complaining about the “disrespect” of being offered only 10 million dollars a year, Tim Tebow is squeaky-clean and respectful, a great teammate and a proven winner despite poor throwing mechanics, the hardest worker in the weight room and a virgin. And the secularists despise him, incensed more by his virtues than by the conspicuous vices and clichéd inanities of many of his athletic peers. The fundamental reason seems to be not that he is trying to force their conversion — he’s not — but because he believes that God is really alive, is with him on and off the field, in victory and in defeat, and deserves to be thanked, publicly and sincerely. And he refuses to pretend otherwise, even when mocked and criticized, or to descend to critics’ level. He’s a true inspiration, on and off the field — an example of the type of incarnational existence all Christians, especially at Christmas, are called to rediscover and reveal.