Jon Stewart sheds light on Christian privilege and the War on Christmas.
Today is Christmas, the day that we Christians commemorate the birth of our God-turned-man, Jesus the Christ.
For those who don't speak Christianese, I'd like to break this down for you. But first let me just point out that my intent here is not to proselytize. This blog is about privilege, after all, and the last thing that anyone needs is any Bible-bashing from the Christian side of the so-called War On Christmas. But a brief run-through of our Christian history should help me explain my intent behind this blog, which I innaugurate today.
Yeshua of Nazareth was a first-century Jewish rabbi and mystic who was believed by some to be the savior (Christ), foretold by the Hebrew prophets, that would liberate the Jewish people from Roman rule. To his followers' dismay, Yeshua was brutally executed on a Roman cross for having publicly made implicit claims to both earthly and heavenly thrones; but several days thereafter, it is said that his cult followers saw him alive, in the flesh. He then spent several weeks among them until he ascended into the sky, never to be seen again (other than toasted onto grilled cheese sandwiches).
In the decades following these events, Yeshua's followers developed a systematic theology about who he was, what his relationship was to the Hebrew God, and what his death and resurrection meant for all of humankind and even all of creation. They proclaimed him as Lord and King, branding themselves enemies of the Roman state (where, legally, only Caesar was to be exalted Lord and King), and they called themselves Christians - literally little Christs.
The Christians were quickly marginalized - even by the Jewish people from whom most of them emerged - and persecuted by the Romans. Many of them met the same fate as their teacher - a martyr's execution on the Roman cross. But despite this adversity, the Christians became known for their love for one another and their love for their neighbors. They shared everything in common, without regard to class, race, gender, nationality or ethnicity. They helped the sick and needy until, it was said, there was no needy among them!
Thus they fulfilled Yeshua's exhortation:
"By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Nearly two millenia after the death of Yeshua, Christians in the US have found themselves in a position of cultural dominance and are known for lots of things; but I'm afraid our love isn't very near the top of the list.
Instead, Christians are largely known by non-believers for their ignorance, intolerance, bigotry and exclusivity. Christendom is known to have waged wars and crusades, led witch hunts and inquisitions, raped, pillaged, plundered, murdered and even committed genocide - all in the name of our so-called Prince of Peace, Jesus the Christ.
And it's his birth that we celebrate today.
So it may be obvious enough to any non-Christian why folks would oppose Christianity in general and/or the ubiquitous and seemingly endless celebration of this day (which now begins on Gray Thursday?); but to the entrenched Christian, any opposition is regarded as an attack on our values and traditions, on the very fabric that holds this country together. These people find themselves on the defensive in what they perceive as a war against their faith.
But the reality is that Christianity has been the religion of privilege ever since this country was founded. No other worldview is proliferated in the US the way that Christianity is. It's in our schools, on our money, even in the pledge of allegiance.
"One nation under God."
But what does that mean to all the people who either don't believe in God or believe in someone or something else entirely? Why would we envelope all these people under the same faithful pledge? Do not the differently-faithed or the faithless have just as much right to call themselves American?
And what of the monetary slogan "in God we trust"? A fitting claim indeed, this saying reveals in whom it is that most nominal US Christians place their trust. They've made Mammon - money - their god. (This fact is perhaps no more evident - and ironic - than during this season, when - motivated by consumerism, materialism and greed - folks take to celebrating the birth of a man who said "you cannot serve both God and money" and encouraged others to give all that they had to the poor). But all my quibbles aside, why should a person who doesn't believe in the God of Christianity be forced to purchase their food and medicine, their shelter, even their own religious texts and icons, with bills that bear the name of a deity that they must indirectly acknowledge, even if they don't believe in it?
On Sunday I went to see the Miami Dolphins play and during the half time show, the cheerleaders danced in Santa-themed suits to Santa-themed Christmas songs (of course Santa has nothing to do with the actual Christmas story, but let's be real - these two narratives have become inextricably linked). I wondered how it might feel for a Jewish, Buddhist, or atheist person in the crowd to have their traditions, values, and beliefs totally overlooked while having these Christmas songs jammed down their throats again and again and again.
These are the thoughts and questions that a person of privilege (in this case a Christian) hardly needs to ask him or herself. In fact most people of privilege will do everything they can to avoid asking these questions of themselves and the others who look, think, and act as they do.
But for my own part, I've decided that I can no longer ignore the fact that my holiday or my religion holds a special place of privilege in our society and that I, being subscribed to it, also hold a special place of privilege. I've decided that - being a white, male, middle-class, heterosexual American citizen - I can no longer look in the mirror and pretend that I don't have a leg up on people who are different from me in all of these regards.
And to be quite honest, I'm not even sure what it means to have a leg up!
What is privilege and why do I have it? in what ways does my privilege affect me and the people around me? the people who are like me? the people who are not like me?
and so what if I do have a leg up on certain people? is this necessarily a bad thing? if so, what am I to do about it? or can I instead leverage my privilege to benefit others, to make the world a more equitable place? is that even my responsibility?
And what the hell does any of this have to do with Christmas, anyway?
Today I celebrate this dude Jesus and all that I believe that he is/was. The prince of peace. The light unto darkness. And all that jazz. But I don't believe that I have the right to jam these beliefs down anyone's throat or to lord it over them. Neither do I have the right to do so with any of my other privileges.
On the contrary, I believe that it is my responsibility to work toward a world where "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female " - where there exists no privilege, where the playing field really is even. And while I'm not sure how to do that exactly, I've created this blog to ask these questions and seek out the answers; to invite others to join in the conversation; and to work with others - regardless of our differences - toward a more equitable society.
Meanwhile, I'll continue to take my cues from the supposed God-man who, wielding all power and might, used it to reveal himself as a baby, to a family of low social stature, to an oppressed culture under imperialist rule - that he might later initiate a world (he was fond of the word Kingdom) where the last would be first and the first would be last.
It's this Kingdom that we Christians ought to be proclaiming and celebrating on this day, and it's my great privilege to share the hope of this new world with you today, whether you believe in the premises or not. I pray that together we can work toward this new world and these ends - peace, justice and equity - not just despite our varied differences, but in celebration of them.
In that spirit, I wish all of you and yours a most joyous and peaceful season - and if you celebrate it - a very Merry Christmas as well.
The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.