Originally posted on Sightings at the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Two stories vied for top notice over the weekend. The first was the death of Nelson Mandela, the South African maker of peace. The second was the war about “The War Against Christmas.” Both dealt with the “public religion” themes that preoccupy Sightings.

Most Mandela stories did not accent the role of formal, organized religion and the affiliations of the long-imprisoned public figure, though there were references to his Methodist upbringing and re-publications of occasional addresses in which he paid respect to the Methodist tradition, both for its role in his education and for its support of justice and acts of mercy in the public realm. In any case, readers do not need more attention to this World Citizen #1, after the weekend of media attention. Last Friday I counted well over a dozen, full-page stories in the four newspapers on my breakfast table, while TV and radio reflections on the meaning of Mandela’s life were constant.

What strikes the analyst of the “War on Christmas” stories, or at least what struck me, was the difference in tone by sets of writers or broadcasters on both, or all, sides of the “culture wars”—there’s that “war” image again—as they dealt with the events, personalities, and trends. The Mandela stories did justice to the flaws of the imperfect human who led causes for freedom in South Africa and inspired strugglers globally, but almost all were written in respectful, humane tones. After all, the Mandela effect is one of reconciliation, even though it was born of conflicts past, whose after-stories linger.

In contrast, both, and all, sides in “The War on Christmas” stories were disrespectful, never empathic. Their authors gave no sign that they could understand why those on the other side were stirred to battle, and they gave every sign that they regarded their side in the argument as totally right in their self-chosen Total War.

What are they talking about? Chiefly, about who has the right to set the agenda for determining which symbols and sounds should dominate, or have the monopoly in, e.g., public schools. I am tempted to adopt their tone even while reporting on it: the authors or speakers are crabby, whiny, and dismissive of those with whom they disagree. While I side with those who criticize the “War on Christmas” agitators, I have to confess that those on this side often are almost as crabby, whiny, etc. as those they are attacking. They do know, of course, that much of the “War” is not about Jesus Christ or Christianity, but about power.

Finally, partisans are asking: “Who belongs here? Who was here first?” But the askers tend to be unempathic and unheeding when they hear the regrets voiced over the slighting or banishing of great music of the ages and the replacing of same by banal, purely commercially-determined music. Many lovers of Christian worship-music, who have long lived in religiously homogeneous communities, have not understood why, in pluralist public settings, symbols and sounds are often seen not as exhibits and performances but as acts of worship which offend citizens who don’t adore the God being worshiped in each case.

I’m dreaming not of a white Christmas, but of one with many colors in which neighbors fill their own lawns with Christmas crèches and decorations, or their own airspace with carols and chorales of their choice for themselves and fellow-believers. Leave the public places alone. There are so many other sites where particular forms of worship are not only licit but encouraged. The churches, pollsters tell us, are seeing declines in attendance. But such sanctuaries are open and welcoming to those who would “keep Christ in Christmas.” It would be good if the Mandela spirit of reconciliation caught on among more of them and spread to the public sphere.

References and Further Reading:

African National Congress. “Address by President Nelson Mandela to the Annual Conference of the Methodist Church.” September 18, 1994. Accessed December 7, 2013. http://www.anc.org.za/show.php?id=3685.

United Method Church. “Nelson Mandela 1990 U.S. Speech.” Added July 2, 2013. Accessed December 7, 2013. http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=5259665&ct=13190493.

Kulish, Nicholas and Alan Cowell. “Nelson Mandela 1918-2013: South Africans Prepare for Days of Mourning and Commemoration.” New York Times, December 7, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/08/world/africa/south-africa-mandela.html?_r=0.

Kulish, Nicholas, Lydia Polgreen, and Alan Cowell. “Mandela’s Death Stirs Sense of Loss Around the World.” New York Times, December 6, 2013.http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/07/world/africa/nelson-mandela-international-reaction.html.

Collins, Gail. “Cultural War Games.” New York Times International Opinion, December 4, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/05/opinion/collins-cultural-war-games.html?hp&rref=opinion.

Hall, Heidi. “Not all Christians believe there is a ‘War on Christmas’.” USA Today, reprinted from The (Nashville) Tennessean, December 2, 2013.http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/12/02/war-on-christmas-blog/3802231/.

D’Addario, Daniel. “Sorry, Sarah Palin: There’s no war on Christmas.” Salon.com, November 11, 2013.http://www.salon.com/2013/11/11/sorry_sarah_palin_theres_no_war_on_christmas/.

Zorn, Eric. “Season’s grumblings: An intercepted dispatch from the front of the ‘war on Christmas’.” Chicago Tribune, December 4, 2013.http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-12-04/news/ct-war-christmas-grumblings-holidays-zorn-1204-20131204_1_holiday-gift-guide-holiday-deals-word-christmas.

