December 22, 2019

War on Christmas 2.0: The War on Christians

Christmas ornaments

Most atheists living in the United States are familiar with the fictional "war on Christmas" heavily promoted by Fox News and various conservative groups. Even though President Trump was credited with ending the conflict in 2017, we continued to hear about it in 2018. It was almost as if there had been no end to the war! Thus, it will surprise no one that we are hearing about it again in 2019.

If there is one slight wrinkle that makes this year's war somewhat different, it would be that it is increasingly being expanded and reframed as a "war on Christians." I realize this far sillier narrative is not new. It has been around for some time and rears its head whenever Christian privilege is threatened. For example, one will hear howls about a "war on Christians" anytime a court rules that discrimination is still prohibited even when it is done for religious reasons. What does seem a bit different about this year's war on Christmas, though, is that I'm hearing more about the war on Christians than I remember from previous years.

Since the point of the war on Christmas narrative has always been fundraising, combining it with an even more sinister war on Christians narrative makes sense. It is one thing to ask people to donate to protect largely imaginary attacks on their holiday memories; it is quite another to be able to package the whole thing as almost a form of self-defense. I bet the conservative Christians promoting it will wish they had done so sooner.

Many Christians seem to have a persecution complex, and the conviction that one is being persecuted (even when one is the overwhelming majority) often strikes me as a central feature of Christianity. I would not go so far as to say that all Christians think they are being persecuted for being Christians, but it is difficult to overlook how widespread this belief appears to be. Many fundamentalist Christian leaders push it at every opportunity. The real genius of the "war on Christians" is that it fits this complex perfectly and is so much broader than any one holiday that it should sustain those who require it year-round.

The other thing about this particular war that is so impressive from a strategic point of view is that it invites Christians to quickly dismiss most of the things that should lead to reflection and personal change as evidence that their secular enemies hate them. When a church-state violation happens and receives media coverage, Christians no longer need to consider how they might feel if the beliefs of another religion (e.g., Islam) were being imposed on them. Instead, they can quickly dismiss the whole thing as evidence of a "war on Christians." If your goal was to prevent people from changing their minds and becoming more understanding of others, it would be hard to find a better approach.

Someone benefits, financially or otherwise, when hordes of largely privileged Christians become angry and perceive threat where it does not exist. The question for atheists is this: How we can respond effectively without feeding the persecution complex? Unlike the war on Christmas, this one goes year-round and has the potential to cause harm. Thus, figuring out how to counter it effectively is probably worthwhile.