The War on Christmas is a shorthand for one front in the West’s “culture wars,” which address a number of cultural bones of contention. The central question of this war could be framed “Is the West primarily Christian?”
If we think about Western Culture as the thread of belief and knowledge that has come down to us through history, stretching from the Greeks and Romans (and the Ancient Egyptians, though they got short shrift in my middle school history books, and probably yours), then the West is Christian.
Historically, the Christians fought a battle for political supremacy in the first handful of centuries CE. They took over the Roman Empire and set the religious and scholarly tone for our culture. In short, they won.
The victory of the Roman Christians for political influence meant that power resided either in the hands of the Church (or one of the divisions that came after the Protestant Reformation), or in the hands of people at least nominally beholden to the Church. That lasted, in many ways, until the end of the European colonial era.
The West isn’t the West Anymore
Since the end of World War 2, however, something else — something critical — happened to the West. It stopped being the home only of Westerners.
Starting with the Age of Discovery, which began around 1492, there was increased trade and influence passing back and forth between the West and the rest of the world. For Europeans, the world got a lot “larger” as everyday people came into contact with thoughts, ideas, and people from around the globe.
The European colonial era came to a dwindling end around the close of World War 2. What arose in its place was a postmodern world, where the flow of people and ideas became more and more rapid, and where people of non-European descent could “take their place at the table.”
Human Rights Are for (All) Humans
Sure, there were many non-Westerners in America before the mid 1900s. But those groups lacked many fundamental rights. They were not, legally or culturally, seen as equals. They lacked many of the freedoms enjoyed by nominal Westerners.
For instance, in many cases, non-Westerners in America could not vote, have full citizenship, own land, or marry as they chose. More important for consideration of Christmas, their religions were not recognized.
However, since the second half of the 20th century, a new spirit of religious freedom has enveloped America. It’s an era when the ideas of human rights, which had historically been only applied to white Westerners, were applied more evenly. Non-Western, and non-mainstream Western, populations now have an expectation that the separation of Church and State means something.
The War on Christmas
So it comes down to this: the “War on Christmas” is actually a push to make human universal rights, well, universal. It isn’t a silly argument, though. It’s a full-blown struggle to define “the West.”
Is Western culture just the Christian descendents of an ancient line of thought? Or is it more beholden to these new ideas of equal freedoms for all?