Wemple, Erik. “Jon Stewart of ‘The Daily Show’ rips Bill O’Reilly’s Christmas activism.” Washington Post, December 4, 2013.http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2013/12/04/jon-stewart-of-the-daily-show-rips-bill-oreillys-christmas-activism/.

Originally posted on Sightings at the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Categories: Beliefs, Culture

Martin E. Marty

Martin E. Marty

"Marty" is one of the most prominent interpreters of religion and culture today. Author of more than 50 books, he is also a speaker, columnist, pastor, and teacher, having been a professor of religious history for 35 years at the University of Chicago.


  1. It doesn’t help the “War on Christmas” people when they write patently untrue stories.


    A lot of the attitude concerning “The War on Christmas” is annoyance over not being able to express an obnoxious form of Christian privilege. As if acknowledging other faiths is an attack on their own.

    There is nothing wrong with holiday displays provided:
    1. They are on private land; or
    2. If on public land, they are not exclusive to one faith.

    Even the Supreme Court has gone as far to say that ecumenialism (embracing all faiths) is a valid way to express the separation of church and state. [Lynch v. Donnelly]

  2. War on Christmas? What about the “War on Thanksgiving” that has been increasingly waged by many good Christian owners of businesses, even expanding “Black Friday” into a long, “Black Weekend” that includes Thanksgiving and the sabbath of the following weekend?

  3. NSA and JNLWD are partnering with Virginia State Police and local police implanting people with biochips. Read “A Note on Uberveillance” by M. G. and Katina Michael. it enables Uberveillance. “In its ultimate form, überveillance has to do with more than automatic identification technologies that we carry with us. It has to do with under-the-skin technology that is embedded in the body, such as microchip implants; it is that which cuts into the flesh – a charagma (mark). Think of it as Big Brother on the inside looking out.” Newport News Police and Virginia State Police had a doctor implant me w/o my knowledge and consent with a biochip. A U. S. Attorney for the NSA/DOJ pretended to be my attorney. It enables torture and thought monitoring. They use it as a sensor and pulse energy projectiles at you. I had a heart attack. It enables voice to skull communication. See LRAD white papers or audio spotlight by Holosonics. Law enforcement believes we will only be safe if they know where we are at all times, what we are doing and what we are thinking! See Safeguards in a World of Ambient Intelligence by Springer page 9. See Mental Health and Terrorism by Amin Gadit. He states, “Of late, there are reports of a new and dreadful invention of weapons of violence that are called Bioelectromagnetic Weapons. According to the description by an Institute of Science in Society, these weapons operate at the speed of light, can kill, torture and enslave without making physical appearance. It further adds that voices and visions, daydreams and nightmares are the most astonishing manifestations of this weapon system, it is also capable of crippling the human subject by limiting his/her normal range of movement, causing acute pain the equivalent of major organ failure or even death and interferes with normal functions of human senses. It can cause difficulty with breathing and induce seizures besides damage to the tissues and organs. Through this form of terrorism, it is possible to persuade subjects that their mind is being read; their intellectual property is being plundered and can even motivate suicide or murder. Pulsed Energy projectiles (PEPs) are another form of weaponry that is used to paralyze a victim with pain. According to Peter Philips, a scientist from USA, circumstances may soon arrive in which anti-war or human right protestors suddenly feel a burning sensation akin to touching a hot skillet over their entire body. Simultaneously they may hear terrifying nauseating screaming, which while not produced externally, fills their brains with overwhelming disruption. This new invention is dreadful addition to the armamentarium of weapons of abuse and torture. Manifestations of the effects of these occult weapons can mimic mental ill health and add further to the misery of the victims.” See Bio Initiative Report 2012. See Forbes and search Brandon Raub. Law enforcement tases citizens into “excited delirium” (see at nij org) to make them act in ways they normally would not. I believe they are directly responsible for the Virginia Tech massacre. There are 3 reasons to have it implanted 1) mental health, 2) criminal record, and 3) infectious disease. If you don’t meet any of those requirements like me, they’ll falsify your records. All the mass shootings are the work of law enforcement. They want to take away your right to bear arms and make America a police state. People aren’t suddenly going crazy, they’re being tortured. I also believe the biochip to be responsible for PTSD. Read Brian Castner’s book “A Long Walk”. I have the same ambiguous pains, twitches, heart attack, night mares, day mares, gurgling, etc. I never served in the war. What do we have in common? The biochip. Suicide is one way to get relief. Virginia’s suicide rate is higher than the national average and the military suicide rate is unacceptable! You can check your upper right buttock, upper right shoulder. They are just under the skin.

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