Upon news of a Christmas variety show benefiting Planned Parenthood, my National Review colleague Kevin Williamson tweeted: “You’re getting the story all wrong ... It was the grave that was empty, not the manger.”
That Planned Parenthood and its supporters aren't self-conscious about using the story of the birth of a child under some hardship, whose first days would include avoiding a slaughter of innocents, should surprise us. In an essay published by First Things, Mary Eberstadt, author of "It’s Dangerous to Believe" and "How the West Really Lost God," argues that the sexual revolution is the prime component shaping our current “post-Christian” or “ex-Christian” society, creating a competing religion to authentic religious faith.
“According to the dominant paradigm shared by most people, religious and secular alike, the world is now divided into two camps: people of faith and people of no faith,” she writes. “But this either-or template is mistaken. Paganization as we now know it is driven by a new historical phenomenon: the development of a rival faith -- a rival, secularist faith which sees Christianity as a competitor to be vanquished, rather than as an alternative set of beliefs to be tolerated in an open society.”
The recent idea that there is a “War on Christmas” sounds ridiculous to many who see the holiday as inescapable this time of year. The point is both more subtle and complicated. Christmas is quite fine if it operates within the bounds of certain values. What you see in a Christmas card or party for Planned Parenthood is an appropriation of Christmas, a re-establishing of tradition with an ideological core.
Eberstadt writes of the broader implications of this trend:
"Wider manifestations of this ongoing paganization have also become commonplaces: the proliferation of religious liberty court cases, legal and other attacks on Christian student groups at secular universities, demonization and caricature of religious believers, intimidation aimed at those who defend Judeo-Christian morality, and other instances of what Pope Francis himself has dubbed the 'polite persecution' of believers in advanced societies. Paganization is also evident in the malignant conflation of Christianity with 'hate speech,' a noxious form of ideological branding destined to unleash new forms of grief on believers in the time ahead."
She recounts the scene last year outside the Supreme Court when a decision about an abortion clinic in Texas was announced and taken as a victory by “proponents of abortion on demand.” A party broke out, as she describes it -- the video was widely viewed at the time -- “spilling from the court steps on out into the city: a gyrating, weeping, waving, screaming sea of people, mostly women, behaving as if they were in the throes of religious ecstasy.”
This Christmas, though, needn’t be a time for complaint or even triumphalism about the season. And even as Christianity is for sinners, Christians behaving badly in the news -- and defending the indefensible for political gain -- doesn’t always make for the best public relations.
“There is a link between the crisis of unbelief in Western culture and the loss of religious intensity among those who claim the importance of faith,” Father Donald Haggerty writes in "Conversion: Spiritual Insights Into an Essential Encounter with God." “Belief is never simply an interior conviction about religious matters. It entails a personal cleaving to Jesus Christ as God and man that cannot be unaffected by his manner of life. But do we forget to keep our eyes fastened on the poor and crucified man of Nazareth whom we proclaim as divine and the object of our love?”
The challenge is to tell the world the story again by living it, demonstrating that the child in the manger and the empty tomb mean something that changes everything -- and are the source of that peace and joy that we so long for.