It is still a bit too early but “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” This post mixes Christmas wishes with political discussions. That is surely not every one’s cup of tea. It is not always mine. But this blog combines such themes as they are combined in the passage of time in my life. This blog post is another one of those. In some ways it is perhaps an admission that neither one’s Christmassing nor one’s political life are all that they should be. I have been opposing much of Obama’s agenda in this blog and it certainly seems to have slipped back a few notches in the most recent election. This Christmas we as Americans can see that the world is in flux. We can hope to find our way forward through these holidays and the coming year without a great catastrophe but we can also know that there are crises afloat and afoot. Americans can find some solace in the stresses endured by the Holy Family on that first Christmas.
I have not had an exemplary early Christmas and Advent and by some measures I am spoiling whatever moral or religious value it had be sharing it with you. This year I made some new ornaments to replace the missing ones in the old set my parents hang on the Jesse tree which is one of the only objects I still have from when I was married. I also put a few dollars into the Salvation Army kettles out and about, donated a few gifts to the toys programs at dollar stores and discount stores and posted a bit about Advent. I also went to religious services and participated in the Advent rituals around the wreath and Jesse tree at home.
The celebration of Christmas rates some substantial coverage on the White House’s official website. You can link to some of that coverage here. Wikipedia takes note of the White House Christmas tree tradition here. So, perhaps mixing up the elements of a Christmas blog post and an early presidential politics blog post is not such an odd idea after all.
Even for a conservative Catholic Christian like me it is getting closer to the time when one might say “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year”. I have used the word “Advent” in two blog posts (as well as the word Christmas in one of them). None of these posts have been as seasonal as some other I have posted here, here and here in previous years. It is also early be discussing the Presidential election of 2016 but I am doing that as well.
The reality of our political life is such that the Presidency is currently our biggest symbol and most important feature of our political life. What we have in our society is a dearth of many of the symbols of the cohesion and sharing of our social values with one another in the way that a great holiday can unite a nation and a society. So Christmas and its presidential aspects have a lot to do with our awareness of ourselves as a people and as a society that stands out as existing in some real way in the world. With ISIS executing American hostages almost continually, Russia flying more military sorties than it has since the Soviet Union was at the height of its Cold War assertiveness, the North Koreans mobilizing large cyber resources against us and real decay of US stature in Europe we are either likely to say what does our Christmas unity matter or we are likely to say that the unity we express is not the most important national concern. That is of course unless we are like millions of Americans who have very little concern for foreign policy. It is also true that some of us think of Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Mankind as a particularly relevant sentiment in times like these. The Angels greeting which came with that sentiment at the first Christmas was joined to their adoration, “Glory to God in the Highest!” Many Americans will be going to a variety of churches to honor God as they celebrate Christmas. Others will go to other places of worship to celebrate other holidays – including Chanukah which is a holiday Jesus’s family would have known. But Nativity scenes and even Christmas trees have become a set of lightning rods in the controversies about Christmas in public life. That discussion in return has become a big part of the discussion of religious expression in public life. What Presidential contenders will think about faith is increasingly a political issue that can be seen from many points of controversy.
While the President plays the role he does in pardoning turkeys, lighting the National Christmas tree and seeking to embrace a holiday theme that resonates with the nation it is not impossible to think of the Presidency of the United States as part of our Christmas landscape. When we do there is a sense of the way that our society does and does not function which forms part of our vision of both the holidays and the politics of our nation. So who is likely to be the next President of the United States of America?
Christmas has long been a political and legal battlefield. The assault on Christmas has been part of the story but so has the defense of Christmas in public life. In the chart featured below which may still have some currency even though I believe it is based on data from before the 2014 Congressional elections we have two Republican contenders for the Presidency in 2016 who have about equal shares of prospective primary votes. One is Mike Huckabee who regardless of what he might say if asked about Christmas is a former Protestant Christian ordained minister who clearly has a likelihood wanting to keep the tradition of honoring the birth of Christ as a nation. The other is Rand Paul who, regardless of what he might say about Christmas is deeply committed to a libertarian point of view and politics. Such libertarians often find themselves in alliance with Atheists, some other religious groups and liberals of particular strip in undermining America’s traditional Christian holidays.
There is a lot of shaking out to do if these numbers mean any thing before any Republican can claim the nomination. But it does indicate perhaps the streams of thought that are shaping the country as regards finding a religious root for values expressed by America’s “right” in politics.
What then about the left? Where does the other side of American political energy come down on our connecting with the roots of Christianity. Unlike the possible GOP nominees, Hillary Clinton has tended to tower over her challengers for the 2016 Democratic nomination. Some people are saying that candidates like Elizabeth Warren are poised to show explosive growth but it would take a lot of growth to challenge Clinton in the primary.
Joe Lieberman who ran with Al Gore was not a Christian but a Jew who seemed to tolerate a good deal of public Christmas. Mitt Romney belonged to what most scholars consider to be a post-Christian religion but it is one that celebrates Christmas as an American holiday and the birth festival of Jesus Christ. Many presidents have been devout Christians: Washington, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, Woodrow Wilson, John Kennedy and half a dozen others are clearly men who in my opinion must be seen as Christians entirely. Whatever they did not achieve of the Christian ideal is not because they did not adhere to that faith and religion. Richard Nixon was reared as a Quaker and (though many American Quakers seem pretty much to be Christians) Quakers as a whole are not a Christian faith but one which grew up among Christians. It is hard to say what Nixon was when he was President. With men like Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and a few others it hard to say where they stood in terms of religious classification and identity.
So that brings me to Clinton. She is a favorite enemy of the Christian Right and other religious people in American politics and she may well deserve it. She has a background which is mostly verifiable: Clinton was reared a Methodist Protestant Christian, belonged to a Senate Prayer Group and has spoken at Prayer Breakfasts. Her profile may seem different to American atheists than to most other people. Here is an atheist site evaluating Clinton’s background and religious values. It is hard to know how she would deal with Christmas.
Christmas and even religion are important but most religious people realize that religion connects to how they see all the world and does so in complicated ways. Real issues like how to evaluate science, how to evaluate ethical policies and how to make peace are informed by our religious background, point of view and activity. We see this with political issues from funding homeless shelters, to stem cell research to the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. But it goes beyond that.
I am a Christian and many of my blog posts are explicitly Christian. But my thoughts about science are in connection with my religious thought. So my scientific areas of discussion do seek or do have a harmony with my faith. Here, here and here are some examples. So my choices of how to use resources here and elsewhere are in connection to my religious values. I do accept and embrace pluralism in America. I see a kind of pluralism in America and the structure of the universe.
The truth about all of life is that it is a bit interactive and interactive and multifocal. That means that what we do affects what we see done and there are many other active people and forces creating the continuous drama that is the universe, playing out the great game — or whatever other metaphor might work for you. Increasingly one may disagree with what the meaning of different part of the drama or game may mean, how much they will matter or who should care. For example some scientist are feeling sure that they have just recently found the key to working out the meaning and structure of dark matter in the universe.
I am very interested in Astronomy but probably my use of space exploration money would place low priority on this research until a better theoretical framework was developed. That also has something to do with Christmas. So Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Whether or not you are a Christian or an American I think the American experience of the holiday has something to say to us all. Chinese New Year and Chanukah are different indeed but they also represent a reaching for unity, meaning, celebration and often family. Not just a reaching for money, power and resources. A society with no spiritual moorings seems very close to shipwreck to me. I hope we will never see America in such a condition.