(This is an op-ed piece written in response to another op-ed column in which the writer lamented the decline of religiosity at Christmas – the failure of the public to recognize that Christmas is a religious event. She claimed the perpetrators of this degradation are political leftists. Really.)
Despite her claim that the degradation of Christmas is a communist plot organized by Saul Alinsky acolytes, Patricia Stebbins makes a number of valid points in her “My View” piece, “Put Christ Back into Christmas”. For sincere Christians, it must be truly painful to see this once sacred celebration of the birth of Christ transformed to a sacred celebration of mindless materialism and profit lust. Even those of us who don’t claim a belief in astronomical phenomena and angels value the themes that are woven throughout the Christmas story. Further, we value the Dickensian / Capraesque sentiments that were once traditionally associated with this time of year.
The sad news I have for Ms. Stebbins is that her crusade to refocus on Christ at Christmas is dead in the water. It’s too late. Christianity in America has been permanently replaced by yet another religion – hyper-consumerism. This country’s century-old obsession with buying any and all gadgets and gizmos marketed by cynical hustlers is now officially “who we are”. Her preferred narrative that commies are behind this plot smacks of paranoia and McCarthy-era nostalgia. The bad guys are more likely patriotic, born-in-the-USA capitalists, most of whom are probably Christians, who can’t resist separating their fellow citizens from their disposable incomes. Their goal of transforming adult-aged multitudes into irrational, product-branded adolescents is complete. Is there anything sadder than seeing obese, frothing, adult Americans literally fighting each other on Thanksgiving evening for the right to buy a deep-discounted dimwaddle?
Religion and hyper-consumerism share the same goal – to create brand loyalty to a magical entity promising salvation and happiness – God and, this year, an iPad. Spend a day watching and listening to the religious zeal with which people cradle and caress their personal god. They are either caught in a solipsistic spell by the tiny screen in their hand, or feverishly thumbing in an announcement to the world of their current whereabouts, activities, and thoughts, if they have any, or are talking to other technophiles in breathless anticipation of the news that salvation is at hand, “There’s an app for that!”
Our national love of affluence and acquisition is as old as the frontier. In the 1830’s, Tocqueville observed Americans as “unquiet souls” driven by material compulsions and Cooper saw us drifting toward “a world without moral foundations”. The final chapter arrived during the Reagan‘80’s, the most profligate period in American history, and reached its peak when a later president advised Americans to relieve their grief over an enemy attack by going shopping at the mall.
The market has taken over our lives. We are a soulless, adolescent society and that’s just the way marketers want us to be – irrational, compulsive, driven by immediate passions. This is not the kind of atmosphere in which religion can flourish. Religious devotion, like citizenship, requires adults. Excessive, conspicuous consumption requires adolescents.
Maybe Frank Costanza of the old Seinfeld show was right. What he said was outrageous and funny a decade or so ago, but it was prescient, and is sadly true now. We need a mid-winter celebration that doesn’t require a New Ager’s belief in the mystical power of the universe, a Christian’s belief in temporary suspensions of natural law, or a consumer’s irrational lust for fulfillment through the accumulation of stuff. He called it Festivus, an unadorned, non-religious, non-commercial, celebration of love, altruism, and ethical behavior. Festivus … for the rest of us.