December 22, 2004

The Worst Christmas Article

James Wolcott picked a fight with James Lileks over Christmas. I wouldn’t have done that. Not only because I’d hate to have Lileks rip me to pieces, but because Lileks is an eminently reasonable person. He's not the kind of guy you're supposed to pick fights with. You can disagree with him, sure. You can discuss things with him, yeah. But engage in a long-running public trading of insults? No. I'd advise against that.

Wolcott’s biggest error is in talking about Lileks as though he is this guy, Donald R. May, who wrote what is easily the worst Christmas article this year:
The Christmas Deconstruction Alliance just does not get it. They are dumbfounded as they have not been able to secularize Christmas. They throw tantrums because of the tenacity with which the vast majority of us hold onto our Christian beliefs and traditions. They do not understand why the United States does not roll over, accept the abolition of Christmas, close down our churches, and remove the crosses from our cemeteries.
I’d like to know…who is doing this? Who wants to abolish Christmas? Anybody? Who wants to close down our churches and remove crosses from cemeteries? Seriously. I’d like to know. But he doesn’t name names.

The (separate) argument about whether Christmas songs should be played in schools where non-Christian students attend is tiresome but, I suppose, worth having. But this is an argument about watering down the public culture to a lower common denominator. It’s not about abolishing Christmas. No one (at least to my knowledge) wants to open the school doors on December 25th so they can turn the kids into pagans. (Yes, Mr. May actually says “The liberal elite think their superior wisdom, and their control of education and the media, should convince us to become a bunch of pagans.”)

I thought about fisking his entire piece but decided to heck with it. This hysterical article (which Town Hall should be embarrassed to have on its Web site) isn’t worth my time or anyone else’s.

But I do want to zero in on one point he made because I’ve seen plenty of other people say the same thing.
Just what are some of the things opposed by those who would eliminate our Judeo-Christian heritage?… We definitely can’t acknowledge we are a God-fearing nation who’s Constitution is based on The Ten Commandments.
He really thinks the Constitution is based on the Ten Commandments. He and millions of others. So let’s go through the commandments one at a time.

1. I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other God before me. The first ten words of the First Amendment explicitly knock the First Commandment aside: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”

2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. This one is also knocked aside by the First Amendment since it protects the freedom of speech. Making a graven image isn’t technically speech, but it’s expression, and it’s protected.

3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain. See above. Speech is protected by the First Amendment.

4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. You know what’s wrong with this one, Constitutionally speaking? The same thing that’s wrong with all the others. It’s a commandment. Unless I’m forgetting something, the Constitution doesn’t tell individuals to do anything. It certainly doesn’t tell them to slack off on Sunday.

5. Honour thy father and thy mother. Good advice, if your parents aren’t violent drunks or child molesters. But the Constitution doesn’t address family matters. It addresses matters of state.

6. Thou shalt not kill. A fine law, even if it’s not in the Constitution. Every nation - Judeo-Christian or not - prohibits murder. So the idea that we have this law on the books because it’s in the Ten Commandments strikes me as dubious at best.

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Adultery isn’t a crime in the United States. It’s not a good thing, and it can land you in trouble if you find yourself in divorce court. But you won’t go to jail and you won’t be fined if you cheat on your spouse.

8. Thou shalt not steal. Again, a fine law. Also, again, every nation - Judeo-Christian or not - prohibits stealing. So the idea that we have this law on the books because it’s in the Ten Commandments strikes me as dubious at best.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. This one is against the law, too. But, again, it’s not in the Constitution, not anywhere that I’ve been able to find. (If I’m wrong, show me where.) I don’t know for certain if bearing false witness is prohibited in every nation on earth, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it is.

10. Thou shalt not covet. This one is definitely not in the Constitution. The last thing the Constitution does is regulate the private thoughts of citizens. Only totalitarian regimes even try to do that.

I don’t see any overlap between these documents anywhere. But, hey, maybe I’m wrong. If the Constitution has some fine print that says something like Thou shalt have no other God before me I’d love to have someone quote the relevant text. Until then, I’ll assume anyone who says the Constitution is based on the Ten Commandments is either wallowing in wishful thinking or, as is obvious in Mr. May’s case, suggesting heathens like me are somehow not real Americans.

One other sentence stands out for its inanity:
We can’t have joy since the liberals and terrorists always are angry about something.
The conservatives and terrorists always are angry about something, too. Atheists and agnostics, for starters. Leave us alone. And understand this: most of us celebrate Christmas.

Meanwhile, Jonah Goldberg published a vastly more sensible article in the same online magazine. And he concludes:

Simply because there are more Christians than Jews or Muslims or atheists, doesn’t mean that Christians should always get the shaft. That said, Christians — or at least the politically organized ones — don’t do themselves any favors when they start talking like just another identity politics group. Christians seem to be complaining more this year than usual about the war on Christmas, even as they are finding more success. Arnold Schwarzenegger renamed the governor’s “holiday tree” a Christmas tree. George Bush is the first president ever to include a quote from scripture on his Christmas card. Besides, once “Merry Christmas” becomes a political statement, everyone loses.
What he said.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 22, 2004 11:49 PM

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