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Wayne Bessen

Merry Christmas
Leave it to the Religious Right to turn Santa Claus into a wedge issue and exchange the gift of seasonal cheer for a box of holiday fear. Thanks to their histrionic “War on Christmas” campaign, major retailers, including Wal-Mart and Walgreen Co. are now dumping “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas” and piping in religious Christmas carols.
“They’re all trying to get the spirit back,” industry analyst Marshal Cohen told the Los Angeles Times.

Is he talking about the universal Christmas Spirit or the sectarian Holy Spirit? This sudden change of heart was due to an intensive lobbying campaign last year by right-wing organizations, such as the American Family Association and Liberty Counsel and conservative pundits like Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter. While mainstream Americans went to the store with a shopping list, conservatives showed up with a political agenda, checking chains once and twice to see if they were naughty or nice.

Yes, their tireless efforts to divide America paid off and Jesus is now officially the “Reason for the Season.” With this monumental change, we can purchase sin on sale to the soundtrack of “Silent Night.” Praise the American Family Association for they have put morals back into the mall. With the new Big Box Bible plan, you can also get that violent video game for your child, confess your wickedness while in line and be absolved by the time you swipe your American Express.

In all actuality — if Jesus were a greeter at Wal-Mart I bet he’d welcome customers with the more inclusive “Happy Holidays.”

Jesus was about humility and respecting other people, while this phony “War on Christmas” is about humiliation and disrespecting the views of others. This is a muscular version of religion that seeks to overpower and stomp on diversity.

The reason that retail stores began to say “Happy Holidays” was a recognition that many of their shoppers were not Christians. It was not a war on anyone or anything, but a matter of courtesy, good manners and common decency. After all, why would a genuine Christian want to want to tell a Hindu, Jew or atheist “Merry Christmas?”

It makes no sense unless the hidden goal is to intimidate people and cow them into accepting religious supremacy of the majority religion. This is the right wings way to let you know that they are in charge and that this is a fundamentalist Christian nation and you are merely renting space, thanks to their overwhelming generosity.

If you break it down, this is really about proselytizing. It is a sort of Jesus tax, that lets non-believers shop for the holidays if they are willing to pay the price of constantly having to bow before another’s deity.

This issue does not seem like a big deal on the surface since it is largely symbolic. However, if you look at the way the right wing incorporates symbols and then uses them to bludgeon opponents, there is reason to worry. They often point to the dollar bill and say, “See, it says ‘in God we trust!’ Doesn’t that prove we are a Christian nation? Or, they will point to the Pledge of Allegiance and say, “It says one nation under God, so we can deny gay people equality or teach creationism in public schools because it is our country.”

As with these other symbols, the extremists want to hijack the shared shopping experience that holds us together and remake it in their own mean-spirited image. While Merry Christmas may be a truly joyous message to Christians, it may not be entirely benign to others. It is the celebration of the birth of Jesus and to make other people share in the religious festivities when they enter a Wal-Mart is wrong.

These large chains should reverse course and not give in to the demagogues on the fringe. After getting creamed in the elections, the conservatives get this consolation prize while they lick their wounds. For now, they may have won Wal-Mart and Walgreens in their War on Christmas, but in doing so they have lost their reason for the season, which is love, peace and goodwill for all.

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