|Aside from the humanists/atheists and Christian fundamentalists, about the only ones who benefit from the verbal brawls over the war on Christmas are the cable TV talk shows, which both feed on and feed off the extremists, relishing false choices, ranting guests and narcissistic hosts.
"You better watch out. There is a new combatant in the Christmas wars," wrote David Silverman, communications director for the American Humanist Association, on his blog.
The $40,000 campaign begins today and runs through December with ads on Washington, D.C., buses, which say: "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake."
One bus ad shows a person with long brown hair in a Santa Claus costume with head cocked to one side and palms lifted upward, suggesting a questioning Santa Claus.
"Our reason for doing it during the holidays is there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of non-theists who feel a little alone during the holidays because of its association with traditional religion," said Fred Edwords, the group's spokesperson, according to Silverman.
After playing the pity card with the quote from Edwords, Silverman justifies the humanists' campaign on the grounds that conservative Christians have their own campaigns.
When asked about the humanist ad, Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, said, "It's a stupid ad."
Wildmon, a Christian right leader, said: "How do we define 'good' if we don't believe in God? God in his word, the Bible, tells us what's good and bad and right and wrong. If we are each ourselves defining what's good, it's going to be a crazy world."
A press release from the Liberty Council, a Christian right legal group, called the humanist campaign "insulting."
"The war against Christmas has obviously begun. Liberty Counsel has launched its annual 'Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign' in an effort to defend America from the same secularization faced by people living under atheistic governments," said the Liberty Council press release. "The secularization of Christmas is nothing new. The former Soviet Union secularized Christmas in an attempt to ban God from society."
Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University School of Law, said: "It is the ultimate 'grinch' to suggest there is no God during a holiday where millions of people around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It is insensitive and mean. It is wrong to belittle Jews for celebrating Hanukkah during the holiday season, and it is wrong to offend all religions during Christmas. Christmas is a time of joy and hope, not a time for hate. Why believe in God?—Because Santa is not the only one coming to town."
Liberty Council's campaign includes a PDF with companies listed according to whether they are "naughty," refusing to use the word Christmas, or "nice," using the word Christmas.
AFA launched its save-Christmas campaign a month ago with the slogan, "It's Okay to say Merry Christmas."
"Christians can take a stand and proclaim to our communities that Christmas is not just a winter holiday focused on materialism, but a 'holy day' when we celebrate the birth of our Savior. We can do it in a gentle and effective way by wearing the 'It's OK to say Merry Christmas' button," urged AFA's Web site.
Each side attacks the other and blames the other for the attacks. In turn, attacks attract media attention, mobilize supporters and raise funds.
The Christian Right is no doubt reeling from the failure of the Bush presidency and its loss of influence in the public square. Ginning up support is organizationally critical. What better way and time to accomplish such an objective than claiming victim status in a culture that is allegedly becoming hostile to Christianity.
Humanists and atheists see culture moving their direction, thanks to widespread media opportunities.
In fact, Edwords answered his own rhetorical question about why the campaign was launched now at a press conference yesterday: "The answer is because humanism and other expressions of a nontheistic worldview are enjoying unprecedented publicity and acceptance... Moreover, demographic surveys reveal that young people are more receptive to our type of message than are their parents. Put simply, we're striking while the iron is hot."
Left in the crossfire are those in the non-ideological middle, who want to celebrate Christmas without the culture war.
Thoughtful centrist Christians are weary about the commercialism and materialism that competes with the reason for the season. Yet they are rightly unwilling to abandon the tradition of seasonal joyfulness and want no part in an ideological slugfest.
Aside from the humanists/atheists and Christian fundamentalists, about the only ones who benefit from the verbal brawls over the war on Christmas are the cable TV talk shows, which both feed on and feed off the extremists, relishing false choices, ranting guests and narcissistic hosts.
The rest of us get a bad case of Christmas-war fatigue.
We do have some safeguards, however, which limit our exposure to brain-numbing exchanges. We have remote controls for quick escape and houses of faith for thoughtful moral reflection on why we observe Advent.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.