A Very Perry Christmas

By Ashley Baxstrom 12-13-2011
Still from Rick Perry's ad "Strong."
Still from Rick Perry's ad "Strong."

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Christmas tree lots sprouting up like weeds, Christmas lights hung on trees in every wannabe-hip-neighborhood in New York City's five boroughs, a whole new set of Christmas displays in the Macy’s windows.

And of course, the turtledove on top:  pundits and politicians decrying the “War on Christmas.” There may not be snow on the ground (the rolling Texas farmland ground), but there are Kay Jewelers commercials on the air, which means the culture wars – like poinsettias and gingerbread lattes – must be back in season.  Today Gov. Perry released a brand new campaign ad, keeping pace with the other GOP candidates and the changing season.

“I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a Christian,” Perry says. “But you don’t need to be in the pews every Sunday to know that there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.”  (Really, if you didn’t watch it before, just – just watch it. If you close your eyes, you can almost hear the voice of the Ghost of a Certain Texas President Past.)

Perry promises (drawls) that if he’s elected he’ll stop “Obama’s war on religion” and will fight against “liberal attacks on our religious heritage.”

To steal a line from Mother Jones, because I was going to say something like it but then they said it better: “What is this war on religion, anyway? Did Congress authorize it? How is it being paid for?” I can tell you this much, Perry – if there is a war, it wasn’t started by Obama. FACT CHECK! Wikipedia’s page on “Christmas controversy” (redirected from a search for “war on Christmas”) points out that the expression first gained footing in the early 2000′s with conservative commentators like Peter Brimelow and Bill O’Reilly (who recently claimed to have been defending the holiday  against “secular progressives” for 15 years).

In the words of Jon Stewart, “Every public space in the country looks like it got hit with a 500-pound tinsel bomb; the White House looks like a yuletide episode of ‘Hoarders.’” And these public displays are often subsidized by taxpayer money. Our public (and private) school year is still shaped around the Christmas holiday (“winter” break or not). Despite what you think, Perry, you CAN say “Merry Christmas” in school or in the grocery store and there is no shortage of reindeer-antlers-made-out-of-tiny-child-hands-cut-out-of-construction-paper hanging on the refrigerators of America. But you know what? You can also say Happy Holidays, or Happy New Year, or Happy Chanukah, or nothing at all if you prefer.

Here’s the thing. There is no war on Christmas – one has never been declared, except by those proclaiming themselves its victims. There is no liberal attack on “our religious heritage” – whatever people like Perry and O’Reilly might subjectively perceive that to be. It’s history, so it’s not like it can be challenged to a duel. What we do have are instances where individuals and organizations – yes, including bastions of godless progressivism like the ACLU or, you know, atheists – protest against violations of the first amendment in cases where the government or publicly funded programs act in a way that appears to endorse one particular religion over another. What we do have are new perspectives on the role religion (and not just Christianity, because other religions exist in America too, along with not-religion) played in the history of our nation. That’s not an attack. That’s coming to an understanding, that’s developing the course forward for our nation, together. And even then, guess what, it’s still a focus ON RELIGION, as opposed to say the democratic principles that might be something else the country was built upon.

Rick Perry doesn’t need to tell us he’s not ashamed to be Christian. We know he’s Christian. It’s part of who he is and fine, Rick, whatever – be Christian. What we want to know is what will that mean for the rest of us if you happen to receive the GOP nomination or (self-disclosing wince) win the presidential election? Does it mean that you will declare yourself victor over the war on Christmas, institute nation-wide days of prayer and thanks to Lord Baby Jesus or mandate the building of popsicle-stick nativities in every public school cafeteria? Probably not. But does it mean that you’re going to favor Christianity, over Judaism or Islam or Atheism (doesn’t freedom of religion mean freedom from religion as well)?

And does it mean that you’re going to equate the rights of gays, lesbians and other sexual orientations to openly and willingly serve in the military with a Satanist-secular agenda to crush every good little Christian boy’s and girls’ sugarplum visions with a big Grinch-like fistful of coal? Apparently.

Perry’s ad – which, according to Politico, will fill $1 million worth of Iowa airtime until the Jan. 3 caucus – is a desperate and misguided attempt to latch onto a particular base of conservative and religious voters. The culture wars in general, this bit in particular, are so played out that even the claymation Bumble would shake his mighty head. The way to leadership isn’t to stoke the flames; Christmas trees are flammable, too, Rick, and playing with fire just might burn down your house.

And besides, we all know that if anything is going to ruin Christmas, it’s this. Don’t MESS with Christmas pop perfection, Justin Bieber!

Ashley Baxstrom is a graduate student in the Religious Studies Program at New York University and an editorial assistant at The Revealer. Her work focuses on intersections of politics, new media, and modern forms of religiosity. This post originally appeared via The Revealer.


Don't Miss a Story!

Get Sojourners delivered straight to your inbox.

Have Something to Say?

Add or Read Comments on
"A Very Perry Christmas"
Launch Comments
By commenting here, I agree to abide by the Sojourners Comment Community Covenant guidelines and acknowledge that my comment may be published in the Letters to the Editor section of Sojourners magazine.

Must Reads