Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a boilerplate resolution recognizing Christmas and the importance of Christianity. Big deal–it did the same thing for Ramadan and Islam last month. Congress does this sort of thing all the time, presumably because it has so little interest in dealing with real issues. Anyway, the Washington Post‘s “On Faith” column this morning is about this, asking its panelists, “Would you have voted for it? How would you amend it?” That gives some an opportunity to go off screeding:
The importance of the day is not even the birth of Jesus but the profound message of love, goodwill and peace that he preached during his lifetime. And, mind you, his love and goodwill were unconditional. There is also the question of how do we celebrate this event inclusively. How do we make non-Christians realize that this is the day of Love and Peace and not about being a Christian? (Arun Gandhi, Mohandas’s grandson)
“Christmas is not about being a Christian.” “The importance of the day is not even the birth of Jesus.” Savor the inclusivist arrogance of that. What after all, does Christmas have to do with Christ? I wonder how Gandhi would feel about Indian Christians declaring that Ganesh Chaturthi had nothing really to do with Lord Ganesha, but should be celebrated with decorated trees and the singing of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”
It is also alarming that the authors of HR 847 appear never to have read the U.S. Constitution, or at least to have understood it. This is a “Christian nation” bill swaddled up like the baby Jesus and laid in a manger. Just because it’s Christmas and we are all nearly comatose from overeating, that doesn’t mean we won’t notice that this establishment of Christianity tucked under a “Whereas”. “Whereas the House of Representatives acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization”. That’s establishment. (Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, president of Chicago Seminary [UCC])
While I agree with Thistlethwaite that resolutions like this are a waste of time, the proper response to them is not establishment-hysteria. Her claim that this resolution constitutes an establishment of religion proves conclusively that she knows nothing about First Amendment law, nor anything about the history of such resolutions. This is the reason that the purveyors of “Christianist” conspiracy theories don’t gain any traction except among the true believers–they are utterly incapable of distinguishing between a real threat to the republic and a meaningless piece of paper.
But it isn’t funny that an overwhelming majority of legislators are so cowed by the power of the Christian right that they are willing to vote for a law that is clearly unconstitutional. Yes, yes, I know that this law will have absolutely no practical effect. But what could be a clearer violation of the First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from passing any law “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” than a resolution that directly expresses its respect for Christianity alone?
Only nine representatives voted against this meretricious resolution. They are all Democrats, and they deserve gold stars. They are Representatives Gary Ackerman of New York, Yvette Clark of New York, Diana DeGette of California, Alcee Hastings of Florida, Barbara Lee of California, Jim McDermott of Washington, Robert C. Scott of Virginia, Lynn Woolsey of California, and Fortney Pete Stark of Virginia. Several of these representatives are African-American, as it happens, and that’s interesting because African-Americans, as a group, are among the most devout Christians in the nation. Apparently these few lawmakers understand that the separation of church and state has helped religion flourish in this country. (Susan Jacoby, professional atheist)
What would “On Faith” be without Susan Jacoby proclaiming that the Christian Right is bringing down the atmosphere? Like Thistlethwaite, she knows nothing about First Amendment law, nor does she understand that resolutions of this sort are nothing more than expressions of opinion, without any force of law (it isn’t even correct to refer to it as a law). As for her citation of the reps who voted against it, I don’t think those votes mean what she thinks they mean. According to Lifesite, “All but two of the representatives voting ‘present’ or against the Christmas Resolution voted in favor of a resolution recognizing Ramadan, which passed by a 376-0 vote in October.” Apparently in the fun-house world of the far-left, it is a breach of the First Amendment for Congress to recognize Christmas and Christianity, but it’s OK for it to recognize Ramadan and Islam. (Rereading her piece, I just realized that Jacoby apparently didn’t even notice the Ramadan resolution, since she wrote, “I suppose that Congress will now be obliged to waste its time considering resolutions expressing respect for Jews, Hindus, Muslims (oh no, that would create a problem because we don’t respect every form of Islam), Pagans, Buddhists….” If I were that ignorant, I wouldn’t show it off to the world. But that’s just me.)
Sure, politicians are free to say whatever they will about their personal faith or lack thereof. In general, they tend to be lousy theologians (Lincoln excepted). But getting together as a body to write a declaration that amounts nearly to a recognition of a state religion…? That takes us back to Emperor Constantine, doesn’t it? (Gustav Niebuhr, Syracuse University religion professor)
Yep, right back to Constantine. Next up: George Bush calls for an ecumenical council to resolve the question of whether the Christian churches can ordain gays. Or whether universities and seminaries can hire know-nothing Chicken Littles to teach religion.